When L.A. Noire first released back in 2011, it pitted players against what was then the cutting edge of facial animation technology in video games — and tasked us with spotting emotional 'tells' to solve crimes. The setting, a mix of film noir style and 1940s Los Angeles, allowed the game to strip away the modern detective's toolset of forensics and digital trails, instead concentrating on that most hard-boiled skill of all. Reading people, knowing when to push and pull, and eventually getting them to admit truths they don't want to.
For me, this was a problem. As an adult with an autistic spectrum condition, I sometimes struggle to read certain facial expressions on humans, let alone video game replications of humans. I can pick up on exaggerated emotions, and someone’s mood in general with a bit of effort, but picking out little subtleties, granular emotions, can be at best tiring and at worst impossible.
So L. A. Noire's interrogation sequences, the first time around, ended up just stressing me out. In the original release players were given three choices for how to approach a topic during questioning; Truth, Doubt, and Lie. What these actually meant was; assume the interviewee is being honest, question their version of events, or directly accuse them of lying. While not always accurate representations of what Detective Phelps would say, these options were the guidelines by which you were meant to judge facial expressions in the game.
I always found this difficult because of the specific meaning suggested by the choices. Truth, Doubt and Lie are all words centred around detecting the facial nuances that will indicate either honesty or dishonesty. This specific scenario is something I have struggled with:. I am far too willing to believe people are being honest, because a lot of the more subtle cues relating to dishonesty do not register. I know I can’t spot lies well, so trying to find them in a game's faces was a stressful and tiring experience. I stopped playing long before the end.
This week saw the release of L.A. Noire Remastered on Switch, and these three prompts during interrogations have been changed. While the dialogue from Phelps remains the same, players now have to pick between Good Cop, Bad Cop and Accuse rather than Truth, Doubt and Lie. While this doesn’t change the 'correct' answers to situations, it has made the game infinitely easier for me to play due to its reframing of what I should be looking out for on faces.
I understand that the good cop archetype is going to be useful when someone seems cooperative and forthcoming. I know bad cop has a good chance of working when someone is aggressive or defensive. I know that accusing makes sense when I've got solid evidence that proves something is untrue.
By switching the focus from detecting lies, towards overall moods and atmospheres rather than specific facial tics, I found myself more reliably choosing the right options in interrogations. A change in dialogue prompts may not seem like a huge deal to some, but for me they’ve made the core of L.A. Noire much more understandable and enjoyable. This time around, it feels like I'll crack the case.