A well-written plot can transcend gameplay or graphics, while it doesn’t quite work the other way around. It’s what keeps many of our behinds glued to the couch and the controller firmly gripped in hand. If a story is compelling, one could even argue it makes the gameplay that much better.
Some play a video game for its rewarding and addictive gameplay. Others play video games to admire our technological gains and brag about how realistic the graphics look on a particular console. Then there are those who couldn’t care less about gameplay or graphics and would rather invest their time in a compelling story that makes putting down the controller a near impossible task.
Well today I decided to review
L.A. Noireis an action-adventure detective game from developer Team Bondi and publisher Rockstar Games. It was directed and written primarily by Brendan McNamara, who also wrote and directed 2002’sThe Getaway. Unfortunately, I never played The Getaway, so I can’t really compare the two games. However, if you’re familiar with some of Rockstar’s games (I’m thinking grand Theft Auto 4 andRed Dead Redemption), then you know that their more recent games tend to be filled with intriguing, complex characters.L.A. Noire does not disappoint in this regard. The protagonist is Cole Phelps, an ex-marine and veteran of Okinawa, who has recently risen to the rank of Detective within the LAPD. The game’s overarching plot involves corruption within the post-war police department, but it is also very much about Cole’s personal story. In fact, I would argue that one of the game’s strongest points is the complexity of Cole’s character. He is admirable at times, despicable at others, sometimes incredibly keen and sometimes downright foolish. I find him altogether fascinating because his complexity makes him seem like he could be a real person and not simply a character in a video game. I’ve decided to analyze Cole in order to uncover some of the reasons why I find him so interesting; this procedure may also offer some general pointers on good character building and development.
We should begin our analysis with Cole’s behavior during World War 2, which we are shown via flashbacks throughout the game.Sometime in 1943, Cole signs up for Officer Candidate School along with a young man named Jack Kelso. It quickly becomes apparent that Cole has delusions of grandeur: he repeatedly expresses the desire to make a name for himself as an officer, which Jack critically identifies as “Custer’s Syndrome.” Animosity quickly develops between the two men due to their fundamental ideological differences; Cole wants to gain glory for himself, while Jack wants only to fight the enemy and keep his own men safe.
In the end, I suppose I find Cole to be a fascinating character because he is hard to pin down. I dare say that his “characterness”—that quality of being obviously a literary production possessing certain defined characteristics—is overshadowed by his pervasive “humanity”—that quality of being too complicated to ever completely and permanently define. Personally, I consider this one of the best types of literary characters, and I imagine that most of you would tend to agree.