I’ve been meaning to write this up for a good few weeks. Despite not having to review L.A Noire for anyone, I still managed to collect some notes as I went along purely because I needed to vent. I’m relieved to not be reviewing it. I’d hate to put a number to it for instance and I’m pretty sure I’d get to the end of the review still unsure of how I actually felt.
I really liked L.A Noire. I must have. I’ve played it through twice, got the vast majority of achievements (935 points and I’ve yet to play the latest DLC) and it didn’t feel like a chore by any means. This is a pretty rare feat for me these days. That’s not to say that L.A Noire isn’t ridiculously flawed. It is, quite hugely so in fact.
I’ll assume from now on that readers have finished the game or have no interest in completing it so excuse any spoilers. They’re neccessary.
The main problem lies in the storyline. It’s just not dark enough and it lacks atmosphere. Richard Cobbett summed it up better than I could on his blog but it’s a big problem. Nothing feels mean enough on L.A Noire’s streets. Everything feels so regimented. There’s no randomness, not even the slightest of muggings or dodgy goings on down a back alley. Nothing. Instead it feels like a reskinned Liberty City which makes sense considering it’s a Rockstar game.
The character you play, Cole Phelps, offers absolutely no personality whatsoever. There’s a glimmer of depth the further you get into the game but it never feels like enough. He shows no emotion whatsoever throughout questioning a suspect for instance, he’s just cold and robotic.
Which brings me neatly to interrogations. Aargh. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what option you choose as all it affects is how many stars you get at the end of the mission. The consequences just aren’t there. Plus, a little like Mass Effect before it, Cole will blurt out things with no sense of compassion or tact. It’s all so shallow.
Searching crime scenes is similarly shallow. Yes you can turn off the chimes and helping hands side of things but who actually did that? Exactly. Something like Broken Sword’s style of doing things would have been wonderful here but it’s all so limited yet again. I want to make mistakes and I want to suffer the consequences, not feel like I’m stuck on rails.
There are some actual puzzles that work quite well, especially near the end but there’s still too much hand holding. My favourite case was the one where you have to drive around the city solving riddles. Exactly what I wanted from the entire game, but shoved into one relatively brief case.
The cases themselves feel too focused on ‘search crime scene, go question the husband, go to another place, search that, then chase someone, interrogate and done’. I’m not convinced they strictly were but they felt like they were, such was the repetitiveness.
There’s one sequence right near the end where you’re running from a bulldozer chasing after you. The bulldozer inevitably crashes. You go to question the driver, right? Wrong. You can’t. You can’t even check the body (assuming they’re dead and that’s why you can’t question them). You just run off. WHY?! Damn you linear game pretending to be something you’re not. *shakes fist*
The controls are diabolical too but much to be expected from a Rockstar game. The driving is rather dodgy and there’s too much emphasis on instadeath sequences, and everyone hates those. EVERYONE.
The Uncharted style sequences and chase scenes are daft because Cole runs bizarrely and seems to like banging into things a la Tomb Raider circa 1996. One part requires Cole to swing a chandelier repeatedly to leap off. It’s broken. Utterly broken. I’m not the only one to have struggled with it. I ranted on Twitter at the time and a flurry of people agreed with me that it was flawed.
So why did I keep playing? Well…it’s still the best at what it attempts to be. If you like 1940s detective stories, you’re a bit stumped for games. Heavy Rain was hugely flawed but it was still good at what it did, mostly because no one else had tried it before.
I’m happy to support L.A Noire in the hope that other developers will do something similar but improve upon it. At least it’s tried to do something different instead of just being Grand Theft Auto all over a-bloody-again.
The soundtrack is worth a nod too – it’s fantastic. It reminds me of my childhood so that helps. My Dad used to listen to all that music so it was always playing in the house and I’ve been to a few jazz concerts during my younger years.
The end also does a great job of tying up (most) loose ends and feels satisfying.
That’s some weak justification of why I liked it but that’s exactly why I’m pleased I’m not reviewing it. Because I don’t have to be objective. I can just rant instead.