– 1947’s Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) by Tex Williams
Since I finished LA Noire about a week or so ago and have very little else to blog about, I figured I’d try my hand at something I’ve never done before – a video game review. So without further ado, let’s just leap into it…
By far the most strikingly impressive feature of the game is the visual aspect. The technological leap forward in terms of the much-heralded facial expression motion capture is one thing, but even the environment, the cars, the occasionally gruesome crime scenes… Graphically, the game is a real joy to play. Simply gorgeous.
The writing is pretty top-notch too. Sure, there’s a lot that hovers on the borderline between homage and downright plagiarism – LA Confidential is the most blatant source of inspiration, but anyone familiar with the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett will find that LA Noire owes a lot to such novelists. Nonetheless, as someone who usually finds that the weakest part of any game is the writing, I was impressed; the story trots along at a nice pace, the dialogue is excellent, the main characters are fairly fleshed out… I had a simmering dislike for the protagonist, Cole Phelps, throughout but I’m not sure that such a feeling wasn’t the reaction the writer intended me to have. All in all, save for the sporadically clichéd feel to some of the events of the storyline, Brendan McNamara can be proud of his efforts on this front.
LA Noire’s gameplay was somehow not what I was expecting at all. I certainly foresaw greater use of the massive sandbox i.e. city of Los Angeles – instead, aside from being railroaded to and from various crime scenes and the odd scripted ‘street crimes’ you can head to, I felt that this was an opportunity wasted. In all probability, this will be remedied by a variety of Downloadable Content, but there should have been more to do. Particularly since, when you finish the storyline (took me about 20 hours, probably take a normal gamer who isn’t as crap about 10) there’s very little incentive to keep on playing unless you are a mental Achievement Hunter.
Aside from the action bits, which will be familiar to anyone who has played Red Dead Redemption or the like, the nuts & bolts of the gameplay take place in the various crime-scenes and so on that need investigatin’. This somehow disappointed me a little as well – as the admittedly-curmudgeonly Yahtzee pointed out, this is carried out in exactly the same manner as old RPG adventure games from the late 80’s and early 90’s. There doesn’t seem to have been any leap in the mechanics since then at all. However, as someone who loved Police Quest, this didn’t bother me too unduly – it was somewhat monotonous, but the whodunnit tension and desire to find out more kept me interested at any rate.
The interrogations took a while to get a bead on; there’s a rigid structure to them – if you ain’t got evidence to back you up, you sure as shit better not go accusin’ any folk of lyin’ sonny! The three options for responding, when someone finishes their answer to a question, are Truth, Doubt and Lie – but sometimes the line between Doubt and Lie is far too blurred, which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the success/failure terms of the interviews are far too strict. Also, in spite of how unquestionably brilliant the facial motion capture truly is, it seemed impossible to tell the difference between the facial expressions of a respondent when they are telling something Doubtful or outright Lying. Nonetheless, these interviews represent the most original part of LA Noire in terms of gameplay, and as such are the most enjoyable. I can certainly see it being used in more games, and with some honing it could be much better executed.
In summary, the greatest attractions of the game lie in the sheer beauty of it in terms of the facial motion capture technology and the overall surrounding environment, aided by a enjoyable story with a decent plot. The gameplay is where LA Noire falls down, however, and I don’t think it’s harsh to say that without DLC there is zero replay value here. It certainly isn’t joining the pantheon of ‘best games ever’, although its success does open the door to a renewal of ‘old-style’ adventure games which will hopefully see the release of titles with the same high-quality writing but with better execution in terms of gameplay. Fingers crossed.
Solidarity brothers & sisters…