L.A. Noire review
Phoenix Wright: Ace Detective?


Talk about a game that's hard to assess fairly - LA Noire is a game that gets a lot wrong and a few things right, but those few things are done so well that it allows me to overlook everything wrong with it. At the end of the day, it's all about perspective, like what do you expect in a game and all that jazz. For me, a game has to live up to what it promises. To quote the description text on Neoseeker's LA Noire page, "LA Noire blends action, detection and complex storytelling and draws players into an open-ended challenge to solve a series of gruesome murders. Set in a perfectly recreated Los Angeles before freeways, with a post-war backdrop of corruption, drugs and jazz, LA Noire will truly blend cinema and gaming." Do I think it lives up to that promise? I'd say so, and due to that fact, LA Noire worked out pretty well.

Now, you may be confused by that description. "But I thought games were about the gameplay!" While that's true for the likes of Gears Of War and Devil May Cry, games that strive to create a compelling narrative such as this and Red Dead Redemption need only to rely on said narratives, with the gameplay added in to make you feel like you're playing a game. Now, whether the game is fun or not is another story. Metal Gear Solid is fun. Final Fantasy 6 is fun. Deus Ex is *bleep*ing fun. LA Noire is... sort of fun... I guess. It has moments that are fun, but it also has moments that feel like they were added in at the last minute because they forgot that they were making a game. For instance, there's this one bit that resembles a "fit the item in the slot" kind of puzzle... except there's only one of them.

So LA Noire isn't exactly fun. Most action sequences either end abruptly when they “crash” or “fall over” during a chase, “can't take a punch” during the brawling segments and you shoot a few bad guys down. But really, do you expect it to be anything more than serviceable? Of course you would, but given that LA Noire is grounded in reality, you have to expect that a lot of things won't seem as interesting as they would when used by other games. But at the same time, it's meant to be an interactive transition between two scenes, to justify itself being a game. As silly as it sounds, it's all simply mediocre and nothing that'll offend you – maybe except the brawling, which is just where you hit a button, sometimes the other button, but brawling is rare. Other than that, it's playable enough to play through while waiting for the next cutscene.

I guess I should at least describe the gameplay a bit better. Well, gameplay is split into five things – investigating, chasing, brawling, shooting and interrogating. Sounds like there's a lot of variety, but for 3/5, that's where the positives would theoretically end. Those three are the more action-y ones. Chasing is where you chase down a suspect, either on foot or in a car. The idea is to keep up with them and wait for them to crash or fall down or whatever before you're given the right to capture them. On foot is just okay, but while driving, it can get intense. Cars do have a tendency to slide a fair bit and handle either stiffly or loosely with no happy medium, and that can make things more intense if the suspect goes into alleyways and you have to barge through traffic to get there. I've described brawling, so let's move onto shooting. At times, you'll have to take cover and shoot some bad guys down. That's about the full extent of it all – just cover and shoot, but it's done competently enough to not be a problem, unless you have unrealistic expectations.

Then you have the investigating and interrogating, which are much better done than the action segments. Investigation feels like one of those old point and click games where you have to wave the cursor around, mindlessly clicking until you find something – except the cursor is Cole, and the world isn't just a static image, but a full 3D world that both you and the cursor are in, so be ready to mash that X button... it'll be the only way to find smaller stuff that aren't in bins or anything you could hide things in. That is, if you turned off sound and vibration cues – if you kept them on, then it'll be too easy to find things. Ahh, the joys of no happy medium... it's like the handling of the cars in this game. But at the same time, it serves the purpose of getting you some evidence for later... although I don't know how Cole can assume that something isn't relevant to the case... especially if it probably could. Ahh, the joys of a heavily scripted game...

But yeah, after you've gathered up the evidence and done a few things, it's time to ask people questions. You're given a set of questions to ask, and when you select one, Cole and the person (either somebody who knows what happened or a suspect) will exchange dialogue and then you'll have to figure out if they're telling the truth or lying based on what they said, how they said it and how their faces look – everyone has their facial tics if they're lying, although not quite as bad as some of the people here. If you can tell that they're lying, you have to see if you have the evidence to back it up – if you don't have any but still think they're lying, it's as easy as selecting “doubt”, which will have Cole say something that'll subtlely assume that they're lying. But if you select “lie”, you must choose the right piece of evidence... and I mean the RIGHT piece of evidence. Choose anything other than a specific piece of evidence, and it'll be marked as wrong, even if it makes no sense for it to be wrong... ahh, the joys of a heavily scripted game... but it's not as intrusive here because trying to figure out the right answer is so interesting that you'll overlook that.

However, there's one thing you won't be overlooking anytime soon - there's no such thing as failure in this game. You can simply do the bare minimum and get every question wrong, and still progress to the next case. I often like to think that progression is a reward for doing good, not something that should just be given to you on a silver platter. It all leads to the big issue a lot of people have – the gameplay just isn't up to snuff. If you haven't gotten it, this is a game with mediocre gameplay elements backing up an excellent story, and if you value gameplay more than anything else, you'll probably find yourself unable to finish it due to... well, mediocre gameplay elements!

Let's be honest - LA Noire's strengths lie in its story, its themes and, ultimately, its world. It's one of those games that seems more like a movie than a game, but the story is so good, that only people who don't care for stories will dismiss it and say that this game sucks. The basic gist of it is that Cole Phelps, after serving in the second world war, is a simple patrolman on the streets of Los Angeles, and that it follows his time in the police force, for better or for worse. Meanwhile, there's corruption in the police force, and a whole heap of other stuff that doesn't come full circle until towards the end of the game. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of build up to the endgame, but the build up, for the most part, is just fantastic.

What brings the story to life is the dialogue. Cole and whatever partner he's assigned with are often exchanging banter, and as it's all brilliantly writen with a sense for dark comedy, you can't help but laugh at them. Not roaring with laughter or anything, but it's always amusing to hear it. What it is, is that the characters each have their own personalities that contrast with Cole's flawed but hard working, serious, all round good personality. It's amazing how many personalities manage to clash with his, especially a certain partner later on... and eventually, you'll know what I mean by “flawed” towards the end of the game. In fact, the writing itself is fantastic. It's all done in a way that hooks you into the story and isn't about to let go, and given what goes on in the game, that's a very good thing.

What gives the story that extra kick is the presentation. The voice acting is *bleep*ing excellent, with each actor really selling their characters. Each line – *bleep* that, each SYLLABLE spoken in this game is given such conviction that it's like as if you're interracting with people from that time period, and it works well with the writing. In fact, I think it enhances the writing, which I didn't think was possible, but then again, nobody throught that the atom bomb was possible, but it was – ask Japan. To really bring things to life is the soundtrack, which all manages to help immerse you into the game even further. Although I found it rather silly that every car in LA just happen to be tuned into the same radio station, but when you listen to the smooth jazz coming out of those speakers, you won't really care because you'll just be digging every second of it. But then you have quieter pieces for investigation and louder, more involved pieces for the action – it's all orchestral music, not jazz, which is a disappointment... if only a brief disappointment because it sounds *bleep*ing excellent anyway!

Even then, the story isn't quite perfect. For one thing, a film noir should NOT be this bright! Yes folks, LA Noire's cases mostly take place during the day, with very few taking place at night, and none of them are rainy. Perhaps Team Bondi wanted to add a twist to the film noir formula, but it just feels like a season of Miami Vice with a script written for a film noir movie. Call it a nitpick of nerdy proportions if you must, but you'd think that a game that felt like it really wanted to be film noir... would actually go the whole 9 yards instead of stopping after writing the script. Yes, I'm aware that you can just go to Options and choose to play in black and white (and in fact, you should do that immediately), but... I don't know, it's just a bit silly if you ask me.

The other problem is that the majority of the homicide desk (the second of four) is filler! For the first two cases, I was like “oh shit!”, but eventually, that turned into “*bleep* me, this is getting old”, which lead to a lot of people hating it and probably the game itself. When I finally got to the last case, I was like “ABOUT *bleep*ING TIME”, simply because all it was, was build up to the desk's last case, and even to the rest of the game. Actually, if that was the case, wouldn't it make more sense to condense the desk to four cases, and squash the development into those desks so that maybe there'd be no problem? Hell, I bet most of the people who hated this game would love it if that happened... though if you'll still hate the game afterwards, eh, not much can be done about that...

By the way, the homicide desk is based on one of the biggest unsolved crimes known to man, the Black Dahlia murder. Why this isn't the last desk, I'll never know. Instead, it's... some shit about house fires and money and – I really don't give a *bleep*. I mean, technically, it's great like the rest of the story, but NOT AS THE LAST DESK! Just thought I'd put that out there.

The best way to sum up LA Noire is that it's lucky. While it's easy to interpret what it promised as it promising to make you feel like a real detective and thus get disappointed, what you got was a fine substitute. While it's easy to assume that it's bad due to the gameplay not being up to snuff, this is a story driven experience and obviously, the gameplay is bound to play second fiddle. I am not, at all, saying that this is a perfect game – it is, in fact, a highly flawed game, but what it does right, it *bleep*ing does right!

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0 thumbs!
Monterey Jack May 2, 12
I'm guessing you played the Complete Edition? Which has all the DLC and shit? Does it really tie the stories a lot better than the original edition (the one without DLC)?

But yeah, this is the kind of treatment LA Noire deserves I reckon. It ain't meant to be a gameplay driven experience; it's story driven. Why crap on a good story just because the gameplay ain't up to snuff, y'know? But yeah, it's a great review mate.
0 thumbs!
Monterey Jack May 6, 12
In saying that, I'd love to see more positive reviews from you. Seems a bit suss for this to be your only positive review when most of the others hated it.
0 thumbs!
Jak May 20, 12
Monterey Jack, I have a few positive reviews on the way. Just give me some time to finish them up.
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