BRR: L.A. Noire Review

As someone who is more than open to new ideas and innovation in games, I was looking forward to L.A. Noire.  Unfortunately, I was out of game money come May 2011, and had to wait until the DLC pack was on sale for $10, and the game itself was $20 off of Amazon.  So yes, this will be a review of the Complete Collection, since this game places DLC in between the main campaign.  But without further blathering about my dull life, hit the jump to see me criticize a universally loved game

L.A. Noire Review
Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed, PlayStation 3, PC)
Release Date: 17/5/2011
Price I Paid: $29.99 in total

After a development cycle that is only overshadowed by the likes of Alan Wake and Duke Nukem Forever, the Sydney based Team Bondi finally managed to release their only game, L.A. Noire, a detective simulator that drops you off in the post WWII 1940’s Los Angeles and into the thirty dollar suit of Cole Phelps, a war hero turned detective, he attempts to be an honest and good police officer in a world of corruption and superiors who value headlines more than actual justice.  It is a nice set up, but the general plot suffers from a massive cast with similar sounding names, along with general repetition in terms of patterns.  Pretty much every mission follows the formula of, go  to the crime scene, find some evidence, question the witness, go to a place that the witness or the crime scene mentioned in some way, and repeat Ad nauseum.  

Thankfully, this is done through multiple gameplay types, the first one is driving across the streets of Los Angeles.  Driving is well developed with 95 recreated vehicles from the 1940’s, but suffers from realistic physics.  Namely how driving takes a realistic amount of time, and the gameworld is a complete recreation of 1946/1947 Los Angeles.  I never before complained about a world being too big, but I’ve never seen a world as annoying to traverse as the one in L.A. Noire.  What makes it worse is that you are penalized if you happen to break a stray bench, rear end another vehicle, or attempt to run over civilians.  It is incredibly annoying how the game gives you a world that has the scope and diversity of a sandbox, but it is against the idea of you screwing around.  However this may be offset by the 40 side missions the game offers, but they are often 3 miles away from your current location, and they only appear when the game feels like it.  The design team seemed to have little faith in this system as well, since 90% of the time you can just have your partner detective drive for you.  The occasional car chase is very enthralling, assuming you can navigate the streets well, but I was rarely able to do so.

The second method is an evidence searcher, where you navigate Cole Phelps, who controls like a dumptruck, around a crime scene and wait for your controller to vibrate when you find something more interesting than a beer bottle.  This method does allow for the clues to be very visible, but the idea of searching feels unnecessary, since the game flat out tells you what is important, and whether or not you need to rotate the left stick to investigate something further.  The third, fourth, and fifth gameplay types are all combat variations, one of which is boring cover based shooting that automatically aims the reticle onto the nearest enemy whenever you press LT.  Chase sequences have you hold down RT to have Phelps semi-automatically chase criminals until you either tackle them, place a reticle on them for five seconds, or just enter the final combat segment of the game, the fist fight.  The hardest part of a fist fight is remembering that you need to hold down LT to actually punch your one, and only one, opponent.  Once you do that press A until your opponent dodges, then press X when you see him swing a hook, it’s as fun as it sounds.  All of these forms of action are dull and a bit too easy, but that doesn’t stop the game from implementing a system that will automatically complete these sections if you have the hand eye coordination of a drunken seal.

The sixth and final gameplay variation is the interrogations segments, which are the main reason for this game’s 8 year long development cycle.  Team Bondi developed a system that captures the facial movements of actors and their uses the eye rolling and cheek biting to determine whether or not the in game character is lying or not.  If you have evidence against someone you can call them out on their lie, but you need to simply doubt them if you lack sufficient evidence.  It works well in theory, but Cole Phelps can easily interpret doubting as declaring someone to be a wife strangler or pedophile.  It would have been nice to just have the lines written out for you, but no, they decided to add freebies, which basically tell you the correct option and give you an achievement if you use five of them at once, never before have I seen a game reward someone for being lazy and not watching an actor over act an expression.  

However the game was in development hell for a while, and they spent so much time on researching 1940’s LA, so the world must look wonderful, but I hate to say, but the game doesn’t have much going for it on the aesthetic standpoint.  While the 1940’s beats are catchy, there aren’t enough of them, and the game always goes back to either one dramatic track, or one somber track that plays when Phelps is questioning police morality.  The tracks are not bad, but they are repeated every case, and get boring after the first 10 out of 25.  The game visually looks like everything is made out of silicone, which is hampered even more by a poor lighting engine, and very stale colors that lack proper shading.  It latches onto the fact that they are recreating the 1940’s, and end up making a game that looks as if there was no visual artist involved.  I understand the notion of making a game that looks real, but the real world is far from pretty, especially compared to the fantastical worlds that one can craft in countless artforms.

But my biggest gripe with the game is the story.  I mentioned how the plot is repetitive, which is really hard to do when you’re examining tortured women, but maybe that’s Cole’s lack of a reaction to a dead, naked corpse.  But I think it may be due to the partner characters as well.  You have a total of 5 partners throughout the game, who are either assholes, alright guys, criminals, or forgettable.  They don’t seem to have much of an arc, and they are just there to have someone for Phelps to talk to, because the man refuses to monologue, even when it would help foreshadow a major plot twist.  75% through the plot, it is revealed that Cole Phelps has been cheating on his wife with a German woman.  This being 1947, there is a media frenzy about how the renowned super cop is nailing one who would be considered to be a Jew burning mistress of the fuhrer.  This was foreshadowed, but there was no dialog, we just see Phelps go to the nightclub a few times, and suddenly he’s going to the singer’s apartment.  

It would have been helped if we saw Phelps’ home life, and see his relationship with his wife fall apart, but we don’t even see his wife until she’s kicking him out from cheating on her.  Before this Cole was considered to be a good man and master of detective work, but then he’s sent on two arson cases, is replaced by an army rival of his for the better half of the game’s final act and ends the game by fighting gangsters in the sewer with a flamethrower.  That is a complete reversal of what 90% this game is about, but that’s not the worst part, the actual ending is the worst and most baffling story decision that I’ve seen in a game.  Cole Phelps is killed by sewer water after he saves his former army rival, who I think became the new protagonist.  The game’s final scene involves Phelps’ funeral, implying that this was Cole Phelps’ story, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t the one to end it, it was his army rival, who was only previously mentioned in occasional flashbacks.  It is a story structure that does not accomplish anything other than killing a good man, and getting an army surplus of morphine off of the streets, the latter of which we never really see.  I actually never felt immersed in this game, it feels like I’m walking through a wax museum, but I guess that explains why the character’s faces are the only part that was given any significant attention.

The ending made me feel like I accomplished nothing, and it was bad enough that I had to slog on through this embarrassingly long game, that managed to take 15 hours of ideas, and expand it into 30.  From the boring gameplay, the lack of any real art direction, and a story that was held together only good acting, that falls apart near the end.  I gave this game a chance to wow me, to send me on a trip that requires intellect and provides class.  Instead I just got a glob of ideas that are not bad at all, but have mediocre execution, which is exactly what the game is.  A mediocre mismatch of good intentions.  I take no pleasure in doing this, I am not someone who desires things to be bad, I want everything to be wonderful, but I need to observe things from multiple angles and look for the seams.  L.A. Noire looked good on paper, but the builders were criminally incompetent.

A batch of good ideas that are hampered by poor execution.  It is not a bad game, or a good game, it’s just middle of the road and can only serve as a learning tool for other, better games.

//Now, it is true that this game was filled with development issues for years, and Rockstar helped them out in the end by fixing up the game in about a year.  But that is not an excuse.  You may say that I was too harsh, I say that people were too lenient on Duke Nukem Forever.  It is like someone constantly having their school project delayed and then turning in a sloppy hastily stitched together project after they got help from several sources.  It just makes the one who is doing the project look very incompetent .  It is sad to see Team Bondi shut down after spending 8 sodding years on one product with an evil boss who did not understand why people would not like working in regular crunch time.  I doubt that we will ever see another LA Noire, because even selling about 5 million over the course of a year was not enough to keep this company and several hundred jobs from going under.  Also, leaving names out of the credits?  That is just being a cock.

Leave a Reply