Archive for October, 2011

LA Noire Review

Posted: October 31, 2011 in Review
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LA Noire Review

The dame refuses to meet your eyes when you ask her a simple question. Did she see what happened? She looks away and says, ‘no, officer.’ You don’t believe her. It’s quite likely that she knows more than what she’s letting on. You choose to doubt her words. You scream, ‘DO YOU WANT TO SPEND A NIGHT IN THE SLAMMER?’ She clams up, refuses to help the investigation. You have failed. Welcome to the world of LA Noire.

Like Red Dead Redemption before it, LA Noire is a game of two halves. One half is the actual crime solving, seeing you control bland protagonist automaton Cole Phelps as he’s bounced across every investigative desk in the LAPD, strolling through crime scenes, staring at every tiny piece of evidence imaginable, before interrogating suspects and trying to break them. The second, far more disappointing half, is the rest of the game.

Between the interesting sections that attempt to make you feel like a detective, LA Noire insists on trying to make things ‘exciting’ by throwing in driving sections, chases, shoot outs and general staples from the GTA series that felt out of place in that franchise. Street crimes get reported as you drive across the city between destinations and completion of each rewards you with XP towards your next rank (not that levelling up makes a damn bit of difference.) The disappointing thing is that all the street crimes are the same – you either have a car chase, a foot chase, a shoot out or some combination of the previous. The only street crime where you’ll feel like a cop instead of a character in a game is the one where you are charged with secretly tailing a man without being spotted. But this too ends with a shoot out, ruining the atmosphere.

As to any potential narrative, the plot is pretty much given away by the fact that it’s set in Los Angeles at the time of the city’s boom. A crazy mixture of Chinatown and LA Confidential, every character seems to be an archetype of either of those films. Phelps himself is simply Guy Pearce’s Ed Exley, while the supporting players seem to have been lifted straight off the screen without a single thought to making them original or interesting. LA Noire might as well be the interactive version of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet that it so clearly wants to be.

While the game’s many flaws may be off-putting, the true heart of the piece is an incredibly well created and intelligent system of facial motion capture to allow actors to perform each role. This means that every facial tic, every wince, every shrug is captured perfectly, allowing you to see exactly what you’re supposed to – although the faces never quite sit right on the necks, seeming to float awkwardly above the bodies.

The downside of the facial motion capture is that, once Phelps receives the promotion to Homicide, the liars get much better and so the only way to really know what to do is to accuse everyone of lying and then back out if you can’t prove it. Add to this the fact that the game is incredibly unclear on what exactly you have to accuse suspects of and you have a game that always relies on a one-in-three trial and error system that never quite makes you feel like a smart detective. There’s also no way of knowing what each of the options will unleash on the suspect – selecting ‘Truth’ could easily be a simple nod to continue, or Phelps could shout at them about aiding an investigation. Likewise, ‘Doubt’ ranges from simply raising an eyebrow to threats of physical violence. You never really know which selection to make.

The game is also incredibly specific about some things and incredibly general about others – the position of a body in an early case makes it appear as though the victim was shot from inside a store, but this doesn’t actually matter and is never mentioned by anyone. Another case features an underage girl who was drugged, raped and almost murdered in a car crash and when she says that she doesn’t recall what happened to her, logic says that she must be telling the truth, but, no, she remembers everything perfectly, somehow.

As to the investigation angle, LA Noire might as well be a point-and-click game. You move the awkwardly-steering Phelps around each crime scene, stopping when the controller vibrates to examine an item close-up. However, the controller vibrates around anything that can be examined, even if it isn’t relevant to the case. The only way to really know when you’re finished examining the scene is to look at absolutely everything until the music chimes to let you know you’ve finished.

Aside from the staggeringly well realised world of 1947 Los Angeles and the amazing amount of things to see and do in it (although scoring 100% is easier here than in Red Dead), there isn’t much else going for LA Noire. Once you’ve completed it – roughly twenty hours or so – there isn’t any reason to replay it, unless you’re a completionist, in which case add on another five hours to the total play time. On the whole, LA Noire is a great concept that could have done so much more, just spoiled by a slightly muddled script, bland characters and a sparkling lack of originality.

70%

613 – The Wedding of River Song

This is it. The moment fans have poured over since the beginning of the series – the Doctor’s death at the edge of Lake Silencio. Can the Doctor undo a fixed point in time? Will River really murder the man she loves? And most of all, what is the Question that the Silence want to remain unanswered?

Perhaps what’s best about this episode is that all of those questions are answered in the most mind-blowing way possible. One of Steven Moffat’s many strengths as a writer is his ability to surprise the viewer with sequences that are unexpected and leave them desperately trying to figure out what is actually going on. Nowhere is this more apparent than here, where time begins to collapse in on itself in spectacularly puzzling fashion.

The cast spark off one another brilliantly, with Rory once again getting some great lines and even a cracking scene where Amy gets her badass on. River’s love for the Doctor is both convincing and amusing, with their banter becoming a highlight of the series.

The only problem is that when the moment comes – the grand reveal – it’s impossible not to feel a little disappointed in just how easy it all really is. After the cleverness of last year’s time-travel clue-laying, this is almost a let down. Or at least it would be if the rest of the episode – indeed, the entire series – wasn’t so damn good.

On the whole, this is an excellent close to a generally great series. Leaving enough questions unanswered for the next series, but providing just the right amount of clues, Moffat has delivered a thoughtful, challenging, fun and downright entertaining show. Here’s to the Christmas episode.

612 – Closing Time

James Corden returns as Craig for this comedy episode featuring the Cybermen. Left to look after his baby for a weekend, Craig runs straight into the Doctor, who is going on a farewell tour before his inevitable death on April 22nd. However, there are sinister goings-on afoot and Craig is enlisted to help his old friend to stop the Cybermen one more time.

It’s unusual that a comedy episode would be genuinely funny, but this is precisely what ‘Closing Time’ manages to be. Frequently bordering on hysterical, the episode thrives on the excellent chemistry between the hapless Craig and the Doctor, while managing to get a hell of a lot of laughs – and even some key plot points – out of Craig’s child Alfie.

The plot moves along with a good pace, allowing time for a couple of good twists and red herrings, before arriving at an explosive climax. Held together by good CGI and some excellent comic timing, the episode is a joy to watch as it races from one amusing set piece to the next.

If there is perhaps one minor problem with the episode, it’s that the Cybermen aren’t really needed. It could be any enemy from the Doctor’s past – heck, it could even be an all-new villain. This is something of a shame, as it feels like the Cybermen have returned just to be made fun of.

On the whole, this is one comedy episode that works very well, thanks to the talents of its two stars and a few excellent lines. Another cracking episode in a damn good series.

611 – The God Complex

The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves trapped in an alien building designed to look like an old earth hotel. Each room contains a nightmare specific to one person and, once viewed, turns them into prey for the minotaur that stalks the corridors. If the Doctor can’t figure out what’s going on soon enough, everyone will succumb to their own fears…

This is one of those strange episodes that seems to think it’s much better than it really is. Packing no less than six plot twists, it also breaks the show’s running time by an extra four minutes. There’s also a lot of fat that could really be cut out here, such as the many interminable scenes between each minotaur attack.

That said, there are some good points here – some of the nightmare rooms are quite unsettling, such as the ventriloquist’s dummy room – and the first couple of plot twists are pretty clever. There are also some great turns from the supporting cast, including the brilliant David Walliams as a cowardly alien. It’s just a shame that it seems to drag on so long.

Probably the weakest episode of the series so far. A shame considering the quality of the rest of the run, but perhaps inevitable that there would be one weak link. It’s just disappointing that the story doesn’t really go anywhere fresh or exciting – this is an episode set entirely within bland, empty corridors.

610 – The Girl Who Waited

When Doctor takes Amy and Rory to one of the Universe’s hotspots, everything goes hellishly wrong. An outbreak of a contagion that the humans are immune to has broken out, turning the paradise into a final resort for those dying. Family members get to see their loved ones live out their lives all in the space of a single day – something that backfires dramatically when Amy enters the wrong doorway. Attempting to rescue her from a cure that will kill her, the Doctor and Rory head after her, only to find that Amy has been alone for thirty six years – and she’s become someone entirely different.

The central premise of the episode is incredibly thoughtful, posing the question of what exactly it is that happens if the Doctor fails his companions. Amy’s relationship with the Time Lord has already gone through some turbulent times, but here their fragile alliance is stretched to breaking point, with the Doctor leaving his redheaded friend in a deadly environment for almost four decades.

Naturally, the episode focuses on Rory and Amy’s relationship and here the two actors do not disappoint. Their chemistry is nothing less than excellent as Rory and Amy struggle to deal with that most difficult of life-changers: time itself. Seeing Amy wizened, older, angrier and vengeful is one thing, but seeing Rory, heartbroken, attempting to salve the wound is quite another.

That’s the episode’s true strength: the ties that bind the characters. Amy’s aging affects not only the Doctor and Rory, but a younger Amy as well. Full credit should go here to the make-up artists: not only does Amy look visibly aged, but it never looks silly or overdone. In fact, the characters are what keep the storyline together to such an extent that the robot villains are almost irrelevant.

Most of the episode is highly enjoyable, if slow-paced, meaning that it’s a shame that the final action sequence is forced to be so melodramatic. With the over-use of slow motion, dramatic music and low angles, it’s almost like watching a cheaper version of the appalling film 300. In fact, given how much the drama relies on characters up until the last few minutes, the climactic fight is genuinely disappointing.

All in all, this is a very good episode. Light on action, heavy on excellent character building and with a pitch-black finale, this might be looked on as one of the most intelligent episodes that Doctor Who has yet enjoyed.