Saturday, December 31, 2011

KGB Game of the Year 2011: D. Bethel

Rockstar’s L. A. Noire is such a strange bastard of a game that I’m not even sure deserves the top honor of game of the year when broken apart for analysis. It has sloppy controls, some shallow and uninteresting characters, antiquated graphics (with the exception of its ground-breaking facial animation), and whose main puzzle mechanic – reading the faces of damned, dirty liars – can seem so arbitrary that one wonders if it is actually one sprawling game of peek-a-boo. It also has that weird, extra "e" at the end of the title. When examined by its pieces, a meticulous observer can be underwhelmed by L. A. Noire, but the game should not, or perhaps can not, be observed as a collection of artifacts; it must be seen as a whole.


When all the disparate elements congeal - all the above combined with the excellent acting, the brilliant music, engaging story, and think-heavy puzzles - L. A. Noire becomes something best described as an experience, one paced perfectly for an adult with discerning tastes. Most modern games, arguably, bury our desire for goal-oriented satisfaction beneath a blanket of spent bullet casings, achievements, and dudebro attitudes, written as a perpetual rising action with each scene trying to up the ante and heart rate; L. A. Noire plays much more like a good movie, novel, or album with its rewards unveiled at regular intervals – from the completion of the search of a crime scene to the judgement at the end of a suspect's interrogation – deepening the experience to the point where, god forbid, the player feels the need to take a break and digest everything that was just taken in. In an era populated by games scared of being turned off, L. A. Noire is a game made for players, and, by knowing that you will come back, digs deeper into the back of your mind the more time that you’re away from it than, perhaps, when you’re even playing it.

P.S. Were I to award "Game of the Year" to a downloadable title, it would be, hands down, Ubisoft's wonderful Outland, a MetroidVania platformer with a clever puzzle-based twist to its action. It's fun, beautiful, intuitive, and, most surprisingly, expansive for a 2-D, downloadable title. Get the demo and give it a try; it's amazing.

D. Bethel never has time, but when he does, he makes
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