Wednesday, June 1, 2011

L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire is a unique game. Team Bondi strived for that as their goal, and in some regards it is very unique. Playing as a police officer, as opposed to a maniac shooting up a city or a wild west vigilante--L.A. Noire strikes for something different…but I’m torn on what that is exactly.

You play as Cole Phelps, a veteran of WWII. Joining the police force is Phelps way of continuing to serve his country and make a name for himself. Even that is a shadow of the true underlying story that goes deep, and asks questions about a character we get an uneasy resolution to.

Phelps rises from simple beat cop to full LAPD Detective; getting promoted faster than even he can comprehend. L.A. Noire is episodic in nature: each case having a title like, “The Black Caesar” or “The Red Lipstick Murder”. And Phelps is assigned to five different divisions throughout the course of the game: Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Some cases—like Homicide—actually show how the murder happened beforehand, albeit without showing the suspect and giving little detail about the situation. L.A. Noire has a great tone and embraces it’s 40s setting beautifully.

Like many Rockstar games, Team Bondi spend countless man-hours recreating 1940s post war Los Angels. The streets of L.A. are vibrant and dangerous; everybody is trying to make a name for themselves—at any cost.

We’ve strived for realism in most CG media since I could remember. Movies have reached new strides, yet video games still walk the “uncanny valley” line, between too real and not realistic enough.

L.A. Noire straddles that line with its MotionScan tech.

If you’re not a fan of semi-creepy floating talking heads, then L.A. Noire will probably be too much for you. I never found it too distracting. Besides being able to see every wrinkle in someone's face and actually tell what may be going on in their heads is a crazy concept, and it works--for the most part. 

The interrogation scenes are where L.A. Noire shines. Reading a person’s face and trying to catch them in a lie isn’t as easy as one may think. After surveying a crime scene—which isn’t nearly as tough as you may think because most clues are pointed out with a rumble on your controller, followed by and audio cue once all clues are found in a crime scene—the interview process can take place. Sure you can question a suspect before finding all the evidence, but it will only make the process more difficult.

Interrogation is great when you're right; frustrating as hell when you're wrong.

While interviewing a P.O.I (person of interest) you have the options to decide whether or not there are telling truth; you doubt their word; or they are outright lying to your face. Truth is a rarely used option, I found, as most of the suspects do have something to hide. Doubt is all about intuition and whether or not you have that gut feeling that an interviewee isn’t being truthful. And the final option, lie, should be whipped out only when you have hard evidence to back your claims.

The back-and-fourth questioning process is the best part of L.A. Noire. And the most frustrating, it really sucks to get a question wrong and have your suspect clam up. But you don’t actually fail a case if this happens; you just have to look elsewhere for your information. That somewhat defeats the purpose questioning someone in the first place. If I can go elsewhere for my information, what does it matter whether or not I get the info from the suspect? You can just move on with the case.  

L.A. Noire is still an open world GTA-style Rockstar game. You’re a cop though; so running over civilians may be frowned upon. Still it seems unnecessary in some regards to have such a big world when you’re investigating such small areas. The game could have just been broken up into episodes and cutscenes and it wouldn’t have changed much of the atmosphere, negatively or positively. The open world just seems wasted.

Outside of the main cases there are a few side missions that can be done. Most are rinse and repeat affairs. Responding to dispatch calls about an armed robbery, theft, or a simple dispute. All of these street crimes end in three ways: either you chase a perp. on foot, in a car, or it’s a shootout. It’s somewhat unsettling that almost all the street crimes have to end with you shooting the suspect. Aren’t you supposed to be a cop? Instead no matter where you shoot someone they always end up dying. You can fire a warning shot during a foot chase sequence, but it isn’t always an option.

I previously mentioned my unease. This is most evident in the Homicide cases—which are the main chunk of the games’ content. Like the “The Golden Butterfly”, in which no matter what you do the outcome will result in you accusing the wrong person; not saying they’re completely innocent, but the actually perpetrator is still at large. And it actually eats away at you. I felt cheated at the end of the Homicide Detective cases and at the end of the game for that matter. Everything just seems unresolved.

Aside from the tons of blood, the car's in great working condition.

My biggest problem with L.A. Noire is that you’re not really dynamically figuring out cases. You’re being led by a string. There’s a serial killer on the loose but instead you spent hours of game time apprehending the wrong murders. It’s blatantly obvious that something much more sinister is going on; and all you seem to do is just arrest the wrong people. Most of the cases just seem pointless. And Phelps feels the same way in some instances. So why do the cases end with me having to blame someone. Why can’t I challenge authority and state, “You know what, this guy isn’t the murderer we’re looking for; the murderer is still out there!”

I just felt throughout a lot of the game I was just going through the motions. I know that I’m not going to catch the real killer, so the sense of accomplishment I feel from solving a case isn’t there. And a game that centers on detective work should have that feeling of accomplishment for cracking a case.

Sure some of the people you arrest are insane, there’s no argument there. Still there is always a hole that never get’s filled, and that empty void tries on my patience sometime. Phelps should have investigated the outcome of his cases more than, well…not at all! He is so enamored by his rise through the ranks of the LAPD that he just goes with it. He thinks he’s cleaning up the streets; as the one playing the game, Phelps naiveté is annoying at times. And by the end of the game he’s just unlikeable.

SPOILER: Yes, eventually you do catch the actually killer that’s behind most of the crimes during your run as a Homicide Detective. But that doesn’t make up for the pointlessness of all the cases prior to the final outcome. I just felt it was along time coming. And I was tired of wasting my time on obviously wrong convictions. The feeling of something left unfinished continues from that point on. Homicide, Vice squad, and Arson are all left virtual unresolved. For lack of a better term—it’s bullshit!

As the game progresses Phelps actually becomes an unlikable dickhead.

The Vice cases are the best in the game. They’re more intricate: more people to talk to, locations to visit, and more clues and puzzles to sift through. You feel more like a detective, and less like you’re just a lap dog.

Unfortunately one of the best cases is called “The Naked City”, too bad if you buy the game used you most likely won’t get access to this case. Which stinks as it’s one of the most interestingly written, acted, and the interrogation scenes are some of the toughest. It’s just very well done. Too bad it’s DLC.

L.A. Noire is still like nothing I’ve played before. Yet I wanted to be a real detective, solving crimes. But for the first time in a Rockstar game the story just gets in the way for me. And the ending is so anticlimactic I may end up downright hating it upon retrospect.

Interrogation, and the new MotionScan technology give life to L.A. Noire. And the post WWII Los Angeles ambience is something to behold. But the pointlessness of some of the cases you have to do, an open world that doesn’t really need to exist, and a story that just gets a little too muddied down leaves me a little disappointed. L.A. Noire is ambitious in some areas, and just downright average in others. It’s those other areas that would have made this game truly great; unfortunately L.A. Noire is the case of a game that goes unsolved.

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