Review: L.A. Noire

Jun 29, 2011

It’s difficult to put into words how I feel about L.A. Noire and what I took away from the experience. There are significant parts of this game that I, for a lack of a better term, would say are “magical”. The world and characters come alive like no other game I’ve seen. Unfortunately, that magic is surrounded by a serious amount of uneven experiences and repetitive gameplay.  With that being said, one would wonder if “magic” would out weigh those negative elements. Well that’s what I am struggling with, and I really hope my ramblings below are able to express how I feel.

Let me start by giving you a little context. L.A. Noire is an adventure game trapped in a large beautiful open-world game that was developed by Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. However, unlike other Rockstar games, which uses that open space for carnage and revenge, L.A. Noire utilizes its open-world as more of a backdrop to its wonderfully crafted who-done-it gameplay. As Cole Phelps, a police officer living in 1947 L.A, you’re driven by several small-encapsulated story lines that have you collect clues, question witnesses, and solve murder mysteries. It’s an extremely effective component of the game as it makes the player feel like a true detective. The first step in every case is to find clues. Each crime scene is littered with ambiguous items that may or may not help your case.  The mechanics for this portion of the game are brilliant, as it utilizes clever notifications that lead players to not only find clues, but also to indicate when they have found all the clues in a given scene. Any time a player walks across an item that could potentially lead to a vital clue, the controller will vibrate. This will make sure players don’t needlessly hit X while walking around to find a clue. This function does, unfortunately, work on all items that the player can pick up and frequently leads players to pick up and look at items that have nothing to do with the case at all. The game will indicate to the player that an invalid item isn’t valuable to your case and it won’t count as a clue in your logbook, but it’s very frustrating when you constantly pick up items just to learn they are useless. The game also incorporates a very simple yet smart musical note that lets player know when they have found all the clues within the given scene. This is fantastic as it pushes players to move forward in the game, rather than continue a futile search.

Once you collect your clues, the player than questions witnesses in what I think is the most engrossing portion of the game. I mentioned previously that the game world of L.A Noire is beautiful, but that only comes second to the character models that the player meets and interviews. The game features a fantastic facial animation that helps players determine when a suspect is telling the truth, lying or just being dodgy. All the facial ticks, rolling eyes, and quick smirks are brilliantly captured and really sells the player when they are trying to determine whom they can trust. The facial models are so gorgeous and spot on that when you come across one of the many supporting actors in the game, you’ll actually spend time trying to remember what TV show/movie you know them from, that’s how great the models look. The voice acting is also superb and remarkably convincing.  The players have to utilize not only their collected clues but also watch the interviewees facial animations to determine what they are saying is valid or not. These decisions branch the game in different directions to move the case forward to its eventual resolution, this unfortunately is a huge let down within the game. No matter how the player performs during the interviews, the story will continue. If the player happens to miss any key clues, or even fail all the interview questions, the case will eventually resolve. In some way or another, a “key” breakthrough in the case will present itself so that it eventually gets solved. Once the case is over, the player is given a grade on how they performed during that case.  The problem with this structure is that immediately after an interview is over, the game indicates how many times the player was able to successfully determine who was lying or telling the truth. Ignorance is bliss in this situation, as knowing that I was already on the “wrong” path and that my case score would be affected, I lost a sense of purpose in the decisions I made in the game. Unlike Heavy Rain, were your actions play out organically, L.A. Noire has a poorly implemented mechanic that makes you immediately regret your decisions rather than embrace them and live with your consequences.

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Within each case, the game sprinkles in some action sequences to keep players engaged and riveted in between the clues and interviews sections. These can happen at any point during a case and come in the form of gun combat and car/foot chases.  There are even police dispatches that go out that the player can respond to while they are driving to a crime scene, or a place of interest. The gun combat isn’t anything special, and usually involves you staying behind cover waiting for the enemy to eventually pop their head up to pop them off. It’s simple and not really engaging. The weapons in the game are your standard pistol, shotgun, and automatics with the exception of one fun yet short-lived weapon towards the climax of the game that I won’t spoil. The chase sequences I’m sure you’ve played dozens of times in other Rockstar games, you just have to substitute modern cars with 40’s cars. It’s exciting when you first play one of these action sequences but once you’ve played one of them either within the case, or by answering a dispatch call, you’ve pretty much played them all. Unfortunately that’s how every aspect of this game works. Every case plays out the same. You visit a crime scene, you interview people, you’re caught in an action sequence, and you solve the case. There are a lot of great locations that look fantastic, and the characters are always fun to meet, but it quickly becomes tiresome and the game gets hard to play in long stretches, as it just gets repetitive. Other than trying to find hidden collectibles and driving all the cars in the game, there isn’t anything to do outside of the game. It’s almost like the developers spent more time trying to create the most realistic world to look at, but forgot to add things to do within the game. You’ll spend your time admiring the world when you’re driving an ungodly amount of time from one location to the next, but that’s about it. I feel like the open world and the action sequences were just put in there to fill out the game, rather than enhance the experience as it’s very uneven to the fun and interesting detective work that you primarily spend your time on.

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It’s difficult for me to recommend L.A. Noire, as I think a lot of people will get tired of the gameplay half way through the game. The beautiful created world, voice acting, character models, and detective portions alone in this game make it one of the biggest power houses of this generation, it’s just sad that it’s squandered by a game I feel was driven to add more fluff to increase game length than game worth.

 

Worth Buying? – My answer would be yes, if not only to see how far games have come. But really consider your patience in repetitiveness before opening your wallet.

Did well – The character models are unlike anything I’ve seen before and 1940’s L.A comes alive in this beautiful recreated world. The gameplay really makes you feel like a detective.

Did poorly – The game becomes repetitive quickly and outside of some collectibles there isn’t anything to do in such a large open world.

Would my wife sit and watch? – Absolutely. The story lines within each case are fun and she’ll really enjoy trying to determine who is guilty or not. My wife even helped me find certain clues and respond correctly during the interviews.

Purchase @ $30

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