VIDEO GAME REVIEW: L.A. NOIRE
I’m going to be adopting a new, four tier rating system, comprised of visuals, sound, gameplay, replayability, and lastly the score. A game’s ability to be played more than once is very important to me in deciding whether a game should be rented, owned, or played at all. And no, multiplayer doesn't count as replayability, that would still fall under gameplay. Without further ado, let’s get right into the review.
SIGHTPLAY – This game is absolutely gorgeous. 1940s Los Angeles is recreated rather faithfully (the tar pits seem to have been relocated). This was an era before freeways, so the constant trekking form one side of town to the other is a visual treat. The cars are all authentic and beautiful. It’s a shame there isn’t as much opportunity to see all the hilarious billboards, advertisements, and movie posters as we could in GTA IV, because they are equally clever and well crafted.
The face mapping technology they used is remarkable and looks better than Heavy Rain in my opinion. The emotions are so clear and lifelike that it truly does look more like a movie than a video game. Most of the cast of Mad Men, one of my favourite shows, is in this game. Other actors you may recognize from Heroes and Fringe are in this game, and deliver more believable performances than the TV shows they are known for! When trying to figure out if a career criminal is lying is pretty exciting. However I couldn’t help but notice that sometimes the people were acting as if they were lying, kind of shooting some of themselves in the foot. Occasionally, the masterful facial graphics can be held back at times by the puppet-esque bodies they're attached too. Some characters, while delivering intense lines, will shift in their seat or tilt their heads in ways that just don’t make sense. Nit picking? Sure. Illusion breaking? Also sure. Deal breaking? Not entirely.
SOUNDPLAY – Everything sounds exactly as it should in this game. The gunfire. The footsteps. The car engines. The dialogue. It all sounds so very authentic and real that you just don’t question any of it. Footsteps are a big deal to me, in the auditory department, and it’s one of the reasons I hated Final Fantasy 13 so much. No matter the surface that the characters were running on, it always sounded like boots clomping on hollow metal pipes. Such is not the case for L.A. Noire.
One thing that truly broke my heart about this game was the fact that you have no control over the radio. The music is all lifted from the era, even down to the commercials, news spots, and even comedy bits. Some songs you may even recognize from the Fallout series as well. Sadly, you’re relegated to one station, that you can’t turn off. This held the game back from being as immersive as it should have been.
If I want detective Cole to put his feet up in his office/desk and just listen to some radio stations, why shouldn’t I be able to? It would have provided an opportunity to really listen to some of the great music and radio programming that was so painstakingly worked on.
All of the custom music for this game, like most Rockstar games, is phenomenal. Nothing gets me more pumped than seeing detective Phelps chase down a fleeing criminal while action oriented Jazz starts kicking in. Action oriented Jazz. Never thought I’d say that.
GAMEPLAY – Most of this game is played while either at a crime scene, or during an interrogation. The crime scene segments feel like streamlined versions of old school adventure games. Or as I like to call them, pointy clicky’s. Inspecting objects for clues is mildly reminiscent of Shenmue, the way items are looked at. There are a handful of junk items that have no bearing on anything sprinkled around each location, which are the equivalent of, fuck all. I was never any good at old school PC adventure games, like Curse of Monkey Island, because I lacked of the requisite patience that comes with those games. This approach minimalizes frustrations in lieu of constantly nudging you down the right track. That track being rather linear in retrospect, but I’m not holding that against a game with such a strong emphasis on narration.
The interrogations are probably the most fun to be had from this game and offer a unique experience. The only issue I have is that when your two of your three choices, namely TRUTH and DOUBT, can be rather ambiguous. Sometimes when I choose one of these options, Detective Phelps follows a line of inquiry that was not clarified until it was too late. Moments like this were few and far between, but couldn’t help but notice them. Trying to figure out if someone had the motivation and gumption to actually commit a serious crime was riveting. Constantly flipping through my trusty notebook, reviewing evidence and clues made me feel like a detective. You can use intuition points which are earned by leveling up, to help you much like a life line. However, they can still leave you looking at a suspect that you just can’t figure out.
That said, this is not a game for those who wish to run over civilians and shoot people mercilessly like they did in GTA 4 or Red Dead Redemption, and those who turn to L.A. Noire will be disappointed. This is not a sandbox game, because you are very clearly tasked with getting from point A to point B, solving cases in linear progression, until the game is over. Sure there are crimes you can respond to when dispatch asks for help, but these boil down to brief moments of action, that last less than five minutes. Usually you spend more time actually driving to get to the side mission, than you actually do in completing them.
The gunplay is solid, sure, but never really factors in for this game. You can double tap the aim button and the targeting reticule will instantly snap to any bad guy in the vicinity, which pretty much does the work for you. The melee combat isn’t anything to write home about, and you probably engage in it less than ten times. Most of the cars feel like they drive the same, save for the occasional special car that you unlock by leveling up. The most rewarding part of leveling up is unlocking new suits to wear, which kind of speaks to how little leveling up bears on the game in actuality.
There are a few other missed opportunities where the game takes the control away from the player and forces you to watch as your character makes some rather important decisions that affect his life. However since you don’t get to see the before of these events, the after bears less relevance. Without giving too much away, there is a domestic dispute between Detective Phelps and his wife, this is her only appearance in the game (their kids are never shown), and since the player gets no controlled interaction with her, the episode is devoid of evoking sympathy for Cole. I can’t feel bad for his marriage if it never plays a role outside of this one event. Like the rest of the game, if we were allowed to take our time and be able to more fully explore the world a bit better, we could be even more attached to his personal life, not just his professional one.
REPLAY – This is where the game doesn’t really follow through. There aren’t multiple endings, and all cases have a definite and pre-determined method of obtaining a five star rating. So unless you’re a trophy/achievement hunter, there isn’t much reason to play this game again. In one comically misunderstood sequence of events, one case ended with me sending the wrong person to jail. The Police Chief berated me at great length how if I screwed up that badly again he’d fire me. Fade to black. Fade in to me having breakfast with the Police Chief at a diner, and he’s congratulating me on doing such a stellar job. What the fuck happened? Wasn't I just on the cusp of being canned two seconds ago?
There is one case in particular, where after sending numerous people to jail, you discover that the real mastermind of the crimes is someone you’ve never heard of before and just shows up to make life miserable. There is nothing you can do to find this person beforehand, despite all the calling cards they leave at the scene of the crime. Things like this remind you of how little control you have over the major events in the game, and really break the illusion that the game works so hard to create. The ending is very similar to this, and frustrated me so much that I didn’t want to play the game again. I can’t say why, and I won’t. Spoiler free here folks. Find out for yourself.
Even if you do everything properly, you can still ruin your score by driving recklessly and causing property damage while getting from place to place. And since you have to do a lot of driving, this can get really annoying if you’re a completionist, because driving safely is boring as all hell! The only way to make the driving sequences any fun is to play like Crazy Taxi and see how many shortcuts through people’s backyards as you can. Let's go make some cuh-razy money! Civilians can never be ran over, only pushed to the side. The same can be said of your firearm, which is only removed from its holster if someone opens fire on you, which we’ve already established is a rare occurrence.
SCORE – 4 out of 5. The reason I docked this game down from five is because of the ending. That’s why. The storytelling hiccups? Forgiven. The easy and sparse gunplay? Forgiven. The cars that drive like tanks? Forgiven. The ending? Inexcusable. It feels rushed and unfocused. It’s not bad. It just wasn’t up to the high standard the rest of the game had prepared me for. For the ending, I docked one point.
This game has been a revelation of sorts, in that it totally sucked me into the strongly driven narrative and truly made me feel like a 1947 detective for the LAPD. Unfortunately there were moments that truly made me like a person, holding a controller, looking at a screen, wondering just how little input this game wanted from me. I didn’t hate this game, and rank it up there in the most engrossing titles I’ve ever played, right along with titles such as Shenmue or Fallout 3. But there was some brief moments in the game’s story that left me scratching my head. This has got to be the most immersive game released this year, and I highly recommend everyone play it.