Tribeca ’11: An evening out with L.A. Noire


Covering the Tribeca Film Festival has been a trip for this lowly blogger. Rubbing elbows with suits and industry insiders for the week has provided for a surreal experience I wasn’t quite prepared for. With New York’s indecisive weather along with pure exhaustion of working tirelessly to provide sufficient Tribeca coverage, I became sick as the dickens. But alas, Flixist was invited to attend a unique event and who was I to deny our readers every bit of information from the festival possible.

As I approached the SVA Theater in Lower Manhattan, I noticed two separate lines: one for ticket holders,  which was a convention-like line of excited nerds (and I say “nerd” with affection as I am one myself) with poor fashion choices (once again, affection), playing their Nintendo (3)DS as they waited; and the other line for press, a barren wasteland of velvet rope and pavement. As I skipped the line, feeling as though I had betrayed my nerdy brethren, I flashed my fancy press badge and was shown into my seat by a buxom model type wearing a 1940’s era costume. In an unprecedented move for the Tribeca Film Festival, I was here to preview a videogame. That videogame: Rockstar’s L.A. Noire.

Admittedly, up until now I’ve ignored coverage of Rockstar’s latest opus. Now that my time has been divided amongst work, writing for Flixist and my needy (but awesome) girlfriend, I had already decided I just don’t have the strength to tackle a game of this size. For instance, when I got my hands on Red Dead Redemption, I was both immediately impressed and intimidated as this open world of infinite choices scared me into thinking that I just don’t have the gravitas to finish something so … epic. However, after attending this preview of L.A. Noire, it’s almost certain that I will cut back my writing for Flixist dramatically and my girlfriend will more than likely break up with me.

The event started with a Rockstar employee taking a PS3 controller in his hands and playing the game on the silver screen. The mission played was titled “The Red Lipstick Murder” and it takes places right after Cole Phelps (our protagonist) gets promoted from Vice to Homicide. The “scene” starts with a morning roll call reminiscent of Hill Street Blues (not noir, but bear with me) and the chief congratulating you on your promotion. You’re assigned your first murder case as well as a new partner to show you the ropes. As you drive down to the crime scene, you are greeted by this delightful young lady who’s as naked as the day she was born. Did I also mention that this lady is very much dead?

As you approach the body, expository dialogue occurs seemingly in the background as your character checks for any bruising/wounds through a series of button presses. After gathering evidence from the scene, you’re granted with some possible leads to investigate. In the demo, you had a choice of interrogating the victim’s husband or the owner of a club she frequented at, each leading to a lengthy series of dialogue branches. One feature of the game is the ability to decide whether or not the suspect is lying to you, usually told by avoiding eye contact and other nervous ticks. Depending on how you fair in the interrogation, you either uncover am important clue or have to chase down other leads in order to solve the crime. The demo leads to Cole honing in on one suspect, breaking into the suspect’s apartment to investigate only to find the murder weapon hidden beneath a stack of clothes. The killer walks in on you prying into his business, immediately making a run for it. You chase him across rooftops, finally being brought to the ground and leading into a high-speed car chase. As your partner shoots out the tire, you capture your first murderer, concluding with David Caruso-esque parting words, except classy and not utterly ridiculous.

After the demo ended, a discussion was moderated by the Chief Creative Officer Geoffrey Gilmore with Simon Ramsey and Rob Nelson of Rockstar Games as panelists. In the panel, Ramsey and Nelson discussed the role of videogame medium and the hope in advancing that medium not because they can but because they feel there’s a lot of untapped potential in telling a story. Ramsey and Nelson went on to compare the rules you accept watching a film and the rules regarding videogames and that they hopefully found a correct balance between the two as they constantly try to combine the immersion of film with the interactivity of videogames. As the panel progressed, they mentioned that their goal with this game is to give you enough options and ways to get through each self contained case in the hopes that if you ever talk about it with your friend, you both will have a different unique experience as to how you solved the murder.

When asked as to what they drew inspiration from during the Q&A, they mentioned old detective novels of yesteryear and Noir films like The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown, citing L.A. Confidential as their biggest (and clearest) influence. They noted that their goal in doing a “noir” game was to do justice to the genre as well as offer a different experience that is more than GTA set in the 1940s. At the same time, they tried to make an accessible game that’s enjoyable to simply watch as someone else controls the game. They explained that the multiplayer component to the game is essentially the experience that can be enjoyed in a room full of friends contributing to the decisions and direction made.

As for this film critics impressions: I’m sold. The next day, before I went to work, I went to my local Game Stop and reserved the game, clearing my schedule for May 17 and the days that follow (Side note: I’d like to apologize to my girlfriend in advance, as her birthday is two days after the release and I will most likely be neglecting her). As a cinephile (or a FLIXIST, if you will), the emotion and action communicated through these avatars are so on point that I had to blink a couple of times to reassure myself that this was a game. Along with a promised “two seasons” worth of material, it’s definitely a world that one can lose oneself in. The short time I had with these characters reassured me that each character will convey different personalities and traits, making NPCs seem more natural rather than expository tools. Most importantly, the lack of a HUD and the way you make choices in the game by looking down at your little detective notebook will provide a level of immersion that will easily make me lose track of time.

All in all, this corporate shilling of a video game at Tribeca really had an effect on me. Though I make jokes, Rockstar’s presence at Tribeca is warranted and a step forward in legitimizing videogames as an art form with a team of programmers that really seem passionate about contributing to that medium and providing a level of immersion comparable to film. As a gamer who has felt that way for years, it’s a little reassuring that we’re that much closer in closing the gap between film and games, and I can’t wait for the day where we’re able to stop having this discussion and finally accept it.

Make sure to check out all our Tribeca coverage here and come back as we put more up as the festival continues.

SIDENOTE: Rockstar provided me with a paper bag marked evidence that contained a sealed evidence envelope along with an old timey flashlight and a T-shirt wrapped in another brown paper bag (I managed to convince one of the buxom 1940s models to slip me an extra shirt). I’ve decided to share my swag, so I will randomly draw a name from the comments below and send you the swag that I selflessly offered for this little self contained contest. I only ask that you let me know what the hell is in the sealed envelope, as it took every fiber within my soul to not open it. (U.S. Only)