L.A. Noire is defaulted to play in color, which is a bit odd given its namesake and obvious admiration for film noir, low lighting, and unbalanced compositions. You do have the option to switch between playing in color and playing in black, white, and gray, but you can only select this option after starting the game and getting through its first chunk of cutscenes. That’s unfortunate because now you’ve already experienced the game in color, albeit just for a bit, and I guess it’s kind of like making a turkey sandwich, taking a bite, deciding that today isn’t turkey’s day, stripping the sandwich of its meat, and then replacing it with bologna. I mean, why didn’t you just make a bologna sandwich to begin with?
Okay, food analogies aside, after the opening narration and cutscenes, I switched over to black and white via the main menu options just as young, calm detective Cole Phelps and his partner began searching an alleyway for clues about a recent shooting. The change from color to black and white was phenomenal, striking even, especially with both detectives wielding flashlights, casting these sharp, bright cones of white on everything. It made searching for clues a little tougher due to the epic wash of white, but you truly felt like a bit part in a hardboiled police procedure.
And then a little later the game informed me that doors with golden yellow handles are open to Cole while doors without golden yellow handles cannot be opened. Great. In grayscale L.A. Noire, all door handles look exactly the same: a solid gray. There’s no way to tell the difference except to have Cole walk into every single door, making him look like a complete tool eight times out of ten. Strike one against black and white. The second strike came a tiny bit later as I was flipping through the game’s manual and noticed that, during gunfights and skirmishes, loss of health is indicated by the world’s color fading from color to black and white. The more muted it gets, the closer Cole is to his coffin. Perfect. In grayscale L.A. Noire, you can’t tell how much damage you’ve taken because the world around you is already muted and monochrome. The world doesn’t, for instance, revert back to color upon being wounded. It just stays the same. Strike two.
There’s no strike three. Two reasons were enough to convince me to switch back to color, and while it is not as aesthetically pleasing, at least I can be sure that playing the game will be easier. Certainly, I’ve found doors with golden yellow handles much quicker.
The Saboteur did not make a big splash on the gaming scene, but it’s a game that surprised me and took me for a wild ride across Paris; as the Nazis were destroyed and pushed back, color returned to France. It was a neat gimmick, but those early levels of the game where the only color you can see is red were so attractive and haunting. Same kind of goes for Fallout 3, wherein the Lone Wanderer is transported back to a simpler time before the bombs dropped, to Tranquility Lane, a virtual reality simulation housed in Vault 112. Here, the player will have to free his father from the same trap while dealing with a small neighborhood of 1950s-perfect people. Everything is seemingly pulled straight out of Pleasantville. Both games have a lasting impression on me, and both for the same reason: the excellent inclusion of effective noir stylings. It shouldn’t get in the way of gameplay, but it should definitely set a tone, pun intended.
Other than not being able to truly play in black and white and enjoy myself, I’m having a great time in L.A. Noire staring down suspects and searching for clues. As well as letting my partner drive me to and fro. Every open-world game needs chauffeurs. Yup, even you, LEGO City Stories. I just got up to the first case for Homicide called “The Red Lipstick Murder,” and I’m looking forward to solving some more mysteries this weekend. With Tara’s help, too. She’s like my very own personal assistant detective. “She’s lying! Look at her face!”