I’m really late for a hard-hitting review of LA Noire, a fact I freely admit. Worse yet, at least from my perspective, Chris over at Game By Night hit one of the really big failings of the game right off, which is one of the two major things that’s been going through my head recently as I’ve been playing the darn game. But, hey, it’s still set to come out later this year for the PC, so I can at least get in some reasonable lead time to advise most players that it might not be all that and a bag of chips.
The problems with the game, however, don’t stop where the aforementioned post stops discussing them. It’s kind of ironic that one of the first DLC cases for the game makes reference to electroplating, since the entire game feels like it’s been coated with a thin layer of awesome. But a solid scratch makes it clear that there’s nothing underneath.
For example, the game’s action sequences are, essentially, just setpieces. The game acknowledges this, and even gives you the option to skip one if you repeatedly fail it – without any penalty to your overall progression in the case. The gunplay allows you to take cover and duck around and shoot blind, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. Heck, it takes a concentrated effort to actually get Phelps to drop from gunfire, meaning that the only element that keeps you playing through the moments of action are, well, the illusion that any of it matters. Scratch that illusion, and you lose all investment.
But the important part is the investigation, right? Well… yes, but even there you start to notice seams. See, the investigations are split into two segments – finding clues and grilling people. The clues, unfortunately, are all pre-determined widgets scattered throughout a given location, with a clear signal marking off when you have all of the clues for a given crime scene. Several clues require you to re-check a minor object or area more than once, simply because the game won’t let Cole advance past a certain point based on a hunch or a suspicion. That’s a little more acceptable, but where things start breaking down is when you get into the actual investigations, which offer you the same sort of gameplay experience you’d get out of an old InfoCom text adventure game.
Do you remember those games? Do you remember how awesome it was to spend four hours with the right object in the right place, struggling to find the exact syntax that the game would recognize? Did Rygar give you this kind of crap?
There was a suspect who took me quite a while to grill, because I first had to find the right option among the three, and then had to find the right piece of evidence that more or less randomly triggered important information. The evidence didn’t seem to be linked to the accusation in any way. There are several times when I would select one piece of evidence, and it would be flagged as correct, but Phelps talked about something else entirely. It really drove home the fact that I wasn’t trying to piece together clues so much as figure out the arbitrary sequence programmed into the game.
Problematic? When it’s the only thing the game has going for it, yeah, it’s a problem all right. The game’s other sequences are just there as alternate filler and distraction, and so all it has left to sell itself on is the whole “putting together a mystery” element. And you aren’t really doing that, just guessing at how the developers want you to dance.
Oh, and the game auto-saves while preventing you from saving when you want. So that‘s awesome.
In short… look, the game isn’t bad, but it’s weak in a lot of areas, and the stuff that it has going for it – beautiful scenery and excellent acting – do not make up for the aggressive problems it’s sporting. If you haven’t bought it yet and you’re still making eyes in its direction, my suggestion is to just turn around and start walking. It delivers what it promises only in the barest of senses, and even that turns out to be a kind of lackluster experience after a while.
Great write-up, as usual, Eliot. This game could have been really great but I still find myself dragging just to get to the end. I’m hoping they release some DLC that patches some of the weaknesses and make up for them with new content, similar to how they did with GTAIV. They’re do very different games, but L.A. Noire is rife with potential to do great things if they only embrace the wonderful world and scaffolding they’ve built.
The funny thing is, because of the lackluster feel of the main game, even some huge game-changing DLC probably wouldn’t fix things at this point, due in no small part to the fact that I wouldn’t plan on purchasing it. I know there’s the whole badge hunt DLC that offers some incentive to explore, but even that feels like a cheap snack on top of the main event. (Plus, I got tired of rambling around a city looking for collectible widgets back during San Andreas.)
Right, that saves me the worry that I may be missing something great 🙂 Had no plans on purchasing it for the PC, but did have it filed away in my ‘try this someday’ cabinet.
It’s worth trying when you can get it for second-run prices. I don’t feel as if I got horribly ripped off by the ticket price (admittedly it wasn’t me purchasing it, but Ms. Lady), but I don’t feel like I would personally spend more than $30 to pick it up if I hadn’t already.