Interrogating L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire was one of the titles in 2011 that I hadn’t gotten to play until recently. The game itself had seemed to be overshadowed by the tales of its production woes, employee complaints, and the bad blood between Team Bondi and Rockstar. It was a game that was on my radar, but as its launch approached my enthusiasm waned. Despite positive critic reaction, one of the main complaints was that L.A. Noire‘s interrogation system was flawed, though intriguing with its usage of advanced facial technology to tell if a suspect was lying or telling the truth.
It’s hard not to be mesmerized by how every subtle emotion and detail of the actors’ faces is expertly captured and applied in-game. As a piece of new technology, L.A. Noire knocks it out of the park. Still, In employing the deductive method, and general human nature, I’d say Team Bondi failed.
My assessment of L.A. Noire is that it’s an adventure game masquerading as an open-world title, bloated and over-produced to its detriment. While I could recount the game’s failings as recited by other critics, I’ll state the one thing that truly disappoints me: L.A. Noire doesn’t make me feel like a detective. It’s the game’s main selling point. Sure there’s the film noir aesthetic, but the bulk of the game is devoted to police work, occasionally dabbling in other mechanics.
Things started out well. After going through the usual hand-holding tutorial, I was promoted to detective (or rather the protagonist Cole Phelps was). The cases started out easy enough. I’d gathered the correct evidence, chased down perps, asked the right questions, and most importantly made the arrest. At the end of each case you’re given a rating based on the evidence and the number of right responses in an interrogation.
In the end you can completely flub the interrogations and general police procedure, yet still progress in the game. There are plenty of FAQs and strategy guides to consult, but much of the joy in an adventure game comes from knowing you didn’t have to. It’s empowering to know you figured it out on your own, and that your brain is more than just packing peanuts for your skull.
Then things went really, really wrong. My first failure came when a hit-and-run became a murder case once it was discovered the victim had actually been stabbed to death. I’d found a bloody knife discarded in the alleyway near the scene of the crime, and later presented this evidence to the person who had everything to gain from the victim’s demise after directly accusing them of lying.
One of the details I also noticed was that one of the kitchen knives was missing in their home, so it made a lot of sense that this was going to work. Instead, the suspect laughed off my evidence. Minutes later, it turned out I’d been correct in my assumption but I still got my ass chewed out by the chief. At this point I was told to ‘work the streets’ which I guess is a punishment. The next case starts and it’s as if my failure never happened.
I was still the golden boy of the LAPD, ready to bust another case wide open. And thus began my downward spiral as L.A.’s worst detective (and since I’d been intentionally running over mail boxes left and right, worst driver as well). I’m not complaining because I’d failed the cases. I’d grow bored with a game I never lost at. My issue is that I used sound logic to deduce who the guilty party was and was rated poorly because the game has only one circuitous answer.
However, the biggest problem with conducting interrogations in L.A. Noire is the protagonist himself. His behavior greatly affects the already finicky system and there’s no real way to predict whether or not he’ll yell in the suspect’s face, accuse them of murder, or tell them they’re going to the electric chair if they don’t confess ASAP.
At that point, the guilty looks and fidgeting of the suspects become forgivable as it’s easy to see why they’re nervous. Perhaps the worst moment was when Cole interviewed a teenager that had recently been sexually assaulted by a sleazy producer. After I determined there were a few inconsistent details of her story (her lack of forthrightness was perfectly understandable), when I chose the ‘doubt’ button, Cole launched into a truly vicious tirade that made him look like the most insensitive human being on the planet.
Beyond that, it struck me that there really was no right way to interrogate suspects. Choosing whether I was being told the truth, a lie, or a half-lie became totally inconsequential. Maybe this was Team Bondi’s way of showing how utterly useless it was to follow any code of proper conduct during the 1940’s, or that ultimately it doesn’t matter if someone was truly guilty or not. All that matters is if they’re a serviceable scapegoat.