'L.A. Noire' Is A Video Game That's Like A Film

May 19, 2011

A new videogame offers up another way to experience life on the Los Angeles Police Department circa 1947.

The much-anticipated "L.A. Noire" is out this week. Players are put into the shoes of Cole Phelps, a returning World War II vet who solves crimes and works his way up, from beat cop to detective. He's surrounded by a host of suspects: from a sketchy Hollywood movie producer to crooked cops.

"L.A. Noire" is from Rockstar Games, the company behind Grand Theft Auto. For this latest game, Rockstar meticulously re-created Los Angeles of the late 1940s, using old maps and aerial photographs.

Video-game critic and scholar Harold Goldberg, author of All Your Base Are Belong to Us, How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture, has been playing, and says "it's ... very film-like."

"And it just feels like, you know, anything from Hitchcock to Scorsese," he tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne. "Feels like being in a film sometimes."

Goldberg says players get engrossed in scenes so deeply that "sometimes you don't want to leave."

"I ended up in a diner in one of the cases. I kind of wanted to sit there an order pancakes and not continue on my quest to find out why this devious Hollywood producer did what he did," he says, laughing,

He says the game play is slower and more deliberate than other games. Much of it involves interrogating suspects. A new technology captures faces so well that players can look at a face and decide whether that person is telling the truth or not. The writing is often so good, Goldberg says, that you feel like you're inside television shows like Dragnet or Law and Order.

Goldberg adds that he thinks the game is as good as some of the better Hollywood scripts.

"For almost 20 years, Hollywood and game makers have had this kind of uneasy relationship, but I think with 'L.A. Noire' and a few games before this game makers beat filmmakers at their own game," he says.

Goldberg says, however, that Rockstar has taken a big gamble with "L.A. Noire."

"It's tens of millions of dollars, but I think they've done it right," he says. "And I think Rockstar is kind of like the Beatles of videogame companies right now. They seem not to be able to do anything wrong." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.