L.A. Noire review
Waiter, there's a dead guy in my soup


I have no idea on what LA Noire was trying to achieve. People will claim that it's supposed to make you feel like a detective, but actually, it just feels like you're moving around, mashing the X button. There isn't much of a "game" here. Now, that could go two ways - it can either result in a glorified reaction test with a very well told (albeit plothole-ish) story, or pretty much what LA Noire does, which is insert elements of sandbox, driving, fighting and shooting to justify charging an extra 80 bucks instead of either putting some effort into the gameplay, or at the very least, giving these segments justice by making them interactive cutscenes (so basically, the glorified reaction test). Christ, Metal Gear Solid and Knights Contract make this look easy.

Usually, I'd talk about the story after giving some sort of introductory paragraph, but I'd rather keep going on with my train of thought, so I'll discuss gameplay first. Like I said, it's pretty *bleep*ing half assed. Supposedly, the city of LA appears to be your playground. At first glance, you think you can just drive around like a maniac and do heaps of side missions before actually doing a story mission. But as the story missions are crimes that have to be solved, naturally, side missions play second fiddle.. well, at least, I thought they did at first, but upon progression, aside from one case (which was actually a neat idea, to have to find landmarks around LA to find clues to where a serial killer is), this feels less like a second fiddle and more like a third wheel because all you're really doing is driving from Point A to Point B with no additional points. When there are additional points, they're nothing but short "chase this guy" "shoot this/these guy(s)" and other such things, which are brief as hell. It's like they didn't want to include these parts, but did due to pressure from some outside influences... peer pressure? Hmm...

But oftentimes, a suspect will run away from you, which means you'll have to chase them – on foot or by car, hell, they'll do anything to get away. On foot is very fillerific as you will inevitably catch them as long as you don't let go of the left analogue stick. A *bleep*ing five year old could do this! In cars is more complicated because... well, for one thing, Cole will sometimes have trouble getting into the car unless it's in the sweet spot, and the other thing is that there are more obstacles to overcome. Yeah, you'll inevitably stop the suspect – whether it's by your partner shooting their tyres flat or some scripted event where they crash – but there's more shit to get through, so ultimately, this is more challenging. Not in the way that's fun or anything I'd encourage, but at least there's something more than holding the stick in a direction and not letting go.

Sometimes, you'll find yourself having to fight your suspects... in two different ways. First off is a good old fashioned fist fight, which has the depth of those rock em sock em robots and is more tedious than blood pumping due to some clumsy controls. You don't seem to move or punch right... Plus, you only really fight one guy at a time, and it always got me thinking “gee, how about a gang fight”, because if you're going to have a melee system, I think a gang fight would be awesome.

The alternative way is to fight them off with guns. Most of the time, it acts like a typical cover shooter in that you get you gun, duck into cover, aim, and fire when they pop out of cover. Sometimes though, it tries soo hard to be like Uncharted, but what Uncharted did right that LA Noire most certainly does not is control excellently. Once again, the controls aren't quite there... granted, they're serviceable, in that you can at least get in cover and shoot, but cover can be pretty sticky, and sometimes, you'll find yourself being unable to move from cover to cover. Also, it's pretty silly how you can't jump over small cover... I think that speaks for itself. Control aside, the shooting is okay, if cookie cutter.

“But what about the investigation!?!?!?” you may ask. Well, when you're looking for clues and stuff, you can definitely tell that this is where it tries to be really good. You're able to investigate every object that you find, although Cole has the tendency to tell you that it's not relevant. Oh man, I didn't know he was psychic! If he is able to tell if something is irrelevant, then he should know who killed those people and burned those houses. But no, it's just the game's way of holding your hand because - god forbid – you get challenged by this game. There are also sound and vibration cues, but you can turn those off... no use crying over spilt milk unless it starts to stink like shit, which thankfully, those won't.

Then there's the interrogation, which is where you have to listen to the suspect and pay attention to their faces. There are tics that indicates lying, and tics that indicates truth telling. This could've been pretty damn interesting, but it's not after a few interrogations. This is because it gets easier and easier to tell if they're bullshitting you or telling the truth. The only challenge is in reading Team Bondi's mind – it's not necessarily what YOU think it is, but rather, what THEY want you to think it is. I mean, if you know they're telling the truth, it's as simple as clicking “truth”, but when they're lying, there are many things to consider. First off, do you have evidence that may prove them wrong? Next off, does said evidence have the details to prove them wrong (this is important because sometimes, two bits of evidence can be pretty damn similar). Finally, are you sure about that piece of evidence? If you answered yes to all three, you pick lie, but if you answered no to any of those questions, you pick doubt. But here's a twist – sometimes, Cole will go off on a tangent, just to *bleep* with you. Stay on topic, mate. That's what I mean by “you have to think like the developers, and not like a detective”, because Cole picks up parts of statements one wouldn't normally pick. It's a bit silly if you ask me.

But here's where I get pissed off – it doesn't matter which one of the three options you pick, because the story will progress either way. Yeah. No penalty for *bleep*ing up. You just get laughed at and you don't get as high of a rank at the end of a mission, but unless you're going for trophies/achievements, seriously, when there's no penalty, it's like “do I really give a *bleep* at this point” because there's no sense of control. You're just controlling Cole between a rigid set of cutscenes. There isn't an ounce of open endedness to the story – if there was, then this could've been bloody *bleep*ing awesome and I wouldn't get so pissy with everything else in the gameplay department. Sadly, the story is linear, and as a result, this is just *bleep*ing ridiculous.

But not all is bad... in fact, with some bits and pieces here and there aside, everything else is up to scratch. For one thing, the graphics are good. The character models have a fair amount of detail put into them, with the right proportions and clothing textures to make them look realistic. Same could be said for the scenery – it looks great. I will admit, it's kind of strange how all of the chicks look almost exactly the same, but why mess with success? But seriously, it's pretty strange.. guess they only had one actor – that, or they all look the same. But yeah, from an aesthetic standpoint, this game has it where it counts. However, if we're speaking from a technical standpoint, this is where it gets messy. Not too messy mind you, but messy enough to document. LA Noire is prone to objects popping up as you drive because LA is just too big to contain on even a blu-ray disc. Not to mention, it will lag at times, and the screen will tear a bit every now and again. Obviously, this is too much for the PS3 to handle.

The facial animations, which is the selling point, is hit and miss. The animation is very fluid, but the actors exaggerate when it comes time to put on their interrogation faces. If they're lying, their eyes go all over the place and sometimes, their heads are like those bobblehead dolls, but when they're telling the truth... I can't even tell if they're human or zombies by the way that they stare at you... a couple of acting classes may be necessary for people who will be involved with facial animations like that in the future. Oh, and for good measure, while testing, keep an eye out for the occasional fuzzy spots around the faces... just looks really crap when graphics start looking all fuzzy...

Then comes the other half of the production – sound design. The soundtrack offers a healthy mix of 40s jazz music, and current day epic orchestras. The latter is used to give off different vibes for each situation, from fights to cutscenes, and the correct vibes are given. Sad moment receives sad music, fights receive bass-y tracks to pump you up – whatever the situation may be, you're getting the right ambiance for it. So where does the jazz music fit? Why, when you're driving, of course! Why not give us that authentic 40s feeling by giving the cars' radios music from that decade? Granted, you're only given one station, who knows if you'll even be driving for long periods of time?

The voice acting is also top notch. Each character is brought to life the instant that the actor opens his/her mouth, and not a single breath is wasted in delivering their lines, which were very well written I might add. Each piece of dialogue written went with the characters created here, so it's nice to know that the voices help in giving the writing more oomph...

Alright, I suppose it's time to finally tell you what LA Noire is about. Well, LA Noire follows Cole Phelps, a former lieutenant gone cop, who goes through the ranks of the police force while taking down criminals. From individuals to a serial killer, and then... well, if I said anything more, then I'd be spoiling more than what should be spoiled in a review. Either way, sounds simple, right? Not necessarily, as there is more depth to it than that. Every now and again, there are flashbacks to when Cole was serving in the second world war. From there, it's less of a “get through the ranks” tale and more of a tale of redemption, because... let's just say that Cole royally *bleep*ed up and feels like a piece of shit for doing what he did.

It makes for excellent motivation, and it also paves way for a tale that'll keep you on the edge of your seat... if you're willing to turn your brain off. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone would want to, and as a result, flaws come about. First off, the homicide desk is just a little too long for the amount of content it actually has. The homicide desk is where you have to catch a serial killer, though at first, you're finding individual killers when it's just the one, particularly of the “guy you'd least suspect” variety. Sadly, I think six cases is a touch too many. I remember going “man just move on” partway through the fourth case. So yeah, homicide goes from an interesting desk, to one that wears out its welcome. Even when you find the killer, shit goes on and... promotion, with no mention of what went on. Perhaps there should've been a scene that at least tried to fill this plothole?

Then there's anticipation, of which there usually isn't. One twist at the end of the vice desk feels contrived, as... well, what led up to that? Did it happen? Does it make sense? Yet another scene that they forgot to put into the final cut. Then there's the vice desk in and of itself. WHY did those guys go into dealing the drugs? The scene that would have you think that... is AFTER the fact. Don't get me wrong, I like surprises – and in fact, surprise twists are the best. At the same time though, just pulling them out of your ass with no rhyme or reason is bad writing. There are some other instances, but at the end of the day, a bit of foreshadowing can help give your story a hell of a boost.

But not all is lost. The atmosphere is spot on. Just about every film noir stereotype is there. It's a cop drama in which you control a detective with a troubled past. It has many flashbacks (although they lack a vocal narration, but it works better without it). A lot of the interaction between Cole and his partners felt more like banter than casual conversation. A femme fatale that leads to some potentially juicy moments. The ending, although a little abrupt, seals the deal in that it's quite a downer if you liked the character that died. Even though there are holes and bits and pieces missing in the story, when it comes down to the atmosphere, it knows exactly what it's doing.

Gameplay: 1.5
It functions alright, but at what cost? The execution is mediocre to the point where I'm wondering just why they bothered with it in its current form. Investigation and interrogation are probably the best elements, but neither feel challenging or satisfying in the slightest. Just feels like filler more than anything else.

Controls: 3
The cover controls were pretty damn sticky half the time, and Cole often has a hard time actually getting into the car unless you hit the sweet spot. Other than that, the controls function alright.

Story: 3.5
It was mostly well told with some excellent writing. On top of that, it manages to get the common tropes of film noir down to a tee. Unfortunately, moments fell flat on their asses due to little foreshadowing where there could've been a fair amount. Marked harshly because LA Noire is supposed to be very story driven.

Graphics: 3.5
Sometimes though, there are fuzzy areas around their faces, which looks... really odd. Plus objects pop up while driving and the occasional bit of lag and screen tearing, but that's because of a large sandbox area. But everything else, from the detail to the fluidity of the facial animations, is pretty nice to look at.

Sound: 5
The voice acting is spot on. Every breath goes unwasted in each performance.

Lastability: 3
Although the game itself is about 20 hours long and has a few things to find in the streets of LA for trophies/achievements... would you really want to? This definitely reeks of “one time only” due to the story and.. just read below:

Funfactor: 2
At first, it might seem like fun, just doing some detective work and shit, but then it just gets boring. Interrogation starts off fun as you try to figure out if they're lying or not, but then it gets easier and less fun as a result. The other gameplay elements didn't even have a chance to be fun. From tedious melee combat to sticky shooting, there wasn't a whole lot of fun to have.

Bottom line:
LA Noire is a game that could've gone places, but the only place it's gone is to the bargain bin. It has a good storyline, if unfinished. It has great graphics, except some glitches here and there. It has a great soundtrack and excellent voice acting! Unfortunately, grossly mediocre gameplay destroys this game, and if you can't get gameplay right, forget about it. I don't pay $100 for a movie with far less than stellar, you know, game elements; I pay $100 for something where the interactivity is actually something worth experiencing. You can have this fantastic story and absolutely spot on production quality... but let's be realistic; a game lives and dies by its gameplay, and the quality of that reflects the quality of the game. Mediocre game = mediocre game. Simple as that.


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