L.A. Noire Review

Posted on July 6, 2011 by

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LA Noire is probably one of the most anticipated releases of the year, right up there with Portal 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. But then, any game by Rockstar is going to be a big deal pretty much by default, even their less well known releases, like Bully and Midnight Club.

In many ways Noire is a deviation from the usual Rockstar fare, there is a minimal amount of shooting, few car chases, and you have to try extremely hard to actually run over a pedestrian. The reason being that in Noire, you play as a cop- Cole Phelps (who I wrote an article about a short while ago, do not read unless you’ve played the game). So naturally you can’t just pull your gun out and go on a rampage. Noire isn’t about action- it’s about intelligence (or, in my case, blind guesswork). I’ve reviewed a number of ‘adventure’ games recently, the most prevalent being the godawful Doctor Who games, which felt more like a throwback to the old days or point and clicking (which were amazing- never let anyone tell you Day of the Tentacle, Discworld, The Secret of Monkey Island or Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis were anything but incredible), while Noire embraces new ideas and new technology, which turns it into a period version of CSI.

Now, yes, let’s get some things out of the way. LA Noire is incredibly similar to the excellent film LA Confidential, as has been pointed out by people far funnier and more eloquent than myself (Yahtzee) to the point where it feels a bit like plagiarism in places. Except that where LA Con had a deep, complex, twisting storyline, and deep, evolving, complex characters to go with it, LA Noire‘s characters have all the depth of a muddy puddle. I get that the characters are basically only there to facilitate the movement from one crime scene to another, but I can’t help but feel like you could remove the emotionless uncanny-valley characters and the game would still work- it might even be better. Cole Phelps is the biggest offender- you have to wonder if he has aspergers syndrome based on his inability to be social, his poor undertsnading of emotions, and his cold, unfeeling reactions to things like viewing the mutilated corpse of a naked woman. Nothing fazes Phelps. He’s like a robot trying it’s best to act like a human. In fact- Cole Phelps is basically Data from Star Trek.

But as I said, Data is only here to facilitate the annoying walky-talky bits that keep popping up between all the crime scenes, which are the big draw of the game. You get assigned a case, you drive to the crime scene. Once safely out of the cars that handle like dodgems piloted by drunken toddlers, you examine the area of the crime scene, picking up every single thing you find (because Data apparently has OCD and isn’t satisfied until he’s closely examined every piece of litter within a 2 mile radius) and turning out around in your hands to make sure you’ve seen that broken bottle from every angle possible. Once you’ve found all the important clues (you’ll know when that’s happened, because the game plays a little ‘duhduhduhduuuuh’ when you have) you move on to talking to witnesses, or those actually involved if they’re still at the scene of the crime.

The interrogations are the other big thing the game likes to boast about. Team Bondi hired real-life actors (although I only recognised that guy who played Matt Parkman on Heroes) to be mo-capped into the game, right down to their facial expressions (not like you need to have a really expressive face and lots of practice for it to work well) so that while you interrogate them, you can theoretically tell if they’re telling the truth, lying or just hiding something. For me, it was very hit and miss- some people hammed it up so much it was obvious they were lying because it looked like they were suddenly watching a fly doing somersaults and figure eights in from of their faces, while other times people kept completely straight faces. At one point, I was completely outwitted by a 14 year old girl. That’s not something I’m very proud of, but damnit, she was a good liar. The facial recognition stuff has another side-effect. It makes people looks decidedly unreal. They have the same inhuman qualities as Kristen Stewart, and even less acting ability. The massive amount of detail given to the faces also makes the less detailed and more awkwardly animated bodies look out of place.More confusion is added by the three interrogation options- Truth, Doubt and Lie. You use truth when you think someone is telling the truth, and lie when you know someone is lying and have evidence to prove it. Doubt is a bit more tricky, because unlike the other two it has no set rule. Sometimes doubt means suggesting that maybe the suspect did actually eat a bit of cake she wasn’t meant to, and other times it consists of accusing them of serial murder. Interrogation was very hit and miss, and on many cases I only passed by running through all of the options over and over, making my own notes. I really shouldn’t have to take notes to play a game well.

As I said, you’ll sometimes come to an action sequence, but the game really doesn’t care if you do them or not- if you fail at them even once, the game asks ‘would you like to skip it? Go on, you know we’d both prefer it. These bits make me feel dirty. Or is that what you like? Do you want to flaunt myself around and pretend to be her? You’re precious GTA? If you love her so much, go play with her and leave me on the shelf to collect dust in peace!’ …Sorry, that got away from me a bit. The action always feels out of place- at one point, while chasing down a suspect, the two of managed to single-handedly destroy an entire massive movie set. I also suspect that when trying to quietly tail a car, all other traffic suddenly does it’s best to ram into you- and any property/vehicle damage lowers you’re case score. Each case gets rated based on how well you’ve done- finding all the clues, interrogating everyone perfectly and not incurring any damage or upset the the city.

It recently emerged that Rockstar and Team Bondi did not have a good time working together. One might go as far as to say that by this point they mostly hate each other, because Bondi kept trying to make insane design choices, and Rockstar had to keep kicking them up the arse to get things done. Noire took 6 years to make, and frankly the upset between the two companies shows through in the final product.

In conclusion, I don’t think LA Noire is very good, and I’m sure at this point, a lot of people are hastily preparing to write comments along the lines of ‘well, you didn’t like because you weren’t good at it’, which is untrue- there are a lot of games I’m not any good at, like Ninja Gaiden, but I keep playing them because I still enjoy them and they are good games. Get past the surface of LA Noire, and you’ll start to see the flaws- the almost lack of story, the terrible, weak one-dimensional characters, the piss-poor driving and shooting controls. It looks very nice, I can’t deny that. And 40’s LA is very nice to look at. The game almost starts getting good in during the part where your working in Homicide, even developing a plot before is gets scared and goes back to trying to get by without one. LA Noire is worth a rental, maybe, if you’re  huge fan of LA Confidential, but is otherwise going to be little more than a footnote in video game history.

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Posted in: Games, Review