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L.A. Noire Defined as Kitsch

Before I post this bit of news — a little update.

I have come to terms with L.A. Noire. Last night on the podcast I let four days of pent up anger, frustration, joy, and anxiety come flowing out of me. It was cathartic. After I had my 30 minute say I basically checked out for the rest of the show. I was exhausted. Sorry team.

I have come to terms with this game; I don’t hate L.A. Noire…

I’m on the last “case file” of the game — 19 hours in. There is a lot to like and some things to love about Rockstar and Team Bondi’s baby. My issue is that a LOT of what’s bad and almost all of what’s shockingly bad is important to discuss if you’re going to really get into what the game is all about.

It’s like if you are being served dinner at a nice restaurant and everything tastes great but the service is abysmal. You can’t talk about one without at least mentioning the other. A lot of L.A. Noire tastes wonderful, but the waiter refuses to refill my water and he just plain forgot to bring the soup. (Yes, for those scoring at home it’s almost lunch time.)

I’ll have a full review ready for Monday. Right now I’m thinking “B” as the superficial grade which Metacritic will turn into a 75 and everyone will see that as a “C” and I’ll get Rockstar Fan emails calling me mean things. Ah well. This is why I HATE scoring systems. Example: I gave Read Dead Redemption a B. I gave Mafia II a B-. I think Noire is better than Mafia II and not as good as Red Dead. In retrospect I graded Mafia II too high.

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So I guess I need to give L.A. Noire a Q+ or something.

ANYWAY — the kitsch thing.

When developers of other games publicly slap around the competition it’s always eye catching. I don’t know how newsworthy it is — it’s very TMZ, Entertainment Tonight type of news, but I can’t help it.

Clint Hocking, the creative director of Far Cry 2 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, has ripped up L.A. Noire via Twitter (!/ClickNothing ) saying:

1hr in. Moriarty was right re games as kitsch. Derivative, uninspired, narcissistic. Nothing original to say, & said badly. #LANoire

Wow. And I thought my “4 hours in” impression post was possibly unfair due to a lack of playtime? This guy is 1 hour in and has already called it kitsch.

Dictionary day for those who’d like a clear understanding of what Clint is saying here:

Kitsch (English pronunciation: /?k?t?/, loanword from German) is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons while making cheap mass-produced objects that are unoriginal. Kitsch also refers to the types of art that are aesthetically deficient (whether or not being sentimental, glamorous, theatrical, or creative) and that make creative gestures which merely imitate the superficial appearances of art through repeated conventions and formulae. Excessive sentimentality often is associated with the term.

The contemporary definition of kitsch is considered derogatory, denoting works executed to pander to popular demand alone and purely for commercial purposes rather than works created as self-expression by an artist. The term is generally reserved for unsubstantial and gaudy works that are calculated to have popular appeal and are considered pretentious and shallow rather than genuine artistic efforts.

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In other words, Clint Hocking really hated the first hour of L.A. Noire.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

18 thoughts to “L.A. Noire Defined as Kitsch”

  1. Wait, what?

    A guy who is the creative director of two sequels calls original ip derivative?

    Okie doke. Not like he could even do the first full case in an hour, so big up to him.

  2. Kitsch isn’t necessarily a demerit in the art world, sometimes it’s more of a quality. In art, sometimes things that are kitsch are conceptual and deliberately superficial, sentimental, or referential.

    L.A. Noire definitely has kitsch elements.

    I think I do hate it, ten hours in. I keep waiting for gameplay other than moving a giant hand over a ledger and running after some guy to happen.

    At first, I wanted to love the attention to detail, but it’s so meticulous and studied that it feels completely sterile. The entire game feels like it occurs on a model train set and inside dollhouses. And the detail is completely superficial, there is no Los Angeles to explore in the game…just “street crimes”, which generally mean more chases. This game is all about running after guys. Just like how RDR was about gatling gun massacres.

    I’ll review it when I’m through I’m going to stick it out. I’d be hanging a D+, C- on it, I think. There are some great things about it, sure, but the bad is just overwhelming.

    I’d rather be playing the old Westwood Blade Runner game.

  3. So is there anything like an overarching story, or is it entirely in episodic format with the cases being more or less isolated?

  4. If you think that “Far Cry 2″ has anything to do with the first installment, you’ve clearly played neither game, so big up to you.

    Also, where is it written that sequels are necessarily derivative?

  5. What _would have been_ the LA Noire you would have loved to play? Not in terms of “not this”, but in terms of “this”?

    I’m not setting you up to take a shot, I’m genuinely curious, because I respect the boldness of your reviews, and we seem to have been playing two different games in this case.

    Since I’m directing this at a board games reviewer, I’ll also say that it’s interesting how much more we all (myself included) expect from video game gameplay than from, say, tabletop. The planning phase of Game of Thrones is awesomely tense, for example…and that’s putting cardboard tokens face down.

    Is it because board games generally have a tighter focus that we enjoy so little, so much more?

  6. That’s a good question- I think it ties into social context and the importance of the collective generation of game narrative that goes on with a board game that makes putting that token down meaningful and significant. There’s an entire article to be written there!

    As for L.A. Noire, we have to expect more from it in terms of gameplay. It’s budget is probably more than the net gross of most board games publishers. Tremendous amounts of time, resources, talent, and creativity have gone into it. It represents, or should represent, the forefront of digital entertainment today. There’s so much more a video game is capable of doing over a board game in terms of narrative, immersion, visual stimulation, and so forth. Not that board games are deficient, but there’s a wider set of tools available with a video game that _should_ increase what we expect to get out of them.

    I do want to save some of this for the discussion over the review but I’ll state plainly that I think the ideal L.A. Noire game to me would be one that embraces its linearity instead of hiding its lack of gameplay in a false open world format first and foremost. I’d like to see a conversation system closer to the one in Alpha Protocol that generates more organic, natural dialouge. BUt probably above all else I’d like to see stronger gameplay elements coupled with a better sense of consequence and result. It’s cool that you can fail interrogations…but it ultimately doesn’t mean anything when you can solve the case just by continuing to play the game.

    It may be that the kind of gameplay that a mystery/police procedural represents (or what current design parameters and limitations allow) isn’t really suited to anything beyond a Police Quest/Phoenix Wright/Blade Runner model where it’s tightly scripted and fundamentally a point-and-click adventure with some multiple choice branching conversations. I was actually disappointed that L.A. Noire feels so regressive in its gameplay in that regard. BioWare’s dialogue mechanics are miles ahead of what goes on here, and since dialogue and conversation are so important, that’s got to completely work. It doesn’t in this game, in my opinion.

    I’m very resentful of the amount of filler in the game- there’s so much that’s meaningless and detracts from its strengths. There’s no excuse to be 7-8 hours into a game and the main character is still something of a blank slate and there’s not a consistent, compelling narrative line revealed, particularly when it should be a heavily story-driven game. So much time and energy is wasted on the chases, awkward shootouts, and lead-by-the nose investigation that’s really just wandering around locations until you find all the hotspots.

    Repetition is also an issue. The structure of every case is exactly the same. That may be a function of the police procedural angle and perhaps that’s a level of workaday realism, but that doesn’t necessarily make for great gameplay.

  7. Content or not, and I have played both, thanks, you put a two on your title you immediately call back to prior installments in the series no matter what the content.

    Sequels typically are. Like, oh, every Resident Evil except 4 or even, hey presto, Splinter Cell Chaos Theory unless I missed all the game changers included in that one.

  8. Everything you hate, I honestly love

    The chases, gun fights, side missions… Even Cole. The missions make me want to replay them right away and do better. The little ‘hey try this next time’ at the ranking screen is a great touch.

    I guess every game has its fans, maybe not Superman 64.

    I don’t mean to be too snide but walking around drifting after hotspots describes most every adventure game for the past ten years

  9. Very true Mark, but I’d say that hotspot searching is much older than the past ten years- we’re going on 25 or so years on that one. And maybe some of my disappointment is that it is L.A. Noire doesn’t move that model forward any at all, other than framing that in a 3D, contigious setting.

    I do like that you get that little suggestion about what you did wrong at the end, that is a good touch…but I’m not the kind of person that wants to go back and do it all again. Lots of folks like that, I don’t. Unless the game is either more of a casual thing where you’re trying to get top marks on something or if there’s genuinely something that changes about the gameplay or decision tree on a replay.

    You really like the side missions? I think they’re all the same…I guess if you like the templates they’re set up on, you’ll like them all though, that would make sense.

  10. Heh those are my main complaints.

    Just finished the main story about 20 mins ago. Man I wish I could talk about it because I have questions..

    LA Noire needed an editor. It needed a heavy dose of fat cutting. If this game WERE a straight up adventure game it would be a much. much better game as a whole.

    Cut the repeated chases. Cut the bad platforming. Limit the gunfights (which get absurd later on), tighten the story and force more *meaningful* decisions on the player.

    There’s a whole lot here that I liked — and it’s one of the rare cases when I liked the 2nd half of game more than the 1st.

    But man…it’s terribly inconsistent.

  11. A ten to fifteen hour adventure game with heavy atmosphere, tight narrative, solid characters, and a deeper theme than “ape police procedural movies” would have been perfect. But it’s got that Rockstar thing…if it’s long and drawn out, that makes it EPIC…regardless of how effing repetitive it is. I just finished a case, and while in the briefing room getting the next assignment I just kind of sighed. Go to the crime scene, poke around, go to another location, ask somebody questions, poke around, another location, poke around, ask questions…OH SHIT, the guy is running! Catch him, Cole! Seriously you guys, are you cool with literally doing the same thing OVER AND OVER again in this game? There’s no deduction, detection, or actual crime solving happening…just a routine template for telling a shallow murder mystery padded out with so…much…fat.

    I didn’t consider the endless rooftop chases (WTF is this, Assassin’s Creed?) to be bad platforming…but yeah…they really kind of are. REALLY bad platforming.

    The gun fights are HORRIBLE. I’ve gotten into a pattern with them. I go all Terminator and just walk right towards the baddies, blasting away since ammo is unlimited and ignoring cover. If they drop a tommy or a shotgun, I grab it. Usually I die once because somebody surprises me. But then the second time, I know where they all are so I just do the same thing- walk straight in, headshots for everybody, on the house. Just like in those old timey detective movies, right?

  12. I think I get it. The noir theming requires a stronger, potentially more broken main character. The case-by-case structure makes it harder to punish the player with a real negative outcome for choices – like everyone in the Citadel hating your guts if you choose to let the alien government die in Mass Effect 1.

    I approached the game from a different perspective. To me, the active selling point was “use actual face-mapping to create a deception detection simulator.” I’d argue this is probably the only thing Team Bondi cared about. I’d further argue that a person’s take on the game has everything to do with whether the deception simulator allows him or her to forgive the rest.

    The one thing I NEEDED LA Noire NOT to do was pretend that it knew anything about deception detection. They didn’t do this, and I am glad. “Looking up and left=lie” needed to be absent, and “push button to run Good Cop/Bad Cop” would have made me want to punch things.

    That said, I would have shelled out bucks to play the game you wanted to play, too, Michael. But it would have been an entirely different game, and I would have rather been a private eye prone to knuckle-dusting mobsters and sweet-talking molls.

    I think LA Noire only used noir to hang an interesting backdrop, and to make the investigation tools simpler to explain to players. And I totally get it if you find that casual attitude towards a beloved genre somewhat insulting.

  13. “The one thing I NEEDED LA Noire NOT to do was pretend that it knew anything about deception detection. They didn’t do this, and I am glad. “Looking up and left=lie” needed to be absent, and “push button to run Good Cop/Bad Cop” would have made me want to punch things.”

    Absolutely. Clearly one of the BIG strong points of the interview process. There are some giveaways — but later on the tells are REALLY subtle.

    And even those who look like dead liars may not be — depending on the situation.

    Without a doubt my favorite parts of LA Noire were the interviews.

  14. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a “movie”, if you’re implying something more scripted and with even less gameplay…you really should take a look at that Blade Runner game…it has a couple of different outcomes generated over the course of the game, and the questioning leads to some more interesting ambiguities.

    There’s really not much noir in the game- it’s a police story first and foremost, there’s very little noir-specific material. That’s disappointing too. You’re dead on the money, there needs to be a stronger lead and more of a psychological insight to weakness and self-destructive behavior. All I get from Cole Phelps is that he’s Ed Exley with a trace of Bud White.

    You know another series that had a more distinct noir impetus but with a sci-fi flavor? Those old Tex Murphy games.

    Fair point about the deception simulator aspect- but I don’t think it works due to the script. There were times when I’ve made what I thought were the right responses that were wrong and things that I felt were wrong were right. And then, in the end, it doesn’t matter anyway because it has no bearing on the ultimate outcome of the case.

  15. I played Mean Streets into the _ground_. On someone else’s PC.

    “Fair point about the deception simulator aspect- but I don’t think it works due to the script. There were times when I’ve made what I thought were the right responses that were wrong and things that I felt were wrong were right.”

    Figuring out you’ve let yourself be lied to _does_ suck…but it also happens all the time. If there’d been that tooltip in the evidence page (“picking the train ticket will make you argue he was planning to leave town”), that would have fixed that for me.

  16. Clint Hocking really needs a crash course on the use of kitsch in Popular media. John Waters and Jeff Koons both have extensive insightful things to say on the subject.

  17. One day I’ll have to tell you a funny story about this lady that came up and talked to me at a Jeff Koons lecture…she was so distraught about laughing at his stuff. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny, but…”

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