L.A. Noire Review

August 31, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Posted in (All Posts), Reviews, Video Game Reviews | Leave a comment
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L.A. Noire Review
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: RockStar Studios
Release Date: May 17, 2011

Personal Note: In the case of this L.A. Noire review, it’s better to arrive late than to never show up at all. I realize the game was released in May, but I was only able to play just a few weeks ago – and I feel that having some time after the hype has died down gave me a more clear look at the game as a whole.

On the surface, L.A. Noire plays like an open-world Grand Theft Auto-clone set in a post-WWII Los Angeles. What makes this game different is that instead of playing the role of someone committing crimes and working your way up through the streets, L.A. Noire puts in you in the shoes of a cop named Cole Phelps, a lieutenant in the war who has returned home to work his way up the ranks the honest way. Cole Phelps takes a very different route than a character from a GTA game, being that he works on the side of the law, rather than breaking it.

The ultimate charm of L.A. Noire is that despite what is on the surface, this is NOT a GTA-clone. While it has elements that make it comparable to the RockStar games, L.A. Noire is mostly a “detective” game that puts emphasis on finding clues at crime scenes and interrogating suspects. You won’t be having as many high-speed-chases or heavy gunfights. Nonetheless, it’s hard for anyone who has played a RockStar game not to compare the two. L.A. Noire really is a unique game that can stand alone; not to mention that the Australian group “Team Bondi” developed the game while RockStar only published it.

Gameplay

Instead of driving to “missions” on an open-world-map, you have “cases” that are assigned to you depending on what specific department you work on (Homicide, Traffic, Arson, etc.). Each case plays out almost like a television episode or a short-film from the 1940s, opening up with black and white title screens and an occasional narrative from one of Cole’s partners.

Usually, we see some glimpse of a person involved with a crime being committed, and then the game touches back to where Cole Phelps is, being updated on the case. You leave the police station and head out towards the crime scene with your partner. The driving mechanic is good enough; nothing that is superior or inferior to any other comparable game. Once at the crime scene, you interact with a few other officials and then are free to investigate on your own. The game gives cues via the controller vibrating and a change in music when you walk over a potential clue. You quickly learn, even during your first mission, that not everything is going to be related to the case – like silverware in a kitchen or an empty pack of cigarettes on the ground. There is some degree of interaction once you find a clue. You can maneuver the analog sticks to get a better look at things, and are sometimes prompted to press “A” (or X) to interact even more. Cole has a small notebook he keeps with him at all times that you write your notes in. This is a handy gameplay mechanic that keeps track of all the clues you’ve discovered, suspects you’ve met, and questions you can ask the suspects when you get the opportunity.

My biggest complaint with the gameplay came during the interrogations. Granted, the system works to a degree, but throw away all beliefs that this game has “dozens” of ways for you to go about a case. There may be more clues to find and more questions you can ask, but the game wants you to follow a somewhat linear path. A quick search on any message board devoted to the game will lead you to dozens of experiences players have had where an interrogation scene didn’t make sense. Even though the game makes use of a new face-capture technology called “MotionScan,” judging whether someone is lying or not is not always the problem.

You have three options during interrogations: believe that the suspect is telling the truth, doubt what they are saying (without any evidence supporting your claim), or call them out in a lie (because you have proof to support it). There is ALWAYS only one correct and two incorrect choices to each question, and even when you feel you are doing the right thing, you sometimes realize the game almost plays itself.

Sometimes when “doubting” the suspects answer (which sometimes isn’t an answer at all), even if you know what the suspect says is untrue – Cole will be reprimanded and you are forced to move onto the next question. If what the suspect says is untrue and you have proof to prove it, you have to select lie. The problem is, sometimes your “proof” isn’t consistent.

For example, in your last case as a traffic officer, Cole Phelps is walking his police route and hears a gunshot around a corner. He comes onto the scene where someone has just been shot outside of a shoe store. No real suspect is seen at this time, although you find multiple witnesses – including a girl who works inside the shoe store. You also optionally find a handgun tossed in a trashcan just near the body. If you pick the gun up, Cole makes notice that the gun has a serial number and asks his partner if there is a gun shop nearby where they can possibly identify the owner of the gun, and your partner confirms there is. After questioning the witness, however, you get a solid lead on who the murderer is and your partner encourages that the both of you go to the murder suspect’s location. This leads into a long chase sequence and you eventually take the suspect down. The problem is, you are then taken back to the police station and the game immediately wants you to pin the suspect in the questioning room and get him to confess he is the murderer. Even if you purposefully fail so you can go collect more evidence (such as confirming who the owner of the gun is), the game WILL NOT let you leave the police station, and you are forced to go back into the questioning room until you get what the games consider a confession. Granted, this case can be solved without the gun’s serial number, but would a real cop do this? Wouldn’t you double-check and make sure the gun belongs to the suspect you have? Well this simply isn’t the case if you don’t do it in the right order.

This is where the frustration from the gameplay arises; the game gives you a false disbelief that you, as a detective, have freedom to solve the case the way you would solve it as a detective, and while this is true to a small degree, the game limits itself whenever it sees fit. Cinema scenes will play after certain events that don’t add up to the story (such as being scolded by your police chief for not pinning a confession on the subject he wanted you to – even though you find out both suspects were innocent later). Most of the time I felt annoyed when moving forward in cases because the game was either forcing me to, or some small, unrelated detail hadn’t been yet covered.

There have been many video games that have had some sort of broken logic when it comes to the “correct order” of what should be done, but in a detective game, I believe they really should have got this right. And not only the order of events, but the interrogation system entirely is (and I hate to admit this – I really do) broken. You can call someone a liar on ANY question, then depending on the response, choose to back out and continue on as if it never happened. While I loved using this cheap tactic just so I could get better scores on my case, that is not a realistic detective system at all. If a police officer was questioning a young girl who was a victim of abuse and called her a murderer (without a grain of evidence) while she was sitting in a hospital bed, I seriously doubt she would happily answer the rest of his questions if all he said was, “Sorry…looks like I made a mistake.”

To a gamer who hasn’t played L.A. Noire or those who found the gameplay “functioning” this might seem like nitpicking, but after you are forced to do dozens and dozens of cases, most of which follow the same formula (which can sadly become dull), I think everyone can and will encounter multiple instances of frustration. Parts of the gameplay, particularly the interrogation system, do work, but for the most part, it is simply not good enough.

Visuals

As mentioned above, a new motion capture system called “MotionScan” was used by TeamBondi to get lifelike facial features, which absolutely do look amazing. The rest of the game’s visuals however, are not up to par with this new technology. Most of the buildings and cars look nice, and the textures on the larger objects in the game are very well done. My biggest gripe with the visual system is again one of consistency.

Never before have I seen such detailed faces in a video game, but quite frankly, the rest of the body for the human character models is not anything to praise. They look good enough for an average game, but for a game that was hyped so much and in development for 7 years, it’s not spectacular. And a quick side note: TeamBondi almost likes to use as a positive trait, even though the bigger question is: “Why it was in development that long?”

Sound

One area that I feel was done very well is the sound of L.A. Noire. Most of the music during gameplay is that of orchestra instruments, slowly going along as you investigate crime scenes or go from point A to point B. There are some very helpful sound cues that come up, such as when you find all the noticeable clues at the investigation site, or when you are nearby some item that can be investigated further.

Some cars can pick up radio stations, and TeamBondi was true to the time period. There have been a few songs I’ve gone as far as to go and purchase in real life because the game exposed me to them. Even though 1940s jazz is quite different to the musical selection players might be used to with an open-world-game, it’s still entertaining really helps you get the full “feel” of a crime-riddled, post-WWII Los Angeles.

Presentation 

This was my absolute favorite part of L.A. Noire – the setting. Seeing detectives in pin-stripe-suits and gangster-caps, girls in long skirts and decorated makeup, the licensed cars correct with that time period, the posters and billboards with their specific artwork, and this overtone of a country recovering from World War II. I think it was just a fantastic setting for a game like this. Everything from the houses to the dialogue just felt very different, and while I’m not an expert on 1940s Los Angeles, this game made me almost want to be in that time period – which is a feeling I can relate to most great games that I’ve played.

Overall 

L.A. Noire is a game I would love to call one of my favorite games of all time. I applaud the developers louder than anyone for picking this unique setting and taking an alternate route rather than copying the GTA formula entirely. What a promising idea this was, and just looking at the surface, it seems this game is absolutely perceptible with quality. That is unfortunately not true. It’s clear that some areas were given much more attention than others, and the most lacking is the gameplay. While you won’t encounter “glitches” per say, the repetition in the formula of case after case gets quite old, and there are very few elements thrown in to change things up. And as I already covered, the entire system of finding clues and questioning characters does not work well. The story is interesting, but it takes advantage of the player with certain “dramatic moments” that really come out of nowhere and leave you confused (and not caring) – particularly with one moment involving Cole’s family life. That being said, the story was enjoyable and I honestly believe if this game would ever be turned into some sort of film, it would be worth watching.

I managed to finish the main story of L.A. Noire in just under 20 hours, and obviously I would not have put that much time into a game I hated. I can’t speak for the DLC because quite frankly, this game is not in my collection anymore. I attempted a second playthrough of the main story, thinking I might enjoy it more once I understood how the game wanted me to go about things, but that didn’t help the experience.

L.A. Noire is not a game lacking quality, but I would hope that TeamBondi, should they ever use this time of gameplay ever again, would go back to the drawing board. I only recently started playing the game and completed it, and I thought perhaps without the surrounding hype of the game’s release I would be able to see the game for what it really is. And unfortunately, L.A. Noire is just this – a very “average” game.

L.A. Noire gets a 6.5/10.

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