L.A. Noire Titillation: Ebert, Art and Heavy Rain
I just pre-ordered L.A. Noire for PS3. I simply cannot wait for the day it comes out (May 17).
I have been following this game’s progress for almost four years now, through various stages of its development. I’d always thought it had promise, but in the last year of so I’ve become convinced that it could be one of the greatest games made yet.
To help make my case a bit, let me back up here for a moment and talk about my favorite game of 2010: Heavy Rain.
Heavy Rain was the first video game to truly creep the shit out of me. I’m not talking about catching me off guard or shocking me (the Resident Evils did that in spades). I mean, getting under my skin and giving me actual nightmares at night, long after I’d stopped playing it. After playing Heavy Rain, I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, shivering and screaming, from some of the most grotesque and horrifying imagery my mind had ever conjured up. The game was that powerful.
Heavy Rain became like a narcotic to me. A horrible narcotic, perhaps (who in their right mind wants to wake up from a dream, screaming?), but I was entirely under its spell. I had to play out the game to its finish as rapidly as I possibly could, as if to exorcize my psyche from this horror that had possessed me.
Fortunately, I’m not a very good gamer and I ended up dying pretty quickly. Due to my game-playing ineptitude, my protagonists met with what were surely the worst fates possible in this “choose your own adventure”- type story: the detective (who I played as) failed to solve the mystery in time and so the little boy drowned to death in a cage, the boy’s dad (who I also played as) was wrongly convicted of the boy’s murder and, in an awful postscript, hanged himself in prison. Talk about sunshine and Hollywood endings. No wonder the game freaked me out so much!
This is, perhaps, the most deeply I’ve ever been affected by a creative work. Heavy Rain combined the best of a horror novel with the best of a horror film. And, due to the interactive nature of the video game medium, this horror had an entirely new dimension. I as viewer, reader AND participant, became deeply involved in this horror to a degree that a film or a novel could never achieve. In Heavy Rain, it became truly like I was living out the story’s horror in real life. Hence, even at night, I couldn’t shake it.
With a title like Heavy Rain, this is where I feel video games cross over from what Roger Ebert might deride as mere hollow “entertainment” into true art. With their interactive, immersive nature, video games have the potential to truly move those who play them in ways that I think film, literature and theater never could. With its potent story and especially its meticulously-crafted atmosphere, Heavy Rain realizes this potential and is, I vehemently argue, a true work of art.
Heavy Rain is a true leap forward for video games, and is an achievement that can and I know will be piggybacked fruitfully by future game designers, to make the next breakthrough game.
If anyone I think can do it, I think it’s Rockstar.
You can think of Heavy Rain as an art film. Tremendously powerful, but with limited appeal to the mainstream.
Rockstar, on the other hand, makes brilliant pop, mainstream games. Grand Theft Auto IV truly knocked my socks off. I played it for hundreds of hours, long after I’d beaten the actual story. I’ve never had more fun killing fake people or blowing up fake cars at high speeds. Aiming a bazooka at the ground and firing, sending my freshly-lifeless carcass thousands of feet up in the air above the New York City skyline never got old.
Imagine, then, what would happen if you took Heavy Rain and put it in the hands of Rockstar Games?
Boom! You get L.A. Noire.
Rockstar’s GTA titles have been accused by many to be shallow and trashy- and, to a degree, those people are right. But if you gave Rockstar weightier material to sink its teeth into- like, say, a film noir murder-mystery- you could end up with something that’s both incredibly fun and thrilling to play (like GTA4) AND powerful and deeply moving (like Heavy Rain)- not just empty thrills.
I think L.A. Noire will be all-caps GREAT. And, Mr. Ebert, it will be ART.
The screenshots and trailers we’ve seen for it bear me out. Please check out this trailer again:
So beautiful, so titillating…
L.A. Noire has me drooling at the mouth. I want to fall under its narcotic spell, right now. How long til May 17??