L.A. Noire tries to be a great many things and gets a little confused along the way. It tries to be a dramatic Film Noir story about the flawed detective, but ends up falling apart in the final act. It tries to be an open world game AND have a solid scripted narrative but compromises the former for the latter. It tries to train the player into being a good interrogator, but then cripples this skill with a fairly unforgiving multiple choice questionnaire. And of course, it tries to be best in class but only ends up being an interesting footnote in 2011.
However, despite these failures, the game is quite enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it others. It just won’t ever be remembered for the things that it wanted to be remembered by. The game is good, but the spectacular implosion of Team Bondi – the Australian studio that developed this game – right as the game was released will probably be better remembered than the game itself. So it goes.
But the game is good, and it’s easy to get excited as you’re playing it. The technology on display is fairly impressive. I typically focus on the story in video games, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing motion capture for character faces. Lip sync is stellar, but it’s really face-sync that catches your eye. Everything from the collar of the character’s shirt on up is captured in detail and then replicated in dialog. You can actually SEE when a person’s neck muscle tense up or the slight bulge of their jugular when they talk. There is really nothing else like it in gaming today.
The reason that motion capture is done is provide a good measure of a character’s emotional state during interviews, and it works brilliantly. You can tell from the actor’s expressions when they’re tense or being evasive. It’s not easy, by far, but neither is reading humans in real life. As you learn how to see the signs, however, it does become a more straightforward process to tell when a character is lying. Now, what they’re lying about, that’s the issue here.
The game presents only three options when performing an interview: Truth, Doubt, Lie. Truth is obvious, Doubt is when you suspect they’re hiding something but you can’t prove it, and Lie is when you can PROVE they are lying and can back it up with evidence. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, however, the problem is that the story just isn’t clever enough to keep the player mystified for long. It is very easy for the player to draw correct conclusions from the evidence long before his/her character does, resulting in some very frustrating interrogations where you know what you want to say, but can’t figure out how to get the detective to actually say it.
Doubt and Lie are the biggest issues, because when you pick Lie there is only ever one correct piece of evidence to show the suspect, but sometimes there are other perfectly logical options that result in failure. Then, once you’ve been burned a few times by Lie, it’s easy to shrink away from it and settle for Doubt when you’re not sure if the evidence you have is going to tell the right story. But picking Doubt when you’re supposed to pick Lie will end up with being just as wrong as picking the wrong evidence or picking Truth. Either you get the next piece of the puzzle or you don’t, there are no half measures.
Which is very frustrating. In this era of endless, pervasive crime dramas on TV, we’re all very well aware of how fuzzy a process legal investigation is, and to be offered such a yes or no situation is difficult to adjust to.
Ultimately, however, it has no impact on the game. If you fail to properly interrogate someone, they will, ultimately, incriminate themselves in some obvious way. Because the game REQUIRES these cases to be closed in the end, if you don’t get a confession, a suspected murderer is just as likely to suddenly grab a hostage or punch a cop and flee in a car requiring you to hunt them down and arrest them for plainly suspicious behavior. And once you realize that, the interrogations seem to matter little.
Then, at the end of the game (spoilers ahead) you find out that your investigations, confessions, and arrests… were largely WRONG! And that there was a sneaky serial killer framing likely suspects throughout your career and most of the people you put in jail were actually innocent! So doing your job well actually results in perpetrating a fraud! And the game never gives you any satisfying reward for this discovery. The people you convicted are NEVER properly acquitted. Only when you’re on the homicide desk do they even acknowledge that they will have to make sure these people aren’t sent to the Chair, and even then the process they choose to use is to expose moments of improper police investigation resulting in a retrial.
Very unsatisfying. Even the ultimate end of the game does little make things better, because it’s implied that many of the most corrupt cops and politicians end up getting away with the crimes you uncover. All because they have too much power to be successfully taken down.
The game is conducted in an open world style, like the GTA games before it, but it’s very limited. You are a cop this time, so the game tries to prevent you from conducting openly criminal acts (with the exception of reckless driving, which you can still do endlessly without much recourse), so a lot of the fun of a GTA game is missing. You can’t run around committing anarchy everywhere. And the only real ‘open world’ parts of the game are the “Street Crimes” that you are occasionally radioed for. These are many and varied and most are fun (none require any interrogations), but they are distracting and get old eventually. To the point where after a certain point in the story I stopped responding to them and just carried on with the storyline mission.
The Street Crimes are tied to certain desks, too, so once you’re promoted you lose access to any Street Crimes you didn’t pursue until then. So you can’t even go back and tie them all up like you would in a GTA or Crackdown game. Also, on the 360, certain desks are on certain game discs, so if you use the post-game feature to go back and try and do the Street Crimes, you are constantly switching discs.
In the end, L.A. Noire is fun, but fails to successfully wrap up its package in a neat bow. The end game is poorly resolved and leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The technology is impressive, but it’s not used in the most effective way, which dulls the excitement quite a bit. Hopefully someone will take the pieces of L.A. Noire and make a better game out of it, but at least this was a good, if flawed, start.