Every once in a while, we get a game set in a genre not often explored. Last year, we got L.A. Noire, which gives us a film noir experience. The game now is pretty notable for introducing a new technology in facial animations, despite taking five years to develop. It got quite a bit of publicity, as a result. Also, since it’s a detective game, much of the gameplay involves investigating crime scenes, questioning witnesses, interrogating suspects, and other things you may find in a police drama on TV (though there’s a decent amount of shooting). But, seeing as how there was quite a bit of development troubles, it’s not unthinkable that L.A. Noire has some problems. And on a basic level, that’s exactly how I would describe L.A. Noire.
L.A. Noire’s plot stars a World War 2 veteran, Cole Phelps, now an up and coming detective, having to solve some cases, move through the ranks, deal with his miserable experience in the war, all the while having to deal with a plot that involves not only him, but his former platoon, as well. However, in all honesty, the plot disappointed me in a number of ways. I’m not sure if the disappointment comes from L.A. Noire’s failings or from the genre itself, so I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. However, the high point of the game is right before the second half, and it just got worse from there. But even on a case to case basis, there’s a terrible amount of railroading involved to keep you on the right trail, even if you fail terribly. While failure and the consequences for failure in a normal game are readily apparent, I don’t think they exist in L.A. Noire; sure, you can die in combat, but if you screw up a case really badly, you get chewed out by your boss, and that’s it, the game proceeds as normal. I found this really disappointing, as that makes the game a lot more linear than it seems. Despite that, however, I found the narrative pretty strong, for the most part. Like a standard film noir plot, L.A. Noire’s plot and characterization is its strong point. It’s really quite unfortunate that the game’s plot ceased to be all that good, as I was really enjoying it up until then. At least characterization remained quite good.
Though the gameplay suffers from bad controls, it’s actually quite cool. You have to examine crime scenes for evident, and to make things interesting, not everything examinable is relevant. However, the game does have audio and visual cues for when you do things right. Another sign of railroading, I suppose. Interrogations are a lot more interesting, as that’s where the innovative facial technology comes into play. You select a topic, and a witness/suspect will reply. You have to determine whether they’re lying or telling the truth (though I should point out that the actual options are more like “Coax”, “Threaten”, and “Call them out on their bullshit”. Using the unique technology, you can tell whether people are lying or not based on their faces. The game does have a tendency to telegraph the witness/suspect’s thoughts (i.e. they make it pretty fucking obvious when someone is bullshitting), but I suppose that’s only for difficulty purposes, since it’s not so easy at times. However, you also get a limited supply of intuition points, which can reveal all the evidence in the area, or make the interrogations like Wheel of Fortune, by either removing a choice, or asking the “audience”. I still haven’t determined who the audience is, though I suspect the audience is people who’ve played the game before. Sucks to be the guy who played the game first, I guess.
Seeing as how it’s a Rockstar game, L.A. Noire also has an open world. Unlike other Rockstar games, the open world was pretty bland from a design standpoint. There isn’t much to see or do in this game’s Los Angeles, as all you can do are see famous sits, find and drive cool and hidden vehicles, and stop street crimes. Stopping street crimes usually involve a shootout, an on-foot chase, and a vehicle chase. These pop up in some of the cases, too. However, as I’ve mentioned, the game has bad controls, and just doesn’t handle too well. Shooting segments are way too easy, and there’s little to no challenge involved in them, whatsoever. Controlling your character is a pain in the ass often enough, and vehicles don’t really handle ridiculously (though I can’t say vehicles handled well back in the ‘40s). Hell, I think if they just changed what the shoulder buttons do, I would’ve been a lot happier.
Technical details, meanwhile, are all over the place. The graphics are… well, the facial animations are gorgeous. Everything else? Not so much. Character models are pretty stiff, and while I liked Los Angeles, it feels rather… lifeless. Sort of like if they made the whole city feel like someone cutout a punch of billboards and picturesque moments and slapped them all together. Many of the smaller environments were also rather bland. Actually, if it weren’t for the excellent facial animations, I would probably write off L.A. Noire’s graphics as mediocre. On the other hand, much about the sound is pretty great. The game has its own OST, and a bunch of licensed songs. The OST music is pretty much your great film noir OST, and it never fails to set the mood. Meanwhile, the licensed songs are old jazz and other songs from the ‘40s/’50s. Meanwhile, voice acting is also pretty great, and is really believable, as it sounds like they got the atmosphere of the times down quite well. If there’s one thing about this game I liked without question, it would be sound.
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