In my last article I discussed the changing fortunes of the point and click adventure game genre, from its initial rise, through its decline with the emergence of the console generation, to its recent resurgence on the back of the independent-based distribution networks.
In it, I detailed how the genre is a throwback to the early days of gaming, with a focus on a simple game mechanic coupled with a compelling narrative structure. I espoused the theory that the return of the genre was down, at least in part, to the low fidelity graphical and engine requirements being more attainable for the low-budget indie developers than the high cost technology available to the big companies.
But what, then, of the big companies? Have they abandoned the point and click genre, moved on to pastures more profitable?
For the answer to that, I point you (hah totally unintended pun!) towards today’s subject: LA Noire.
Published in 2011 by Rockstar Games and developed by the now defunct Team Bondi, LA Noire is a game in which you take on the role of Cole Phelps, a war veteran who has enlisted in the Los Angeles Police Department circa 1947.
Drawing heavily from the Film Noire tradition of gangster tales such as LA Confidential, The Untouchables and The Black Daliah, LA Noire exudes character from every class. The world is well depicted, with post-war Los Angeles depicted in minute detail. The buildings architecture and general world aesthetics are excellent, with everything, as best I can tell anyway, seeming in character for the period. The character design, too, is excellent; managing to be distinctly of the period without falling into the trap of feeling stereotyped, which is always a difficult ask.
The overall feel of the world is aided by some of the best voice acting I’ve seen in a game. Lines are delivered and acted in a realistic and believable manner, lending the proceedings a feeling of authenticity often absent in games.
Oh and for the more observant, I did say acted. LA Noire’s ground-breaking (at the time) MotionScan technology invests the on-screen characters with a previously unprecedented level of realism, with facial expressions and mannerisms collating with the voice acting to really give an effective depiction of conversations.
But what, you may ask, does this have with the point and click adventure genre? Indeed, with no mouse in sight and no inventory or ‘use this on that’ mechanic in sight, you would be forgiven for thinking I’ve gone mad.
But, the thing is, to me LA Noire is an example of the point and click genre, but not as we know it.
Firstly, let’s look at the basic structure of the game. No, you may not be using a mouse to click the environment, but the core basis of the game is investigating crime scenes to discover clues about the crimes perpetrated there. You may be using a controller, but you’re still doing the same old tried and tested thing of searching the game world for items of interest.
Secondly, the game has a distinct bent towards logic puzzles. Of course it does, it’s a detective game. At various points in the game you have to solve a sliding puzzle, navigate a maze and various other such mental tests; certainly a feature not uncommon to the point and clicks of old.
Perhaps the most telling of the features to indicate this link, however, is the overall structure and purpose of the game. While it may throw in a number of action sequences (usually chasing a suspect, a car chase or a shooting section) the main thrust of the game is the pursuit of the storyline, of discovering enough clues to decipher the solution to the crime to unlock more of the overarching story. This, at its most basic, is what point and clicks are all about, the progression of a narrative. Like those games before it, LA Noire is, at its most basic, an interactive movie in which the player takes the role of the protagonist.
LA Noire is a big-budget point and click adventure game evolved and developed for the modern console era. Technology has moved on since the point and click heyday, meaning that development and change was inevitable. Where once hardware and coding limitations meant that static two dimensional backgrounds were all that was possible, today LA Noire can be set in a fully realised and active depiction of post-war Los Angeles. Where the early point and clicks didn’t even have sound cards to work with, LA Noire could have fully voice acted and MotionScanned interactions with characters. Whilst the old games were limited to the slower paced investigation mechanic only, LA Noire can utilise action-oriented sections to vary the pace. And, while the old point and clicks had a keyboard and mouse to work with, LA Noire has a gamepad.
Gaming technology has always evolved and games have always moved along with it. FPS games like Doom from yesteryear bear only a passing resemblance to today’s Call of Duty titles and so it is with the point and click adventure games.
LA Noire may not involve much literal pointing and clicking, but at its core beats the same heart as the titles from gaming past that so captivated the imagination. Clever, challenging and captivating; LA Noire carries on the tradition of story-driven adventure games of the tradition of Lucasarts’s Indiana Jones games and the Monkey Island games.
The game may look and sound different, even feel a bit different, but if you look closely you can still see its roots showing here or there. LA Noire is the modern day evolution of the point and click adventure games of years past and that, my friends, is an exciting prospect.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org