On The End Of A Quill

On The End Of A Quill

Saturday, June 4, 2011

L.A. Noire

So the big game out at the minute is L.A. Noire, it’s out two weeks at this stage. I’m finished my exams, (that’s where I was!) and so I decide to purchase a game on the Friday to tide me over for a couple of weeks. I have a mountain of games to get through but a new game seemed like the just reward for the previous few months’ efforts. I was led to believe this game was the next big thing, hours of solid cop/detective work in a GTA style world within the setting of 1940s Los Angeles, what could go wrong?

You play as Cole Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the LAPD, from patrol, to traffic, to homicide, to vice and then the arson desk. That’s a demotion from vice due to your bad behaviour and the opportunism of your partner Roy Earle, but you get to play as Jack Kelso, a private investigator for the District Attorney for most of this desk, until the end of the game looking into the Suburban Redevelopment Fund. Cole is played by Aaron Staton, best known for his role in the series Mad Men. Quite a few of the characters are also in Mad Men, I’ll be honest I’ve never watched it. And a number of faces are familiar from movies and T.V. shows, the graphics really are impressive and the facial expressions are brilliantly done and are very life like. The voice acting is similarly top notch, aided by the good scripting of each case and the interlinking flashbacks and newspaper headlines; at least it shows that they took the storytelling element seriously. It borrows heavily from the films and crimes of the era, but what game doesn’t borrow elements from something else, RPGs have been peddling the same abandoned youth with patchy memory story for thirty years. People seem to prefer a twist on an old formula rather than anything new.
So why, after three evenings of playing and 91.4% game completion do I feel…, well, feel nothing?

I bought my copy in HMV, it’s a fiver cheaper and I reasoned any extra mission downloads would amount to an hour or twos play so why not get them all later in some sort of game of the year edition. Sneaky publishers! But as I flew through the cases and the discs, (the Xbox 360 version) I was wondering if I was missing something, would the cases be that different if I replayed them to try and get a five star ranking? I was collecting all the newspapers; I’d seen nearly all the landmarks from zipping up and down the map answering all the calls from dispatch. Only the golden film reels eluded me on the first play through. I never had to replay a scene more than twice, I didn’t realise you could skip scenes until I got held up while being chased by a bulldozer in a trench, but I got the hang of that one in the end. Where was this great game that was being lauded in the press?

I’ll explain what I got out of the game after I’d finished it in a little over twenty hours and sit currently with thirty hours on the clock, the last few hours spent running around looking for film reels and revisiting the odd case to stave off boredom, you know where the clues are to be found and can get your partner to do all the driving, leaving you with the interrogating to do and not much else really. I will be spoiling some of the plot, but if you have the game and haven’t finished it at this stage you’re probably staring at the ‘insert disc 2 now’ screen, and I’ll only be doing you a favour. And if you are yet to pick the game up? Well maybe it will all help you to decide.
The game consists of this: cut scene-crime scene-look for clues-ask questions-cut scene-driving-cut scene-look for more clues while someone sits on a chair-ask more questions-driving again- fighting/shoot a guy in the head-cut scene…… repeat. Sorry, I’ve just ruined the game for you there. The fighting isn’t Street Fighter IV, but it works. The shooting isn’t Gears of War, but it works. The driving isn’t Burnout, but it works. The questioning isn’t Phoenix Wright, but it wor…. No wait, it doesn’t. What’s the difference between Doubt and Lie in an accusation, really? And why does Cole say things that have nothing to do with the line of questioning you thought you were pursuing or just outright says things that you don’t want him to say and never expected him to say that break off conversations.

It can’t get away from its GTA roots either. The city is a good representation of the time, but you can’t do anything in it. You can drive 95 cars around, but they mostly look the same, unless I’m missing some gems, I’ve driven 68 of them so far. When I say driven, I mean hopped in and out of while in a car park. To find the golden film reels you will need to be on foot and searching all the little areas you can’t drive to, tables in parks, construction sites, shops in the bus depot etc. I’ve already criss-crossed the huge map in a vehicle looking for land marks, damned if I’m doing it again on foot just for film reels, seeing as you can’t do anything else on foot. You can’t talk to anyone, your partner will be lost somewhere on the map and you can’t answer a call unless in a car and select it from the map screen. But why would you bother, after solving the 40 street crimes, to replay them. They last five minutes and end with you shooting the criminal in the head (most of the time).

It’s really the story that keeps you plugging away at the game. And yes the story is good enough to warrant you playing on, except for the part where your character, Cole, decides to leave his wife and kids for Elsa, the singer in The Blue Room nightclub. That came a bit out of the blue, surely a few scenes to explain this possibility earlier on would have helped, did I just miss them? I played over the earlier cases but it didn’t really shed any light on it. Then the ending, the ending… killing Cole was a bit of a cop out and showing that the cause of the big intertwining stolen morphine/redevelopment storyline was all Coles fault for being a dick in the army, it seemed like a clever twist just for the sake of having a clever twist, it wasn’t needed.

Phew, rant over. Traipsing around L.A. it seems like a missed opportunity within the game that certain places aren’t used. Then again Rockstar could just be waiting to release case after case to help get some longevity (and money) out of the game. I’ll hold off, the only thing I downloaded was a suit for Cole to wear. And that didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to how Cole played. If you want to get into a story driven game and have twenty odd hours to kill, L.A. Noire comes heartily recommended. If you’re looking for a sixty hour Fallout, Oblivion, GTA style game then this isn’t for you. I’ll still give it a solid 6 out of 10 though.

‘Shut up Bekowsky’!

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