How well can you live with failure? This specific question is one you might want to ask yourself before jumping head first in to L.A. Noire, the newest Rockstar published game. Few games like L.A. Noire directly link your enjoyment to how well you are performing in the actual missions. While L.A. Noire can be an infuriating game at times, it is still an extremely unique game and deserves your attention, regardless of the urge to rage quit.
Since you are at least literate, you can probably put together that L.A. Noire is presented in Los Angeles, just after World War II. Cole Phelps, your character, has just returned from the war and has decided to help L.A.’s finest fight the crime wave that is currently sweeping the area. Early on, you are promoted from cop to detective and must work the different desks associated with the current position. The early traffic desk doesn’t contribute much to an overall plot, as they are kind of a tutorial, but most of the homicide, vice, and arson individual case stories all connect to a bigger, overarching narrative.
Some cases are filler missions, but since you are stuck with some great characters, the journey is worthwhile. You’ll cross paths with assholes and nice people, all of which have some sort of lasting impression. Good dialogue that fits the Rockstar bill, coupled with the facial animation goes a long way to have you care for the people you are dealing with because they feel like actual people with real personalities.
Even though the game can drag in some middle to later parts, falling victim to repetition, it picks up in the end game for an unforgettable ending. I was growing weary of the game’s mechanics by the latter hours of L.A. Noire, which was spread across nineteen hours, so by the last few cases only the story was driving me to completion. A sort of backhanded compliment I know, but it speaks to the strength of the story during the final hours, especially since it was built up to (albeit slowly).
A lot of people, including myself, have trouble interpreting exactly what type of game this is, especially before the game was actually released. Is it like Grand Theft Auto since they share the same publisher? No, besides the user interface and open world, they are completely different experiences. I didn’t murder one hooker or kill more than one hundred people within the whole game. Shocking right?
Not really, since you are a detective and this is where it likens to an old adventure game. You and your partner pull up to the crime scene, talk to people of interest, and begin your Easter egg hunt for clues. As you walk around the scene, which is intelligently blocked off to show where clues are, your controller will vibrate and a piano note will play upon standing over items of interest or junk that wastes your time. Pressing a button has Cole pick up the insanely detailed objects and manipulate them to weave out possible clues and leads to go on. Once all clues are found, a clever musical horn notifies you of your spectacular detective work. You don’t have to find everything, but the leads will help and give more locations for you or your partner to drive to to further your investigation. While this can boil down to “walk everywhere until and press X (PS3) or A (360) until the music stops,” finding clues and piecing together possible leads is a unique gameplay mechanic I’ve never seen before.
Finding all the evidence is useless unless you interrogate possible suspects and witnesses, and this is L.A. Noire‘s other major gameplay pillar. Showing off its incredible facial animation technology, you are tasked with asking questions and decided whether or not the person is fibbing or not. Three face buttons equate to truth, doubting, and lying. Truth is self-explanatory but doubting and lying are a bit more in depth. Doubting is where the person isn’t giving everything they know and lying is like it sounds, but you must have proof to back your accusation up. You can tell the actors were told to act as they were lying, so usually it is obvious when they are darting their eyes rapidly across the room or moving in a guilty fashion. Or most times anyway and this is where I frequently lost my cool with the game.
Interrogations can get infuriating as some require jumps in logic. I frequently would present evidence that I, in my own head, could link to the specific lie but when I chose that prompt, Cole would go in a different direction I wasn’t anticipating. For example, I was asking a club owner if she knew the victims who performed regularly at her club. She said no, so I selected lie and showed a ticket from her club in the possession of the dead performers. Insert the buzzer sound because I was incorrect! The game needed more than one “right” answer for this system to work and be satisfying at the same time. It teases multiple solutions but makes all of the wrong ones not fun at all. Getting answers wrong leads to you having to get the results through different, less exciting methods, like following people. I don’t mind being wrong in games, Heavy Rain made a great example of how to do it, but the fact that it requires looking for the right answer not your right answer can completely kill any sort of good feeling. Not to mention the “wrong answer” jingle is just the aggravating extra poke in the kidney by almost saying, “Hey dumbass, stop sucking so much!”
Messing up questions isn’t fun, but fudging up a whole case can also lead to tears of madness. A few cases are presented where you have an opportunity to lock up the guy who you think is responsible. I didn’t pull these names out of a hat and also didn’t take each sentence lightly. I looked through evidence, their confessions, lies, and connected my own logical reasoning to each conviction. I felt proud for each decision as I thought I had the right one each of the three times. That was until my captain came out an berated me every single time for my choice. On all three occasions he had the balls to say I convicted the wrong guy. It was here where I thought “If he knew who did it, why the hell am I convicting these people?” I figured since each captain is God or some form of Jesus Christ, that he should carry out investigations from now on as I am an incompetent mortal with no divine powers. Since I had convincing arguments for my choices, the game should roll with whichever settlement I come to, not show me an facade of choice and then send me to time out if I don’t pick the “correct” one.
The interrogations are both my favorite and least favorite part of the game so it is probably time I gave it props, right? While it took about three rage quits to get it down, I finally starting getting in a groove where I felt like I no longer had Asperger’s Syndrome and could actually intelligently see through lies and deception. It wasn’t until after I got somewhat good at the game to where I intensely appreciated what different experiences this game is going for. Playing sort of a mental warfare with criminals and knowing just how to shut them up or catch them in a web of lies exhibits similar thrills of a headshot or perfectly laid out combo in a fighting game. Right answers and being a good, thorough detective gets good results gives a sense of achievement. The “bad choice” chime is the yang so the “good choice” music is the yin because the small piano note that plays is fist-pumpingly rewarding.
When you aren’t talking to people or playing whodunit, the action comes into play. Cover based shooting, which isn’t as fun as games like Red Dead Redemption but not terrible, goes between on foot and car chases. Both change up the pace and are mostly well executed. On foot chases are surprisingly better than they should be, while car chases don’t peak or valley too often. All three are okay changes of pace, but the real strength still relies in the detective work.
A great deal of hubbub has been made about the facial animation and for good reason. Technology like this is ground breaking as faces have never been captured so beautifully. Emotions are clearly visible through every small wrinkle and brow furrow, giving the dead eye stare of Mass Effect 2 seem even more archaic. This made everything seem more interesting if only for the pure innovation of this type of animation. Animation on everything else is still good but, obviously, nothing can currently hold a candle to the faces in this game.
L.A. Noire is an odd game. I want to infinitely praise it for its bold trek through new territory, but I can’t blindly give out such high recommendation without earning such a right. You’ll be figuring out “who did what” and “who killed whom” but the bigger question here is “Should you play this game?” I choose to say yes, but be cautious of expectations. I just hope my captain doesn’t berate me for the “wrong” choice.
+Facial animation is groundbreaking
+Investigations are mostly fun
+Deep, involving case storylines with a memorable ending
+Characters are believable and likeable with well-written dialogue
+Perfecting an interrogation is a unique rush
-False, frustrating illusion of choice
-Game can break its own logic
-The “wrong answer” jingle leads to guilt and more frustration
-Finding irrelevant clues wastes time
-Feels a bit too long
Final Score: 8/10
Platform differences: The PS3 version is on one Blu-Ray, while the Xbox 360 version is spread across three DVDs. Besides the physical difference, all new PS3 copies come with an exclusive mission, “The Consul’s Car Traffic Case.”