As an interactive movie and a testament to the story telling power of video games, L.A. Noire excels. As a game itself…well, there the topic becomes a bit less black and white.
Now for those of you who hate Rockstar games, what with the open worlds and hooker shooting, you should put whatever preconceived notions you have about this game aside. This is not the game you are thinking of. You play as Cole Phelps, a hero back from the second world war with the reputation of a hero and a hankering for justice. Joining the Los Angeles police force, he quickly rises through the ranks to become a detective. You, of course, are the one who is helping him rise through said ranks. Which is deviation number one from the perceived Rockstar norm. Good cops don’t just shoot hookers willy nilly.
No, in this game you are playing the good cop. You try to help grieving families, not create new ones. You patrol the streets, helping the poor and the downtrodden, not crushing them beneath your heel. This isn’t even the moral ambiguity of Red Dead Redemption. You’re not a bad guy trying to go straight. You are a straight up good guy. This probably comes from the fact that L.A. Noire was not actually developed by Rockstar. Team Bondi created the game, with Rockstar footing a lot of the bill. Difference number two.
Wanna know difference number three? There really isn’t that much action in the game when you get right down to it. Most of the time you are carefully pouring over clues and crime scenes, sniffing out the stray lead that might put you on track to finding the next lead, and so on and so on. This is when the game is at its best. I liked walking around whatever horrible scene of brutality I found myself on, checking on random objects, examining them, seeing if they matter one bit to finding my most recent perp. It really felt like the evolution of those old point and click adventure games that I loved in my youth. Like The 7th Guest on steroids. And no ghosts. Remind me to talk about The 7th Guest some day. It needs some love.
But when you start having to do the bang bang, things get all sorts of generic. Its not bad. Don’t think I’m saying that. But its just not what I’m here for. Ands its obvious it isn’t what Team Bondi was here for either. You hide behind cover, you point, you shoot, you proceed, you get to the investigating again and you are once more happy with your purchase. In other words, when the game focuses on shooting, its a game. When it focuses on detecting, its an experience.
Not to say that the detective part is flawless either. More specifically, the interrogation part of detecting. I’d say that it works as I’d expect it to around 85% of the time. However, when it doesn’t work…okay, to explain. When you are talking with someone you have to pick a question out of Cole’s little notebook. Cole asks the question, then you have to decide whether the person is telling the truth, being slightly deceitful or outright lying. You have to look at the person’s face and body language when they are talking in order to pick out whether they are bullshitting you or not. By the way, before I go on, let me just give my highest praise to the revolutionary facial rendering. Its creepy good. You really do have to pay attention sometimes to the little facial tics and expressions to read a person correctly. Someone can be smiling and perfectly calm, but its that one twitch of the eye that gives them away.
Here’s the problem with this system. The three choices you get to choose from. Truth, doubt and lie. Again, this works most of the time, but when it doesn’t…an example. I’m questioning a man whose wife was just found brutally murdered. The mother of his children. He is obviously shaken up about it. I believe the question was whether he knew her exact whereabouts the previous night. He says no, he didn’t. He gave a little sidewards glance, so I figured he was holding something back. Nothing sinister, but still, I needed all the facts. I pick doubt, hoping to edge a little bit more truth out of him. Here’s pretty much how Cole took my suggestion right there.
“So how’d you kill your wife asshole?”
That sound you heard was me spitting my imaginary drink all over the television screen in surprise. What did you just ask the grieving widower Cole?! I thought he was holding back! I didn’t want to ask him that! Why on Earth would you ask him that?! And thus we see the problem here. Sometimes you and the game aren’t really thinking on the same level. For a game that requires intuition and gut feelings, making sure you’re saying what you want to be saying is quite crucial. Perhaps if they had given us a system where instead of just picking truth, doubt and lie we could have a form of branching thoughts like in Bioware’s games this would have gone down better.
But the biggest problem with the game is in its replayability. In a word, it has none. Sure, you can collect all the classic cars you want and see all the sights of L.A. and do all the street crimes. You also might want to five star all the cases in the game. But as for going through the entire thing again? No, not really feeling that one. It suffers the curse of every adventure game, great and small. Once you know how to solve the case, it takes away 99% of the fun. I know who the bad guy is. I pretty much know how to get there. I know the right answers and the wrong answers. Where is the game now? Its not there. I already solved it. I know what the puzzle looks like. I don’t need to find the corner pieces.
So here comes the part where I have to give this damn thing a score. Which brings about a big question. Is the initial experience of playing through the game enough to recommend a purchase? Well, yes, I think everyone who loves fantastic storytelling through the medium of video games should give this game a play. I also think people who love detective stories should play this. However, is the $60 price tag justified by a game that doesn’t have any replay value? Probably not, no. So here’s my final recommendation. Play this game. Eventually. If you want to play it right now, know what you are getting into. This isn’t GTA in the 40’s. This is a slow paced cop drama. I know you will enjoy it, if the you I just used means a person who likes that kind of thing.
|An incredibly told detective story that keeps your attention the entire way through. The detecting and investigating makes this game really stand out from the competition. Everyone should play this game at least once.||Anything that isn't detecting is kinda bland. Sometime Cole Phelps doesn't act how you want him to. There isn't much replay value once you know how to solve a case. You'll probably only play this game once.|