LANoire

Just finished LA Noire, here is what i thought..

Ok…so I admit I bought this a while ago, when I initially started playing I was impressed with the slick presentation and moody undertone. That quickly faded as I began to feel confused by the interviewing technique required, somehow after 20+ hours played I’m still no more confident I understand how I’m supposed to read faces. I believe a straight eyeball view after an answer means truth, a shifty glance down or to the side or some fidgeting means doubt and if you can pay attention long enough to remember the evidence, you can confirm a lie. Unfortunately most of the time I was so bored I didn’t pay attention and even believing those rules, I still get interviews hopelessly wrong.

The game has style, its visual quality is truly great, with lots of atmosphere and a good selection of vehicles to drive. The voice actors, facial capture animation and music are fantastic. They marry together a perfect combination which makes the city feel a wonderful living environment to explore. The addition of hidden cars and a car gallery from the main menu for every car you have ever driven are also a nice touch. It’s the kind of thing that adds something for those gamers that love to collect everything while also being a point of interest for the rest of us even if we don’t “get em all”.

Where LA Noire really fails is in being a game, I’m willing to entertain I missed the point if anybody can show me where the enjoyment is. It feels a slow, poorly entertaining drudge through case after case that is neither particularly engaging or interesting to me. The meat of the game is questioning people and showcasing the games facial capture technique. But as I said, since I never felt like I truly got a grip on reading peoples faces, it always felt like I was guessing and ultimately felt unsatisfying whether I was right or wrong. Because it failed to be engaging I really wasn’t absorbing the information or evidence I was collecting. Which in turn made it hard for me to even want to prove a lie and even if I managed it…I was left feeling a bit empty inside.

The investigating crime scenes mechanic forces third person view, even with crystal clear pc resolution it was quite hard to spot evidence on the ground from an over the shoulder perspective. The camera controls and movement also feel a bit wooden at times, you can ask your partner for clues and such but there were still moments of confusion and disinterest as I wandered around performing tedious click after tedious click. Some of the objects you can interact with are red herrings, completely unrelated to the case and usually your character mentions this is irrelevant. I can sort of see why it’s cool to have stuff irrelevant, but then i can also see why it just becomes annoying.

I ended up turning all the hints on for clue finding, the change in music wasn’t enough since there was also ambient music sometimes and with my difficulty spotting clues from the third person perspective I needed the magnifying glass symbol to tell me to click on things because I could interact with them. It reminded me of old adventure games, where when you got stuck you just moved the cursor around the screen clicking randomly to try to find whatever you were missing. Again…there is little enjoyment in this activity and finding things becomes a necessity in order to advance…which makes it a chore.

There is something wrong when the core gameplay feels like a joyless chore. The designers must have known this, because every so often they try to break up the monotony in various ways. When in a police car you randomly get calls to other crimes completely irrelevant to the cases you are working on. These often involve car chases, fist fights or shoot outs, actually these are ok mostly but they are over quickly and then you are back to the monotony again.

Sometimes during a case investigation you will have to chase a suspect down, or either shoot him or try to make them surrender by holding your gun over them for x seconds. These are nice in their own way, I like they thought about it enough to show you that you don’t have to just shoot everyone. However often i would shoot someone firing at me in the leg or arm and they would still die, I found this disappointing since I wanted to disarm rather than kill them.

Later in the game the story takes a strange twist and you end up playing an alternate character. The reasons for this change are both bizarre and convoluted. ***SPOILER AHEAD*** From out of nowhere I suddenly discovered I had children and that I was cheating on my wife with a woman I had just met five minutes ago and barely even had a conversation with. This sudden shift to another character seemed bizarre, I can only presume it was intended for dlc purposes given the games ending. ***SPOILER END***

Unfortunately and I suspect in part due to the way Team Bondi was run with an iron fist.  LA Noire is not a fun game, it sucks out all your enthusiasm and provides very little enjoyment when playing it. It is a jarring experience when you look at how polished and well presented the game is, but then, perhaps it also speaks of a repeating problem in the game industry, form over function, looks over gameplay. The team needed someone to stand up and say “hey guys hang on a minute…this game isn’t fun”. Of course knowing the environment they had to work in, that person would probably have been fired.

LA Noire is a unique game, there is nothing truly like it. You may get more enjoyment out of it then I did, I wish you luck trying though, because by the time I had finished it, all I felt was relief it was over. Given how stylish and well presented it was, that makes me very sad.

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