Monday, May 30, 2011

L.A. Noire Review

Film Noire is a genre that is neglected way too often in the film scene lately. I think the last really good Film Noire movie was the Departed. Even that didn’t have the same flair as the great films of the past like The Maltese Falcon and even the more sci-fi Blade Runner. It seemed, like so many genres, that the best of Film Noire was behind it. However, video games are an entirely different matter. The film industry no longer sees old school science fiction movies and westerns as profitable, but game developers still gave us Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption. Now, we have LA Noire.

LA Noire may very well be one of the most talked about games this year. With their incredible new technology that utilizes the actual face of actors while they perform their lines, allowing the players to see every minute detail in the performance, is one of the highlights of the game. The influence of the classic film noire movies of yester-decades could only be more obvious by putting the word Noire in the title. I was so psyched to play this game. For the first time in the history of video games, players were actually going to play as a detective. Not a cop mind you, a detective. To me, LA Noire looked to be a game of the year winner in the making.

In LA Noire you play as Cole Phelps, a war veteran who joins the police to fight the good fight against crime and corruption. Cole has a very strict code of conduct and is bound by his moral and ethical code. A White Knight in city filled with vermin. His own department oozes from the seams with black lichen of sticky corruption. Cole starts out as a patrolman walking his beat in downtown 1940s Los Angeles. Soon Cole progresses through other cases as he is promoted through the ranks of the LAPD. You’ll work Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Each desk gives you new cases to solve, new witnesses to interrogate, new clues to unravel, and new partners to familiarize with.

The individual cases are all well done, taking place on the dark side of the L.A. The city of angels, they call it. But Cole will find himself more likely to be nudging shoulders with sinners rather than saints. Each case has a mystery to solve. You will need to comb over crime scenes searching for valuable clues that unravel the mystery. When your clues are secured, you will need to follow up on leads in order to find new locations and new persons of interest. Thanks to the help of dozens of HD cameras filming the actors’ performances, facial expressions are realistic. The subtleties of holding back information and lying through your teeth are not always obvious. Interrogations take a keen eye, a sharp wit, and that good old fashioned feeling in your gut in order to pick up on the subtle nuances of a liar. Do you trust they are telling the truth or do you think they’re holding something back? Perhaps you have proof of their lie? The investigating and questioning aspects of this game are indeed the highlight. There is a certain satisfaction to picking the right option, and especially catching someone in a lie. When a case is solved correctly, your captain will congratulate you for a job well done. If you screw it up, be prepared to yelled at and sent down to the minor leagues pal. This ain’t a game of checkers. Its chess and all the pawns will need to be in the right place if you hope to succeed.

Homicide proves to be the most impressive series of cases, as you follow along a trail of murders which may or may not have historical significance. Your partner is tied for the best damn partner in the game, hard broiled alcoholic veteran Rusty Galloway. These cases are brutal, the clues occasionally heart wrenching, and the results are never what you expect. Some of the most poignant interrogations occur on the Homicide desk, including one such interrogation involving a twelve old girl about her recently deceased mother.

It’s not all detective work and investigating though. You will need to drive around the beautifully crafted recreation of 1940s LA. Cars drive like tugboats and bathtubs, but once you get the hang of it, they’re not too bad. Still, getting in major accidents and hitting pedestrians can sometimes ruin the immersion, so it may be prudent to allow your partner to drive from time to time. Even so, make sure to drink in the fabulous city while you can. Each building, each road, has been faithfully replicated as the Hollywoodland of old.

Driving is a bit of a buzz kill, but it is not the only one. In fact, this game is littered with small disappointments, and the occasional massive misfire. The action scenes typically involve car chases, dark alley shootouts, foot races with your suspects, and the occasional tight rope maneuver. Though tackling a fleeing suspect is always satisfying, the car chases suffer from the bath tub mechanics. Unpolished shooting and cover mechanics leads to shoot outs becoming more frustrating than they’re worth. The balancing act tight rope scenarios will leave you scratching your head. All in all, the only gameplay mechanic that came together really well were the investigations and interrogations.

The story is a complete and utter mess. It starts out one way and ends completely different. Not even in a good way. I don’t know who the hell wrote this story, but he is just terrible. The third act suffers from some of the most dumbfounding writing flaws I have ever seen in a movie, TV show, novel or video game. The story starts out great, connecting you with golden boy Cole and introducing what seems like a massive conspiracy that he needs to uncover. Sadly, these plot points established throughout the game go absolutely nowhere, and by the end of act 2, you may find yourself utterly despising Cole Phelps as I did. I have never ever turned a whole 180 degree turn from liking a character to hating his guts in the way I did Cole. The game only recovers for a short time before a series of more and more bad decisions occur, utterly ruining any hope for a full recovery. The game ends with one of the biggest ass pulls in the history of literature, and following that, continues to get worse and worse. The third act shifts the gameplay, story line, themes and virtually everything in such a way, that is feels like you played the first two portions of one game, and then played the last third of something completely different. It is completely and utterly astounding that some of the design choices that were made were even approved, and yet they were.

All in all, LA Noire is a disappointment, but not a major one. The key selling feature of this game is the detective gameplay, and in that area, LA Noire succeeds in every possible way. The driving, shooting, and a host of other mini games may not be as well done as the detective play, but it is not bad enough to force players to quit prematurely. The overarching story line may be dog shit, but individual cases are done very well in nearly every way. It should also be noted that LA Noire was the first video game ever to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, a designation I’m not entirely certain the game deserves.

I give LA Noire 7.5 out of 10.


· Investigations and Interrogations are fun, challenging and oh so satisfying.

· Individual cases feature well told stories.

· Cast consists of great characters played by some grade A talent

· Phenomenal acting all around.

· Great use of new technology.

· 1940s LA replicated with accuracy and loads of details.

· Music is fitting and stylish.

· Can be played in color or black and white. Nice touch.


· Assorted gameplay features, such as shooting and driving, never achieve their full potential.

· Arson is way too short. Not nearly enough Herschel Biggs.

· Plagued with numerous baffling design decisions.

· Side quests lack value.

· Los Angeles is surprisingly closed off. Not enough freedom to experience the city.

· Cole becomes a total douche over the course of the story.

· Third act falls to pieces in every possible way.

· Story is poor. Plots never pay off. Massive “ass pull” during the climax. Monumentally disappointing ending.

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