On L. A. Noire and becoming too emotionally attached (and then detaching)

Happy New Years! We made it 2012…hopefully we’ll all make it safely to 2013 without the help of John Cusak and his magic limo.

In my little household, we started off the year with some cleaning of the digital variety. Yes, it was time to clear out the ol’ PS3 hard drive. And what a mess it was. But it gave us a little time to reflect on the games we played in 2011. Especially notable was the amount of save data for games we no longer had – they were either from Gamefly or we traded them in to enter the late 2011 compound of great gamage.

Of all the data, y’know what I was a little sad to see go? L. A. Noire.

L. A. Noire cover art © Rockstar, Sony (source)

But then, I got a little mad remembering L. A. Noire and the one simple reason I wouldn’t play it again:

By the end of the game I hated Cole Phelps.

And I don’t think that ever in the history of my interactions with fictional characters that I’d ever hated a fictional character more.

Hear me out.  You can put the psych ward on speed dial while you’re reading if you want.

Also, SPOILERS AHEAD!!! You have been warned.

He doesn’t look awful? Why do all the “normal” ones go sour? (source)

Anyway, my eventual problems with Cole aside, L. A. Noire was my favorite game of the summer of 2011. I’d really been looking forward to it, like so many others, since seeing a trailer for it in 2010. And, yes, it was soooooooo awesome. Everything about it was pretty fantastic, from the characters to the story to the gameplay to the 1940s backdrop. I loved the mix of puzzle-solving and crime-fighting; and at the beginning, I didn’t hate Cole at all.

Details, the wonderful details, are what made this game. (source)

At first, I thought Cole was a pretty stand-up guy. I enjoyed playing someone who believed in the good of humanity and just wanted to help others. His dialogue was mostly well-written and it was interesting to see how his dark WWII story unfolded, which ultimately explained his actions.

But I didn’t come to hate Cole because he killed innocent Japanese women and children and left his platoon in the lurch during the war. No, I hated him after it was revealed that he cheated on his wife.  The situation between Cole, his family, and the lounge singer Elsa Lichtmann is the one place, in my mind, where L. A. Noire failed. Everything else about the story is so detailed, and it balances well along the lines of film noire and melodrama. I loved how everything came back to the original morphine heist and how it was so intertwined with the redevelopment scheme. I mean, they don’t write movies this good or this pretty.

Love or disdain? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. (source)

So, going back to Cole and Elsa…the deal is that one of Cole’s partners introduces him to Elsa, “a damaged woman” and nightclub act. Over the next few missions, Cole is occasionally shown at the nightclub listening to Elsa sing. Chalk it up to the difficulty in rendering “obsession” as an emotion, but it was kinda hard for me to tell that Cole was, in fact, falling head over heels for Elsa. For all I knew, he was scoping her out for criminal prospects.

Now you do see Cole enter Elsa’s apartment before the affair is revealed, but that’s all you see.  (Though Cole’s partner does previously warn him to keep his distance from Elsa.)  Maybe I was just too naive to want to think he was seeing Elsa.  But what really irked me the most was the first reveal of Cole’s family – just his wife, actually – when she kicks him out. But, really, why should I have even cared by then? The game didn’t introduce his wife at any point before this scene – his family had no background other an occasional mention by Cole. It’s a shameful and careless plot device meant to disgrace Cole.  All I could assume was that his wife was the nicest person in the world and Cole was just being a dick.  From that point on, I hated playing Cole, who had now become, in my mind, a cold, unfeeling asshole in my mind.  He wasn’t out to help others, and he screwed over the one thing he claimed to care about: his family (which wasn’t true anyway – the liar!) Only his glory and his johnson were his prized possessions.

There was one scene where he and Elsa started making out behind the nightclub.  OMGrrrrr.  I had to turn off the game at the risk of destroying my controller or kicking the cat.

When he died…HA!!  So long ya bastard!

Am I being a bit dramatic?  Maybe.  It’s just a game, a game that I no longer have (and it’s probably better that way); but when I went back to replay a few missions, I had a really hard time enjoying it again knowing that Cole was a dillwad.  That was something I’d never experienced before in gaming.  I don’t really like to play mean characters, but you usually know they are mean going into the game.  In L. A. Noire, that fact that Cole’s personal jerkiness was revealed after setting him up as a “good” guy, well that was just too much.

After writing all this, I guess I should actually be applauding L. A. Noire’s writers for getting me to care as much about Cole as I did, for getting me to feel as if I had taken on Cole’s burdens.  So bravo Rockstar!  *roiling clap* I loved your game so much that I don’t think I could ever play it again.  But tell ya what, if I’m still unattached to any particular game when I’m forty, I’ll give L. A. Noire another chance; and maybe, just maybe, I’ll see things Cole’s way.

Or maybe pigs’ll fly outta my butt.

Either way, forty will be quite a year.


  1. I feel the same way about this game. I was psyched to get it and I wasn’t disappointed. The problem is that so much of the appeal (for me at least) was wrapped up in seeing how each case unfolded and connected to the main plot. Now that I know how it plays out, I can’t find the will to play it again.

    As for Cole, I think was a interesting twist on the video game protagonist. He’s built up as the one good detective in L.A. only revealed as nothing more than a dirty cheater. It made him more human, but it also made me hate him. With every scene regarding his infidelity, I wanted to shout at him: “What are you doing you idiot?! Go back home and make things right!” which of course he didn’t. I still thought the ending was tragic, both in a sense that some of the crooks got away since he died, but also that he wasn’t represented for what he was at his funeral. Sure, people aren’t going to focus on the bad at a funeral, but it was all so fake. Having one of Cole’s enemies giving the eulogy was a perfect example of how much of a sham the funeral was. (This actually made a for a great scene, props to the developers for making it that way)

    So yeah, while L.A. Noir was a great game, I too won’t be returning to it.


    • I do wish they had spent just a little more time on Cole’s relationship with his family. Having this knowledge, no matter if he and his wife were happy or not, would have helped with the believability factor.

      Nice to know that I’m not alone in getting too caught up in games. Most gamers will happily yell at the screen during a video game, more so than during a movie, and that’s a good thing. That feeling like you’re part of the game is one reason why we enjoy them so.


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