Why I don’t like Cole Phelps- LA Noire

Posted on May 23, 2011 by


Here there be spoilers. Beware. Seriously. Also bitching and moaning. Beware of that also.

Okay? If you keep reading, anything you see is your own fault.

Alright then, let’s get on with it.

So this Cole Phelps guy, the guy I, you and everyone else who bought LA Noire play the game as. He’s a nice guy. He goes out of his way to make the world a better place after having a number of unpleasant experiences in the war. He makes jokes, he’s funny. He’s a determined and hard working cop.  He’s smart. And three-quarters of the way into the game, he cheats on his wife with a German singer called Elsa. And suddenly I hated the guy. I didn’t just hate him, I was angry- furious, even- at what had transpired. My original thought was that maybe it wasn’t what it looked like. Nothing explicit is ever shown. But then it gets in the press. Compromising photographs. He doesn’t deny it.

And so he gets his ass busted down from the best job in the game- Vice, down to the worst- Arson. He loses his wife, his kids, the respect he’s earned. And I’ve lost something, too. My motivation to play. And I’m sorry, but when a great game (and it really is great, i’ll do a proper review later) turns around and slaps me with a mood whiplash so strong it completely turns off of the game, even for a little while, something has gone seriously wrong.

If it had been any other rockstar game, it would have been okay. That’s the strange thing. I had about seven girlfriends in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, because each one offered unique and useful in-game benefits. In Bully, I set Jimmy about making out with anything that walked, boy or girl, because it was always funny to watch Jimmy get attacked by a number of jealous lovers. In Red Dead Redemption, it’s impossible to engage in romance with anyone- John Marston was a married man, but in RDR, I really, really wanted him to cheat on his wife.

I’ll explain that one. In Red Dead, one of the first people you actually meet is Bonnie MacFarlane. Bonnie’s pretty. She’s smart. She’s tough. She’s funny. Shes understanding. In short- she’s all the things Abigail Marston isn’t. On top of that, she’s the only woman you interact with in any great detail untill the final chapter of the game, when John is reunited with his wife and son. Bonnie was in love him. I was in love with Bonnie. I wished John had been. Sometimes I imagine he was, and was simply sparing her the inevitable outcome of his violent, tragic life. In RDR, this simple, honest farmgirl had far more emotional impact than John’s (nonexistent for 90% of the game) wife ever did.

In LA Noire, You see Cole’s wife even less than you saw John Martson’s. She appears in the opening cutscene, and then, briefly, shortly after Cole’s adultery comes to light. I have no emotional attachment to this woman. I couldn’t care less about her, and even less than that about Cole’s daughters, who we never see at all. We see Cole with the singer three times, and only once do they exchange dialogue, during an actual investigation.

So really, I don’t care about the people he’s cheating on or with. What annoys me, what upsets me, is that the whole damn thing is so completely out of character for Cole. There’s no kind of hint that he’s not happy with his marriage, and while we see him visit the club to watch the singer once or twice, nothing is ever made of it until Cole follows her home in the Vice chapter (stalking) and just walks in and has sex with her. It comes (please excuse the pun) more or less out of nowhere, and it turned an incredibly charismatic, likeable guy into a glory-hound scumbag. I dunno, that gets my dander up. There are so many ways it could have worked better. Would it have been so hard to include brief scenes of Cole coming home after cases? Seeing his wife, reading a book to his girls. Hell, i’d even take seeing some development between him and the singer.

I wanted Cole to be the first Rockstar game character I played who was a good man. And it just didn’t happen. He disappointed me. Oh well, he’s dead now. As I said, I think this is a really great game, but in the midst of the greatness is this horrible crappy little sub-plot that could have been so much better.

Posted in: Comment, Games