L.A. Noire review
It's like Phoenix Wright without the charm


LA Noire is definitely an interesting specimen. On the surface, it's a story driven sandbox game with elements ripped right out of Phoenix Wright. However, once you take a closer look, you start to notice some things that just don't seem right. Whether it's the fragmented storyline, oftentimes poor gameplay or just the sheer fact that it's a chore and a half to go through, LA Noire may be different, but that doesn't mean that it's good if the execution isn't good.

Ex-lieutenant Cole Phelps, haunted by what he had done in World War 2, becomes a police officer who wants to clean the streets as a means of atonement. Unfortunately for him, there's a lot more in store than just cleaning up the streets. As expected, this takes tropes from film noire, such as it being a cop drama and deriving humor from banter, as well as being gritty and serious in nature. The ending isn't exactly sunshine and roses, either; it's actually fairly sad.

Looking past the tropes, the story is one of those instances where what it has is good, but what it doesn't have leads to many problems. What it has is some excellent writing that keeps your interest, as well as some characters that, although aren't developed too much, do their jobs well enough to keep you occupied while solving cases.

What it doesn't have, at times, is flow. At first, you'll notice when you watch some scenes and go “hold up, what's going on”, but they tend to be small... at first. However, then it decides to NOT BUILD UP to the big plot twist towards the end... basically, it's about as contrived as it can get. Nothing hints towards it... in fact, did it even happen? At first, I remember going “REALLY” because I don't think it even happened, but the cutscenes went on as if it did... It suffers from “LOL LETS RIP OFF THE PLAYER” because hey, DLC? What a way to make an honest profit. Forget the fact that games cost a lot of money to purchase; now we get to make them spend more on shit that should've been included in the game in the first place! Seriously guys, FIVE PIECES OF DLC!? If that's not a nickel and dime scheme, then I don't know what is...

When you read about this game, you'd expect a grittier version of Phoenix Wright. So what's up with these other elements? Sandbox? Seems cool... until you realize that it's ultimately useless. Chasing? Quantic Dream called – they said you guys suck at creating tension. Brawling? So much potential, but you only fight one guy each time, and the controls blow. Shooting? Actually, I'm surprised that the shooting is at least good. So... a one out of four isn't too bad I guess, especially when the one element is used a lot.

Oh, I suppose some elaboration is in order. Well, let's start with the sandbox. Normally, you have a sandbox either because of an abundance of side missions, or because you want to give your story missions more substance than just magically whisking the player to Point B. However, the sandbox feels more like an accessory than something the game needs. There aren't enough instances in the story missions to warrant this, because most of the time, you'll simply be required to head from Point A to Point B. As for side missions, well, you get to do some shooting and chasing, but most of these feel like an afterthought than anything else. Sure, there are times where you'll need to tail a suspect without them noticing you, and there's a case where you're required to find landmarks, but that's about it...

Oftentimes, you'll be required to chase suspects. These could've been pretty cool... as cutscenes where you need to press the on screen buttons at the right time, not as “hey let's hold the run button and up on the left analogue stick – so much fun!!!” because it just feels like they're pandering to the ADD shooter fans instead of making the game they wanted to. Unless it prompts you to hold the aim button and wait until Cole fires a warning shot or to mash the X button to tackle, these parts are ultimately a waste of time because there's always some scripted event to stop them. Same for when you're in a car, although at least in a car, you'll have other drivers to worry around, plus your partner can shoot the suspect's tyres, so I suppose they're more entertaining, but not by much. Ultimately, these scenes just don't work.

Brawling... ugh, spare me. The idea is to punch the suspect out while dodging their punches. It makes sense, but it's not very intuitive. The controls just feel... off. Sure, you can punch and dodge, but sometimes, it either feels delayed or just awkward. Even if the controls were tweaked for optimal performance, it won't matter much, because brawling is pretty underwhelming, as you only ever fight one suspect at a time.

Actually, I'm surprised at the fact that, while tacked on, the shooting is at least good. You can move, get into cover, aim and fire finely. Enemies die after a couple of shots, and they offer a decent resistance... well, decent enough in groups, though individually, it's easy to kill them once they peek out of cover, but at least it feels good... It would've been nice to give us an indication of how much ammo we have left... just that it's silly to SUDDENLY run out of ammo without knowing until it's too late.

At the end of the day, though, a detective's job isn't to chase, shoot and beat up bad guys; it's to find clues and piece them together. Finding clues is as simple as walking around, waiting for a chime, and then pressing X. Sometimes, you'll have to move a bit of evidence around until the camera zooms in, then Cole says something before putting it back down. It... functions, I guess. It wasn't exactly the best part of Phoenix Wright either...

Finally, we have the interviews. During each interview, you're given a few choices – you can either assume they're telling the truth, if you doubt what they're saying is true, or there's a piece of evidence that suggests the opposite of what they're saying. Now, THIS was the best past of Phoenix Wright, using evidence to prove prosecutors wrong, but it feels like something went really wrong. For one thing, yeah, Phoenix Wright was forgiving, but LA Noire takes things to a whole new level. Choosing wrongly too many times in Phoenix Wright results in a game over; in LA Noire, you can *bleep* up every question, not get some key evidence, and somehow manage to progress through the game as if you got every question right... thank you, Team Bondi, for insulting my intelligence.

Besides, this could've used a LOT more work. Each question asked only requires you to make one decision. In real life, a detective would have to make multiple decisions for each question in order to get an answer from them. The interviews here are streamlined to hell and back... like the chasing, it feels like it was in an effort to get ADD fuelled shooter fans interested.

At least LA Noire looks pretty. The rich use of colors in combination with just the correct usage of textures brings LA to life. Not just LA; the characters, as well. To spice things up, the animation of the characters' faces (and the rest of their bodies, but faces in particular) flow like a river. It looks like you're really back in the 1940s... until some lag and screen tearing rips you right out of it.

The soundtrack is also fantastic. Each and every piece of music plays at the right times to give off THE perfect ambiance. Even if controlling Cole during chase sequences isn't exciting, the music still manages to pump up your blood with some heavy orchestra music in the background. Not much in the way of jazz music, except during scenes in the jazz club (or a 1940s night club) and when you listen to the radio in the car. Then there's the voice acting, which really helps tell the story because each breath of air and sound coming out of their mouth is done with such conviction, that it feels like real life!

LA Noire is an interesting game. It tries to be an epic tale of redemption with a distinct film noire flavor. Sadly, it didn't quite work out so well. The gameplay is, for the most part, pitiful, but it's the disjointed storytelling that hurts this game in the long run. It's a story driven game... that doesn't even get that right. All it has are pretty graphics and great sounds – not good enough. Ultimately, LA Noire is just... boring. Aside from some character interaction, a few shooting scenes and some interrogations, it was quite a chore trying to finish this game. At the very least, wait for a “game of the year” edition, which should have the game and all of the DLC intact. Even then, don't expect the gameplay to be that good...

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