L.A. Noire Reader Review
I'm heartily sorry to do this, especially with a game that aspires to be so different, but L.A. Noire is a huge disappointment. (to really establish my credentials as a pretentious twit) is meretricious, and I would not be in the least surprised if the initial critical bloom fades and opinion hardens. GTA IV anyone?
L.A. Noire does much well. The extraordinary facial animation requires no more ink, although the bodies are... odd. Los Angeles itself is largely empty, but really is brilliantly realised and atmospheric, and the writing is (largely) solid. As a major noir fan, I feel that the team might have done well to lean more on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler than and James Ellroy, but that's a small issue. Perhaps most importantly, an attempt has been made to do something genuinely different. Originality coupled with a proper single-player experience that looks to be a major commercial success should be applauded. A sequel with tacked on multiplayer would be truly lamentable.
However, problems are legion. The main character, Cole Phelps, is awful. You will spend nearly 20 hours with a pious, climbing twerp, and I'm afraid this represents a chronic error in judgement.
Mechanically there are a great many issues too. Drives between locations are pointless (you quickly learn to skip these.) The investigations themselves are equivalent in form to the old point and clicks, where you meticulously dragged your cursor over every pixel. It's a lot like that here, only Cole is your cursor and you have the added mercy of controller rumble.
Extraordinarily, the central interrogation mechanic is poor. Sometimes it works, then on other occasions the choices are arbitrary or abstruse. Indeed the game is incredibly restrictive and linear. Unless you're suffering from a head injury, it will be apparent from very early on on the homicide and arson desks that something is utterly wrong and yet you have to make decisions you absolutely know to be major errors.
The main story arc aside, the side quests are execrable. This game should have focussed on the interesting part of the premise, the detection. Portal 2 shows that combat is not a prerequisite for commercial success. However, Rockstar are clearly under some gypsy's curse that only allows them to make open world games, and the quests feel like pointless and unimaginative diversions crowbarred in to pad game time. Gameplay tip; Never drive police cars and you'll never get dispatch calls.
The A.I drivers will have you tearing at your hair. Weirdly, your car appears to be equipped with a bloody great magnet on its bonnet. This wouldn't be a problem except, bizarrely, your performance will be significantly downgraded by the kamikaze loonies that drive around you. However, this is a minor issue in comparison to the combat. It's the oh so familiar cover-based drudge. Sure it's functional, but also pointless and repetitive. Actually, it feels like it was included after a decision by focus group. Finally, if you're going to have incidental dialogue, programme more lines please. Get used to hearing 'I'm going to switch to a 45...' and 'Isn't that the cop from...' This really does interfere with immersion. It would be less disruptive to atmosphere to have none of this fluff.
All of the points I award to this game are for the attempt to do something different. The ideas themselves are poorly implemented. The major lesson must surely be that originality still sells, but that developers require the courage of their convictions.