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Musings on L.A. Noire, and gray areas in game design

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la Noire CoverOne of the fun attributes of film noir is that, while often filmed in a stark black and white style, the characters and situations aren't so easily sorted. Good guys can keep bad habits, damsels in distress can turn femme fatale, and the line between cop and crook gets muddy. Black and white is the look, but gray is the tone.

L.A. Noire, Rockstar's latest critical smash, pays tribute to film noir's unclear nature not only in style but also in its design. A vast open world is the stage for a linear story. Modern gunfights and street races play nice with adventure game relics and intuition simulation that should prove to be the game's lasting legacy. And, given the task, I'd place L.A. Noire somewhere in the spectrum between pretty good and almost great.

But to be honest, that's not really what this piece turned out to be. It's not quite a review, but not really just a critique, either. Want a review? Here: "L.A. Noire isn't a bad game by any standard, but it's more an interesting experiment than it is a great experience." I'll even throw a number at you. "7." Bam, reviewed.

With that addressed, the following is a look at a few of the ways L.A. Noire straddles many seemingly opposite design elements. Sometimes this leads to nagging issues, others to surprise delights. But more often than not, it's hard to say either way.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

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Ghost Trick Phantom Detective CoverI've been anticipating Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for a while now. As a big fan (but totally burned out) of the Ace Attorney series, I was excited for Phoenix Wright's creator's next vision. It's an odd one, that's for sure, but holds on to the humor, great cast of characters, and overwhelming charm that made the Ace Attorney series so great.

In Ghost Trick, you unsurprisingly play as a ghost. The idea is you can manipulate objects from the ghostly dimension to save people's lives and ultimately, find out who you are and why you were killed. The Phoenix Wright-like mystery is present throughout the game and many of the questions aren't answered until the last action is taken, but it's a fun and original ride all the way there.

Phantom Detective shouldn't be a game that can be explained easily, but its first half-hour managed to do a pretty bang-up job. Check that out for an early walkthrough of all the concepts and in-depth gameplay elements the game explains to you quickly and efficiently.

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