Archive for October 31, 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.

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