Synyster Graves

L.A. Noire

by on Jun.13, 2011, under Xbox 360

Among the most eagerly anticipated games this year without being part of the Modern Warfare monolith, L.A. Noire is, well certainly for me, one of the most tantalising prospects in a rather bleak forest of gaming releases that is 2011. Further more it’s made by Rockstar, creators of my other obsession that is Red Dead Redemption. You play the role of Cole Phelps, a former Lieutenant from the Okinawa campaign in WWII, who joins the police force when the war finished. Being set in Los Angeles in 1947, the game lends lots of its influence from Film Noir media of the same era. You hold Phelps’ destiny in your own hands as you ascend the ranks from beat officer to Homicide Detective.

The level design for LA in '47 is frankly amazing

The level design is quite simply brilliant, much like with GTA and Red Dead, the attention to detail is a fantastic credit to itself. Sourced from the actual topology of L.A. in the 1940s is incredible research and resourcefulness, and gives to the player feeling properly immersed in the surroundings, unlike most other titles released today. The general ambience of that period in time is captured brilliantly in the fashion, radio stations and advertisements in game. Plus you do also have the option of switching the game to black and white, making to feel like an old film, except hunting for clues is really difficult with that filter on!

Check it out it's Matt Parkman from Heroes!

I think the biggest credit graphically is the “acting” in the game. L.A. Noire incorporates motion capture face recognition which is the closest gaming has got to pretty much being an interactive movie. Subtle expressions are captured fantastically giving the characters in the game a lot more personality than most other games which just have moving mouths like an episode of Benedict and Franklin. The acting talents of established actors as well as excellently constructed dialogue makes the scenes and interrogations the most powerful asset creating gripping cut-scenes without them becoming convoluted epic CGI tirades falling in the Metal Gear Solid territory.

The collection side missions are golden film reels of films of that era

While displaying the Rockstar logo, it would be tenuous to describe L.A. Noire as sandbox title. You can free roam to a degree during cases instead of travelling from A to B in a linear fashion which opens up exploring for hidden vehicles, landmarks and the collection missions of gold film reels. You also are playing a policeman and so the GTA style harvesting of pedestrians by driving on the pavement like a maniacal lawnmower in the botanical gardens. This will cause much annoyance to the average braindead GTA player who’s only appeal of a sandbox game is to be a delinquent on a murder rampage. In L.A. Noire however, 90% of the pedestrians will get out of the way and you won’t be able to hit them most of the time. While this is good from the perspective of being realistic playing as low enforcement, it does tend to be amusing how the average 1940’s pedestrian has the reflexes of cat trained by a ninja.

The roadside detritus however is grossly inconsistent. You can plough through park benches and mailboxes was if they were made of pink wafers, and you can got through metal lamp posts usually two at a time. But if you come up to the third lamp post or God forbid, a wooden telegraph pole, you will stop dead in your tracks. It’s the same inconsistency in GTA that you can obliterate countless metal lamp posts but as soon as you come up to a foot high wooden picket fence, you stop. Where is the sense in that? As with GTA too, the NPC drivers are completely braindead and do not get out of your way when you’re driving a police vehicle with the siren on, which lends that feature to being on the brink of being ancillary.

Drive around as a lunatic or a paragon of justice, it's your choice

The car chases are sporadic but great when they transpire, however the obvious failing as with every game in the sandbox genre is the escaping car alsways seems to unfairly faster than you and trying the ram them off the road will only cause you to spin off like shopping trolley on an ice rink while the suspect car speeds off completely undeterred as if it’s on rails. It’s the same for the suspects fleeing on foot, they always seem to have sporadic moments of becoming Usain Bolt right at the point when you’re about to apprehend them. Shooting them in the leg doesn’t work as I found out as you’ll fail the case for killing the suspect. Why ankle shots are mortal wounds is anyone’s guess eh Rockstar? Use your loaf!

While it would be too easy to classify this game as another GTA clone, it actually has more likeness with the CSI games, making the player actually use their brain, unlike about 80% of the clientelle of GTA. Each crime scene you arrive at is left open for you to find all the clues. You are aided by chimes and controller vibrations when you near a piece of evidence enabling you to interact with that object. Lots of the time the object is bogus and nothing to do with the case. While putting these red herrings in does make it more interesting by inserting ambiguous clues, it does make the scanning for evidence section more immersive, apart from some of the obviously stupid objects near the crime scene which would clearly have no bearing on the case, but still sets off the detection jingle. I suppose that they’d assume the player has a lot more common sense to try and entrinisically link a box of washing detergent to a murder case.

Tell me what I want to know punk!

The interrogations are the other part of this game and in all honesty, I think the premise is good but has the knack of casually punishing you for ambiguity. What I mean by this is when a witness/suspect has been asked a question, you are supposed to deduce whether they are telling the truth or lying. This gives you three (yes three) options; Truth, Doubt or Lie. Personally, I have no idea what the difference between doubt and the other two are, but to me it makes no sense. It’s like when someone just ticks the “I don’t know” box in surveys. Well it turns out that the “doubt” option is essentially accuse them of lying, just without any proof, yet the “lie” option is if you have something tangible to make them shut the hell up. This is very ambiguous as times and knowing the right branch of questioning to take is very confusing. Reading the game manual it says that you should look out for subtle facial ticks and nuances for when people are lying. Unless you happen to be a body language expert, these “giveaways” aren’t very obvious unless they are really overly obvious. It makes the whole interrogation situation like a pantomime at times. Phelps’ general interrogation technique is a bit crap in the sense that he adopts an accusatory tone too readily when trying to find out some answers. While this insensitive approach is quite amusing, it’s also quite irritating to see him adopt such and brash and almost reckless attitude because they’re exercising the mantra of everybody being guilty.

"I'm no expert, but I think she's dead..."

The storyline is a bit of an anti-climax without throwing in any spoilers. You start off immersed beautifully in the character that is Phelps and see his inevitable rise through the ranks of the Police Force. The storyline does however have a total brainfart and go from being really good, to really bad without warning as you are set on a railroaded collision of investigating the Black Dahlia murder to a cataclysmic chain of stupid events and daft plot. I appreciate the need to incorporate epic storylines to compete with todays market, but the sheer untangible and frankly ludicrous turn of events that occur slightly ruin what started out as a brilliant cop drama only to end up as a damp squib by the end. I’m not saying don’t play through the game, but you will end up frustrated as being a game built on choice and consequence, for the ending’s events to occur with no player input whatsoever. I did like lots of the characters having said that, each of your partners had a completely different personality and the banters between such colourful characters like Roy Earle and Stefan Bekowsky are great, considering the brilliance of the face matching, makes it great cinematography.

In summary, L.A. Noire for me was breath of fresh air as sandbox titles go as it had a pleasant mixture of CSI style investigation, logic and spontaneous injections of action and gunfighting. The interrogations took a while to get used to and scanning for evidence does seem like an arduous task at times, but worth it in order to carry out a proper interrogation, which is satisfying when you get it spot on. The first half of the game was brilliant, and I was almost adopting a Columbo like shuffle in real life I was so immersed, but the latter part and inevitable crescendo of storyline was unfortunately a bit disappointing. The immersion into Los Angeles in 1947 is great but it fizzles out by the end leaving the player thinking that Cole Phelps is just a bit of a twat. I’ve read a few reviews for this game where it was criticised for it’s lack of free roam, considering that you can free roam and mop up all remaining street crimes, and collectibles at your own free leisure. For me, I would thoroughly recommend this game as an essential purchase as if you can look past the later silly plot, this game is a gaming masterpiece. But nothing is perfect.

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3 Comments for this entry

  • Whyte Rabit

    Indeed, Rockstar got so much right with this game, and I’m hoping it’ll be a benchmark for a lot of new games to work from. Not in just the new facial recognition software but also in the way the game presents itself, the attention to detail, the player freedom (yes it is sandbox, but as a cop you can’t go ram raiding off-licences or trying to reach a killstreak of 100 civilians in a bulldozer), and the way the developers have implemented the detective element into the game is really very good.

    Where they go oh so wrong though is the element of ‘playing’ as Cole Phelps. You do to an extent, but all the major story arks are played for you and the player themselves has no input into the decisions that they really should. Granted, giving the player this number of options would increase the size of the game, and it’s already at 3 DVDs so might have been a little over the top. Although the fact they have gone so far in other aspects of the game makes you think they should have put a little more effort into this area.

    Blade Runner the video game, for example, which was released in 1997, has about 6 different endings at least (it’s been a while since I played it so I can’t remember the exact number). But the ending of your game would rely highly on the decisions you made throughout the game. These two are both detective games, and there’s a 14 year gap between the them, so it’s not although it’s a new theory in game design. I just think Rockstar could have learned something from other detective games such as Blade Runner. Had they done that, I think this game would be up in the all time greats for a long time to come. Sadly, in my opinion, without this leap they’ve created a game that’s just going to stay at the top of the table for a few months, not a few years.

  • Synyster Graves

    Yes but if you look at games like Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol, they all have consequential actions which shape the storyline, unlike this. This got railroaded into a stupid storyline and yes I agree, would have totally preferred to been even remotely responsible for the destiny of Phelps, but alas that was not the case.

  • HillianAllred966

    No arguments from me

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