L.A. Noire Reader Review
I wasn’t sure I would get to the end of this. The game makes a strong first impression. The game nails the atmosphere and sense of place. It was a new experience to be playing as an investigator, searching for clues. The first few interviews and interrogations were really interesting, watching the witness or suspect’s face and body language for clues as to whether they were telling the truth or not.
After the initial novelty wore off and I began to settle into the role of Phelps and watched the story and cases unfold before me I began to feel a bit stymied by the limited range of responses. In some cases it was clear that the evidence pointed to alternative explanations or suspects but there was no facility to state this. You simply had to play by the rules and follow the pre-ordained path set out by the developers.
The game is roughly divided into 5 parts - the tutorial section ‘on the beat’, then a succession of ‘desks’ - Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. The game particularly struggles during the homicide desk. The game mechanics become repetitive and the game itself becomes boring.
Team Bondi try to mix things up a bit with fist-fighting, shootouts, stealth sections, car and on-foot chases. None of these are particularly well implemented and have been executed elsewhere in other games more effectively. They do succeed though in bringing variety. The central mechanics of investigation and interrogation would wear very thin, much sooner without them. The rather limited success of these parts is shown up by the ‘street case’ side missions which seem very light weight in comparison to the main story lines and seem to serve mainly as a mechanic and inducement to explore the beautifully realised but ultimately superfluous 1940’s L.A.
The story is advanced via cut scenes accessed by finding relevant newspapers in the environments or via exposition explaining Phelps’ war background between the episodes. This works very well and gives the player a good understanding of the events unfolding as the player progresses through the game.
The story is pretty good for a videogame and brings itself to a satisfying conclusion after the boredom of the homicide desk is negotiated. In that respect I was glad I stuck with the game.
Sometimes the game can be very frustrating. Mis-reading a facial expression that you seemed sure about or presenting the wrong piece of evidence because of ambiguity in what the game is wanting from you was unsatisfying. The designers also make it difficult for you to undo your mistakes, with the game saving after each encounter and only allowing one save game. The car chases were made difficult by the car’s variable response to collisions, with some minor scrapes seemingly stopping the car in its tracks, whilst forgiving others.
If you get stuck you can call upon help in the form of ‘intuition’ points, garnered by levelling up your character. This removes wrong answers or gives you a percentage break down in an ‘ask the audience’ type way. I tended not to use this. It felt a bit ‘wet’ to use it.
Fans of the excellent ‘Mad Men’ series will have great fun spotting members of the cast, obviously supplementing their meagre Mad Men wages on the side. The main character Cole Phelps is played by Aaron Statton(Ken Cosgrove). I also spotted Peggy, Pete Campbell, Harry Crane and Jimmy Barrett.
You have to applaud the ambition, originality and execution of the game. If they can refine and expand the investigation and interrogation side of the game for the sequel, allowing a greater variety of outcomes and consequences, perhaps in the manner that ‘Heavy Rain’ achieved, then the result will be truly compelling.