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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%

Like many, I purchased Red Dead Redemption back in May, soon after it came out (my real priority was Alan Wake). Unlike many, I just can’t find the energy to finish it.

The problem isn’t the lush visuals, fantastic Western setting or even the wonderful exploration. The reason that I just can’t get together is because of its protagonist, John Marston.

Marston is a former outlaw, now settled down with a wife and child on a farm. However, the DAMN EVIL GOVERNMENT intrude in his life and threaten his family unless he goes out west and tracks down his former partners for them. It’s a simple enough motivation and it’s enough to convince me that Marston is a good man.

It’s soon after the opening couple of missions with the lovely Bonnie MacFarlane that things begin to go mammaries skyward, as Marston continually sides with a collection of absolute bastards in exchange for their help. Will they repay his kindness? Will they fuck. Everyone with eyes can see the plot ‘twists’ coming a mile off, making Marston a galloping retard in a rather fetching duster coat.

In order to gain access to the fort that Marston’s target Williamson is holed up in, you have to assist no less than three complete cock-ends. One is a grave robber/ corpse fucker who asks you to help him steal coffins before he’ll start aiding you. Another is a drunk Irish stereotype who attempts to GET YOU KILLED the first time you do something for him. The final dickhead is a roving conman, fleecing unsuspecting people of their monies in exchange for potions that don’t do anything for them. The best part is when he tells you to murder hundreds of pissed off customers while he makes his getaway.

What really made me want to punch Marston’s face off the planet is how he constantly moans about the fact that he doesn’t like killing, and the reason he left Williamson’s gang in the first place is because they started ‘unfairly killing people’. Yet he displays no such thoughts when asked to commit around a thousand murders in order to get inside the fort. If he just killed the conman, shot the Irish bloke in the arm after he was set up and completely ignored the grave robber, he could have been inside the fort in a couple of days. But, no, because he’s a ‘good guy’ and doesn’t kill people who don’t ‘deserve it.’

But it gets worse from there, as the story shifts to Mexico and Marston ends up working fo both the government and the revolutionaries in a civil war. This, naturally, has no consequences and the only decent part of this are the few short missions you complete with aging gunslinger Landon Ricketts, who is a fantastic character. After that’s done, however, he disappears and you end up slaughtering roughly half of Mexico.

Again proving that Marston is a massive twat, he somehow doesn’t realise that the corrupt, merciless, murderous, hateful Mexican government is going to set him up and try and kill him. It’s mind-boggling how this man has survived up until this point, given how many times he wanders into obvious traps and ambushes without thinking about it. Topping it all off is his sarcastic and condescending attitude towards anybody who he doesn’t feel lives up to his standards of proper parenting. It’s cheating to call it ‘morally grey’ because it just isn’t. It’s morally nothing – you aren’t forced to make a decision, you are told to go and slaughter and so you do, like a good little puppet, with absolutely no consequences.

It’s almost worth sitting through for the fantastic Northern landscape, with its lush forests, snow-covered vistas and truly epic bear fights (kill one and another turns up!), but you have to put up with Marston being, well, himself.

Maybe I’ll get around to finishing Red Dead Redemption one day. I’d like to play the Undead Nightmare add-on for it, but I dread to think what hypocritical bullshit Marston will wax about in that version.

GTA: Chinatown Wars Review

Rockstar’s last attempt at the world of handheld car stealin’, drug dealin’, civilian killin’ fun was the technically-brilliant-if-far-too-short PSP (and later PS2) Vice City Stories. Continuing the theme of big console releases making playtime for their smaller counterparts comes GTA: Chinatown Wars.

While not initially as impressive as the PSP releases, it is definitely in a league all on its own in terms of Rockstar’s mastery of the DS hardware. The Liberty City familiar from the massively overhyped GTA IV serves as the main hub for all your criminal doings, while the perspective has changed the classic bird’s-eye-view as seen in the early GTA games. The scope of the city is incredible – individual locations memorable from the last tour are all present and correct (save for the ‘haunted swingset’) and the entire premise has been completely redesigned around the DS’ touchscreen capabilities.

Cars can be hotwired in any of three different ways – unscrew the dashboard and connect the wires, stick a screwdriver in the keyhole and turn it on or even by connecting a computer to the security system and stopping the numbers as they flash by to hack the alarms. Explosive weapons can be thrown by tapping the icon and flinging it away with the stylus. Tattoos can be drawn on, cards can be scratched, Molotovs filled at gas stations, the list goes on. Just about the only thing you can’t do is chop up crack with a credit card and inject it directly into your character’s eyeball.

You play as Huang, a Chinese immigrant on the way to deliver a sacred family heirloom (a sword won in a card game) to Uncle Lee, who has taken over the Triad family in the wake of Huang’s father’s recent assassination. Unfortunately for Huang, he is robbed, shot and left for dead in the worst place in America… Liberty City.

From there the game delights in giving you an outlandish number of absurd missions and, while most of them involve driving, none of them are ever dull or repetitive. This is a massive contrast to IV, where seemingly every mission required ten minutes of driving to the opposite end of the map for one gunfight, followed by another lengthy drive home. This time, it’s all about the game and the fun. One moment you’re gunning down a drug lord on his boat, the next you’re dropping bombs on groups of suspected informers from a helicopter. The only real flaw to the game is that the gun’s aiming scheme chooses to aim at the closest person to you, even if that means you’re firing into a wall while a goon blows off the back of your head from a few feet away.

The world is so vast and stuffed with so many things to do that you’ll be playing long after the credits roll. In fact, the moment the game does come to its close is a real downer – the story is so good and the characters so brilliantly scripted it feels a massive shame to let it end. But end it must, and if there’s any justice in the real world, the DS will get many more truly excellent GTA games.

95%