L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire has trouble finding its footing, but a good story brings it together nicely.

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360
Genre: FPS/Film Noir?
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence)



L.A. Noire got a lot of hype before its release for its new style of gameplay (precursored only, in some ways, by Heavy Rain), new facial capture technology and the Rockstar name. However, all that hype seems to have overshadowed properly finishing the game.



Before I get into that, let me just say that the story is great. It’s a bit loose at times for various reasons that I’ll get into, but the threads are tied together nicely at several points and create for a compelling experience, no doubt.



However, aesthetically there are several issues. Behavioral discrepancies, graphical anomalies and other problems can plague the experience.



First let’s talk about this touted facial capture tech. The faces do look pretty good, but everything beyond that – hair, clothes, etc., are not up to par, and so it hits you like a baseball team of nine year olds with Tim Lincecum pitching. It’s great that Lincecum is pitching, but it’s not really worth sacrificing the eight position players for nine-year-olds. Additionally, this game fills up four discs on Xbox. The world is big, but there’s not a lot of exploring to do, which will perhaps be addressed in DLC packages. So one wonders what all this data is, and my money is on these facial features, which certainly aren’t worth 4 discs – especially considering that a lot of the faces look the same. Only a handful of characters are recognizable on sight, which contributes to some of the fuzziness in the story sometimes – who am I talking to again? There are also issues involving speech lining up with facial movement, an issue other games moved past a long time ago.



This similarity between faces bleeds into the vehicles. There are apparently 95 of them, but a lot of them start looking the same – convertible sedan, convertible roadster, two-door bug thing, truck and a four door. Large outstanding vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances are really the only relief to this.



Beyond this, there are also several instances of people walking through walls, wires falling through tables and other such anomalies that are just sloppy.



I can’t say I really understand why you can nab the wrong guy in a case. At the end of it, should you get the wrong guy, your chief will scold you about it immediately after and tell you you’re on beat for a while (which doesn’t actually mean anything – you still move on to the next case). If he knows I got it wrong, why let me mess up? Maybe a cutscene where he bursts in with important evidence I missed just before I charge the suspect would have been appropriate.



And finally, the A.I. is dumb. Allies, enemies, pedestrians and drivers alike are incapable. During a final car chase, several enemy vehicles will wreck themselves. Cars will often drive into you, even with your siren on, and pedestrians may very well run in front of your car in a similar situation. Can developers also agree that if we’re going to put traffic lights in a game for any purpose at all, will traffic please obey them? More often than not pedestrian vehicles are running lights when you hit them broadside.



Phelps is often a very abrasive as a character. He’s not a particularly suave interrogator, which can be really annoying when your only options are “Truth”, “Doubt” and “Lie”, with the actual outcome being unpredictable. Mass Effect 2 was much more effective at conversational dialog by fleshing out the options before you chose. Also, several witnesses and suspects will be lying to you or withholding information for no apparent reason, making it more difficult to ascertain if they’re being honest or not.



Speaking of Phelps, he is one of the worst video game “heroes” I’ve ever encountered.



BEGIN SPOILERS.



In a day where many games are travelling down the path of “choose your path” kinds of gameplay, L.A. Noire awkwardly straddles the line between that style and linear, venturing down a rarely used alleyway similar to a few you may walk through over the course of the game. Phelps engages in an affair with a woman and you have no choice in the matter. This cheating on his wife is practically a moot point since we aren’t even aware he has a family except through conversation. He never goes home to his family – we see his wife exactly once and neither of his children.



Phelps is certainly flawed, as displayed by his back story in the war – which is a bit broken in itself, as he spends his entire time being merciful to Japanese citizens and then turns on all that with a massacre in the end.



And then at the end of it all, the character is upended when the player takes control of Jack Kelso for the majority of the final three missions. Kelso manages to put the foot down and knock some skulls, making him more of a hero than Phelps seems in the end.



And then that idiot Roy Earle gives the eulogy. Shouldn’t he be in jail or something?



The final suspect is kind of cool and his revelation pairs nicely with the progression of flashbacks to Phelps’s war days, but unfortunately it’s not as powerful as something like Heavy Rain. I won’t address that, as that would cause a spoiler within a spoiler, and I hate to ruin that ending for anyone. This guy kind of crawls out of the woodwork.



SPOILERS END



All in all, despite the flaws (and for those of you skipping spoilers, that’s what most of that section outlined), the gameplay is new, fun and interesting. A bit slow, but I don’t mind as I enjoy a gripping plot more than the shoot-em-up we see so often. It overcomes these issues, which while numerous, are small.



Bottom Line: 8.5

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