L.A. Noire User Review
Let me start off by saying that there is no reason whatsoever for me not to like this game. It appeals to me on an intellectual level. I rather enjoy the simpler motivations of games such as the GTA franchise, the technology is an astounding insight into one of the potential futures of our hobby, and perhaps most of all, L.A. Noire is a local product. You should know by now that I am something of a patriot, and that I generally hold anything Australian above pretty much anything else in the world, be it music, films and even ordinary everyday products, even foodstuffs. So, how can it be that L.A. Noire comes up short in my eyes? I’ve mentioned before the effect that hype and anticipation can have, but enough chatter, allow me to get to the analysis.
First of all, you play as Cole Phelps, a soldier fresh back in Los Angeles in 1947, after being a celebrated war hero. His strong moral compass and glory hounding leads him to join the LAPD, where he quickly establishes himself as the golden boy after solving several tough cases in unexpected fashion. He is quickly promoted from the Traffic desk and begins his meteoric rise through the ranks of the force. In the meantime, some of his time in the military is revealed to the player. The game starts off incredibly slowly, leaving the player with a real feeling of disconnection between what’s happening in the current timeframe and the flashbacks, though it really picks up in the latter half and becomes far more engaging. That being said, I can’t say that I am a fan of how the story towards the end was handled. It simply felt as though Team Bondi were going for depth and having Cole face his past, but is simply doesn’t work. Indeed, it feels incredibly weak and shoe-horned in, which is sad considering the possibilities.
I actually have a couple of other issues regarding the story, but they’re easily overlooked. One of the things that I really liked was the way that all of the cases of any particular desk are related and having the final mission take on a different tact than the interviewing and investigation. Granted, it almost always falls to rather intense action segments, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant. Also the ending tried hard to be powerful, but I just felt little connection to the characters, which left me with a sense of dissatisfaction.
As to the gameplay itself, much has been made of the investigative sections, and these are decent, though there are some segments where you’ll find something that is obviously a clue, and it won’t be written down in Cole’s notebook for use in catching a suspect out in a lie. This can be incredibly frustrating, as it makes it feel as though you know something that he doesn’t. It may only seem to be a minor gripe, but when you consider it as irrefutable proof of wrongdoing, yet can’t select it in trying to accuse the suspect, it takes away from the experience. Clues are often craftily hidden about the crime scenes, and with far more objects than just them to tinker with, you can really lose time in simply exploring.
The other innovative piece of gameplay is the interrogation segments. These are actually surprisingly well done, though Cole doesn’t always act in the method that your selection might dictate, becoming overly combative at times. The tells of the suspects are pretty uniform, though surprisingly often you’ll find yourself wanting to believe them and their having a façade of conviction when it simply is not the case. All in all, they are well done with the exception of the ‘lie’ function. This forces you to produce a piece of evidence to back up your assertions, but you’ll sometimes find that a piece of evidence is not correct, or not enough to prove a lie. Even more commonly, you’ll find that a piece of evidence that you regard as all but worthless being exactly what is needed to catch them out. The devil is in the detail, and you have to pay attention. What is most funny is that you sometimes have to adjust the way you think about a suspect, because a tell that you may regard as being worthy of doubting them can actually only be an expression of discomfort, and that is understandable.
When it comes to the action segments, I found the melee system to be one of the best that I’ve yet encountered in this type of game. If the next Grand Theft Auto were to take cues from this, then I’d be very happy, as hand-to-hand combat is one area where that series has always fallen apart. On the other hand, the gunplay of L.A. Noire is nothing special, though the weapons all feel and act correctly. The cover system works well, though the auto-aim is as annoying as ever. I suppose when you have the minimalist reticule on show here it makes sense, but I still can’t stand it. It just eliminates the need for skill. Finally, the driving is pretty much exactly as it was in GTAIV, so if you enjoyed it there, you should enjoy it here, though of course the cars are older and slower. On foot works, and chase sequences are forever fun, but not nearly frequent enough, and that is one of the things that bugs me. Melee and on-foot chases are both more fun than the gunplay and vehicle chase segments, but the latter both get a larger focus. The balance is just off for delivering a ‘fun’ experience for the player, in my opinion.
Outside of the missions, you’ll primarily spend your time by driving around, looking out for L.A. landmarks and trying to find all of the hidden vehicles, which are usually great fun to drive. You’ll also receive calls through dispatch to which you can respond, and are basically there to pad out the action gameplay, so aren’t really all that appealing, unless you are enamoured with the gunplay and car chases.
Moving on, may I just say that the graphics are beautiful, colourful and sometimes breathtaking. Unfortunately, I feel that it could have been much better if they had shrunk the city somewhat, as having such a huge map simply does not work well with the type of game that L.A. Noire is. Like Mafia II and GTAIV, there just isn’t enough to do outside of missions to justify it. That being said, there is a goodly amount of diversity, with parks, waterways, development lots, residential areas and business centres taking centre stage at different points, though that is to be expected, as it is based off the real L.A. of 1947. If you take your time to stop, look around and explore the map, you’ll find more of this excellent design, but it doesn’t change the fact that it simply is too big.
Character models are phenomenal, though that is to be expected due to the MotionScan technology that has been implemented to allow for ultra-realistic facial animations. The animation system can be a bit jerky, and there can be a slight disconnect between the faces and bodies, but that is easy to overlook. There is a huge amount of diversity in the NPCs, which is great. And may I just make a mention of the fantastic lighting engine that is in use here. I mean, it doesn’t do a whole lot for the characters, but in terms of shadowing and dynamic rendering, it is simply amazing.
The graphical presentation isn’t without its faults though, as pop-in does occasionally crop up, and the draw distance utilises something similar to what was seen in inFamous where it really blurs the background as you try to look further away. I thought it was good there, and I feel the same way here, as it gives the feeling of trying to look through the haze that does so commonly seem to sit around cities. You’ll occasionally find strange things happening with the physics engine, but that is to be expected in this type of game.
Aww man, how many times do I have to review Rockstar games before I come across one that falls short in the sound department? Again, it is the shining star of this production. Never mind that I immediately fell in love with the jazz soundtrack, but the voices just work because the character models are near perfect recreations of the actors that provided them. The many variations in accent are also very good. One thing that I felt short was the little difference that you came across when walking down the street. I swear that there can’t have been any more than about ten lines for all pedestrians in the game.
Vehicle engines all sound good, with lower power engines being reflected by the lack of punch. The sounds of a city are alive and well in the ambience. And for once car crashes actually sound pretty good, though far from reflecting the impact of being involved in a real one. There are very few issues with the sound, though the balance between voices and sound effects can sometimes be a bit iffy.
Now, it’s a good, lengthy game, easily lasting over twenty hours just to get through the campaign. Then you can go back to play through any of the cases in order to achieve a five star rating by getting every dialogue option correct and finding every clue. I have massive issues with this though. I don’t understand why there is a right and wrong answer for the questioning. Sure, detectives get it wrong, but they don’t have a bell ringing in their head to tell them that they did. It takes away from the realism. Moreover, in spite of developer assurances that it is possible to put away the wrong suspect, you only get that option about three times in the entire game, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It is simply far too linear to achieve its promise. I understand the reasons for this. It would be immensely difficult to implement the number of permutations that would be required if the game left you free to arrest whoever YOU thought was the suspect, and the number of lines that would quickly add up from incorrect questioning having your character led down the wrong track would be maddening for any writer, not to mention the actors. But one cannot deny that L.A. Noire fell short of its promise in a great many ways.
Perhaps I was expecting too much. I’m wouldn’t dream of saying that L.A. Noire is a bad game. It is revolutionary in that it is a step backwards, then sideways and then two forward. It takes all of those old detective games and point-and-click adventures that haven’t managed to make a smooth transition into the modern era and paves the way for their return to prominence, but because of the unprofessional execution of the story, the on-rails nature of the game and a few other niggling issues that I can’t seem to overlook, I cannot give this game a score that lives up to the individual elements. Unlike Fallout 3, this game is not greater than the sum of its parts, but rather the exact opposite. Its individual parts make for a better game than L.A. Noire succeeded in being. Whether this because they simply do not meld is up to you, as I cannot give any real reason for why I feel this way.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.