L.A. Noire is one of those games that I think really captured a wider group of players than most others. Hardcore players were drawn in by the name Rockstar and the open-world game (obviously putting two and two together), point-and-click aficionados got a surprisingly detailed and interesting puzzle game, some were drawn in by the 1940s gumshoe aesthetic, the list of reasons goes on and on. Another reason it holds a special place for me is that the game enthralled non-players in my home. People who wouldn’t know how to play a game but understood crime and mystery tropes could watch/play along and get something out of the experience.
I’ve been replaying L.A. Noire back recently for some achievement-harvesting, but found myself, now more than half a decade older than I was when I first played it a lot more affected by the gameplay. I wanted to write just this short post about that experience.
Warning before I start; as well as the obvious spoilers to some clues and cases in the homicide desk I’ll also be mentioning some of the darker sides to this game. You have been warned.
So, let me set the scene.
This particular case is on the Homicide Desk (easily the best desk with the best set of crimes, purely from a gameplay/mystery standard with its multiple suspects and its plot connecting the murders to each other and the real life case of the Black Dahlia). We’re on the third case, The Silk Stocking Murder.
We’ve seen dead bodies before. The victims are naked women, who have been viciously stomped and battered before being daubed with lipstick or a sharpened stick. The killer is leaving messages on the deceased, taunting the police force with his elusiveness. This one is no different save a set of different wounds, the notable one being a deep cut on her throat from her silk stocking that was used to strangle her.
However, there is something different about the crime scene of The Silk Stocking Murder. Unlike her counterparts, none of the deceased’s personal effects are with her. The only thing is a blood trail leading away from the crime scene. So, as the good detective we are we follow the trail and this is where the reminder hit me.
The trail leads to a door with a giant blood spray across it. We find discarded clothing; the dead woman’s hat and shoe (also covered in blood). We keep going and find blood smeared on a wall before it leads us up a fire escape, across two roofs, and finally to her handbag. On the roof we find that the killer had collected the corpse’s blood and painted a trail for us to follow, but until that reveal I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
The blood trail gave me this feeling of tracing the last steps of the dead woman, trying to imagine what it must have been like as she was attacked. The previous two cases had pre-gameplay scenes of the women being attacked, we see the assault and they are shocking. But it’s like that idea in horror films; sometimes not seeing the monster makes us more scared because our imagination does the work for us.
It’s not like the previous crimes aren’t as horrendous. The first case involves a woman who was sexually assaulted before she was killed and the victim in the second case was a victim of domestic abuse. But something about tracing the supposed last steps of a dead woman really affected me. And the desk brings up even more depravity later on with themes of necrophilia and protracted torture and a gruesome indication of how the Black Dahlia spent her last few hours.
L.A. Noire earns its 18 certificate, but it doesn’t feel like violence for the sake of it. I mentioned this previously in both my Assassin’s Creed and Spec Ops: The Line posts. A lot of violence in games now is distilled, fun for (nearly) all the family. L.A. Noire has some shootouts and murders and while the former seems a bit token (especially when the bodies don’t have locational damage like Red Dead and instead just rag doll as soon as you’ve plugged enough bullets into them), the latter is almost astronomically detailed and gory, highlighting the verisimilitude of the game. It’s no secret that the game is based off several real life cases (just a quick Google search will find similar cases in all four desks).
I find it odd that the older I get the more I think about these themes. I have a similar experience in Grand Theft Auto where I only kill if someone attacks me first. It’s like some sort of virtual conscience and more and more recently games seem to be playing on it. Red Dead Redemption‘s “Honour System” (where your actions determine how characters interact with you) or whether or not to shoot surrendering kill-squads in Max Payne 3 (interestingly both Rockstar games) are two recent games that I remember my gaming instincts pulling against my morality.
L.A. Noire affected me on a deep level, but rather than diminish its ranking I feel that six years after it first released, The Silk Stocking Murder has somehow given me a new insight and angle into an old game. The brutality on display is something rarely seen and reminds me that while we like to kill a whole manner of aliens, orcs, monsters, and humans in games, it is not always the glorified example we ask for and nor should it be. Those are the scenes that stick with you and make you ponder, even if it is only for a second.
Banner Photo Source: lanoire.wikia.com.