L.A. Noire review
It's not even sure of what it's trying to do


LA Noire is a strange species - clearly, it's story driven, but it tries so hard to make us think that it is also gameplay driven, even though it's clear as day that the gameplay just isn't up to snuff. Normally, I would've given up on a game like this fairly quickly and just write up a review, pretty much destroying the game. However, there's this strange aura around it that keeps me coming back despite not really liking the gameplay much.

Story: Former lieutenant Cole Phelps is the new kid in the police force. Where this could've been a simple "rise above the tanks" story, LA Noire prefers to tell a tale of redemption. Basically, Cole did something during World War 2 that made him many enemies, and it's not something he's particularly proud of. However, all of this only comes full circle during the second half of the game - the first half DOES have snippits of his time in the war, but for the most part, it's just him solving cases, including one where someone fakes their death, moving onto finding a serial killer when his partner believes that there are multiple killers.

For the most part, the story is excellent. It's smart, interesting and pretty well written. It not only takes stereotypes from film noir like banter between officers and just generally being dark in tone (involving adultery and corruption), but also by giving us some really damn tense parts. From beginning to end - and that includes the crappy parts I'll explain later - the story keeps you on the edge of your seat, like "ooh I wonder what's going to happen". Each event manages to kick your ass, especially the ending. I know people found it abrupt and that it didn't even make sense, but not only is it so noir in that it's a downer, but it also feels... right. It felt like it had to happen there and then. There wasn't much else that could've been done without dragging the game any further than this point. It's difficult to explain, but let's just say that it feels right.

The story isn't all sunshine and roses, however. First off, the twist that leads off into the last quarter of the game was soo contrived, that I found myself replaying the game just to check what might've hinted at it. Honestly? There wasn't much to really build up to that twist, aside from maybe the fact that, inside his goody goody nature lies a flawed human being, but that's just a guess at this point. The other problem would have to be that the homicide desk's little story ran too long. Perhaps if a case or two was dropped, it'd be much more tolerable. Let me try to give you some perspective - the other four desks, including the tutorial one, has 3-6 cases; homicide, the one smack dab in the middle, has 7, and it doesn't lead up to that "fantastic" twist I mentioned before.

Gameplay: At it's heart, LA Noire is a point and click adventure game, ala Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. The difference is that the only pointing and clicking is to investigate an object, but you get to move yourself with the left analogue stick. I know people like to bitch that the investigation holds your hand... well, turn off the sound and vibration cues! There! Problem solved! Having said that, I find it a little funny that Cole is able to quickly determine the usefulness of whatever he picks up... perhaps it's just detective's intuition or maybe he's psychic - whatever the case may be, it's helpful in that it lets you know it's useless, but sometimes, it feels like it could've been evidence and that his intuition is probably wrong. But yeah, it's easy enough to walk up to something that could considered evidence and check it out, or walk up to the corpse and look through his coat pockets or his hands. Not necessarily "fun", per se, but

Then comes many times where you must use the evidence - interrogations. Cole will ask the suspect a question, the suspect answers, and you'll have to determine whether they're telling the truth, or telling a lie. Truth is about as clear as it gets, but lying is a different story, because lying is split between two commands - lie, and doubt. Lie is if you can prove them wrong with a piece of evidence, and doubt is if you can't use evidence to prove them wrong, but can still see that they're wrong. It depends on their facial expressions and tone of voice in conjunction with your evidence, really. It's pretty stupid, though, that when you pick lie and present the seemingly correct evidence, it still has the balls to tell you that you're wrong... but that's alright... It may just be the perfectionist in me saying this, but this is very, very forgiving. If you screw up, the story continues regardless. In theory, wrong accusations or decision making should turn the case an entirely different direction and screw with you, but in practise as far as LA Noire is concerned, who gives a shit? That aside, this is pretty cool, because it really helps you feel like a detective, which is the point of playing this game in the first place.

What could've made for a good (if incredibly forgiving) detective game ends up making for an experience I'd rather not have. I have no idea why this game insisted on adding gameplay elements where it'd all be mostly unnecessary. For instance, you'll be required to chase down suspects, which could've been cool until you realize that not much is stopping you... well, except other cars when it comes to a high speed chase, but whether it's by car or on foot, there's always something to stop them... no outsmarting, no shortcuts; just keep going until some scripted event happens to stop them in their track, like cars crashing to block his way or something. Then comes the parts where you have to fight, and from tacky melee combat to just plain mediocre shooting, it's just a game with way too much filler.

The final nail in the coffin? Useless sandbox. You can't do shit in LA except drive to the next destination and some crappy side mission that just consists of more mediocre gameplay. The buildings don't have anything inside of them, citizens don't do jack crap, and the idea is not to cause chaos or anything, but to just drive without killing people or smashing up LA... This is why Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy worked - because they KNOW that they're story driven, and would rather be a series of quick time events than bits and pieces of mediocre gameplay that makes the player want to play something else. For instance, the sandbox made me want to play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the shooting made me want to play Gears Of War, and the melee combat made me want to play Final Fight: Streetwise. That's bad game design 101, ladies and gentlemen, when the sum of a game's parts makes people want to play different games to experience better versions of them... really, if LA Noire cut out this bullshit and replaced it with a series of quick time events, it'd be a much more rewarding experience. Sure, the kiddies may not like it, but truthfully, this shouldn't be for the kiddies ANYWAY!

Replay Value: But I suppose the sandbox does leave itself open for three types of activities - the aforementioned side missions, sight seeing, and finding film reels. The side missions consist of shooting people down, or just chasing them. Yawn. Sight seeing requires you to drive all around LA to find certain landmarks. Double yawn. Finding film reels requires you to scour every last *bleep*ing millimeter of LA. Quadruple yawn. Good god, this is horribly tedious. At least the story is entertaining enough to play through more than once... a month, perhaps, though the mediocre gameplay may deter you from such an act.

Controls: At least Cole controls finely... for the most part. Starting with the bad stuff, I have a hard time believing that Cole was a lieutenant in the war because man, when he's in cover, he doesn't want out. It's jerky whether or not he manages to get out, and to make things just plain silly, I cannot fathom why he can't just jump over cover half his size... and when you get into a car, well, sometimes, you may not be getting into the car depending on distance and altitude. If you're on a slightly different altitude and just a little too far from the car, you aren't getting in. No ifs, ands or buts. Having said that, for the most part, Cole controls well. Investigating is simple and easy with the moving of the left stick and pressing of the A button. Shooting is handled in the same way as Dead Space, in that when you aim, you can't run, but you can still move as long as you aren't in cover. Really, the only controlling issue is when you're in cover - outside of it, you're good to go!

Graphics: The city of LA looks fantastic... on paper. What I mean is that when you're looking at LA, it looks nice. The correct color usage, the right textures to bring the city to as much life as possible - it's when you're in motion that the little things start to screw up. It mostly comes down to objects popping up, clearly because this is just too big for consoles to handle (hell, this game is 3 Xbox 360 discs long, almost completely fills up a PS3 disc, and it's not even an epic RPG like Lost Odyssey). Not to mention, there is a fair amount of screen tearing and lag when you're just up and about. Not so much during the actual missions, but more when you're in the city of LA, either tailing a suspect, or (for whatever reason) running around LA to collect film reels. Then there are the character models... their faces are animated EXCELLENTLY thanks to the new facial capturing technology, but it seems to come at a cost of the quality of the animation of the rest of their bodies. You won't notice it too often, but sometimes, it looks like their bodies are moving all jerky and shit. Sad, because their faces have excellent animation and in still images, they look very realistic.

Audio: But there's no way you can find anything wrong with the sound design. The soundtrack is orchestrated ever so intricately, that looking for sour notes is almost impossible. Each piece of music compliments each indivudual situation, adding the appropriate atmosphere to them and giving the story more texture. It's not jazz music, but hey, only Cowboy Bebop can pull off jazzy fighting music without looking silly... probably because Cowboy Bebop isn't quite as serious as LA Noire, but I digress. The only time you hear jazz from the late 40s is when you're driving, but since you may not find yourself driving all that often (and when you do, it's orchestral music making the chase scene feel epic), you may not pick up on it. Same could be said for the voice acting - it adds a lot of life to the story and to the interrogation scenes. Very professionally done without a wasted particle of breath is the best way to put it. Believe me, if it sucked, I'd let you know..

Overall: LA Noire has a lot of potential to be a fantastic game. Although it is very forgiving, the investigation and interrogation parts are very well done, and coupled with some great voice acting, excellent soundtrack and mostly good graphics, it felt like it had a chance to really kick some ass. Unfortunately, it bit off more than it could chew with a useless sandbox and chasing segments, and mediocre fighting and shooting segments. They don't occur too often, but I cannot, in good conscience, give this game anything above 50%. PS3 players should stick with Heavy Rain, and 360 owners should stick with Indigo Prophecy... Team Bondi, maybe you should've gotten Quantic Dream to help you guys, not Rockstar.

Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 7/15
Replay Value: 3/10
Controls: 7/10
Graphics: 4/5
Audio: 5/5
Tilt: -4
Overall: 25/50

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