Review by TheSpotlessPane
"They should make this movie into a game..."
First of all, L.A. Noire is undeniably a technical marvel. Facial expressions have never been so deliciously idiosyncratic, and the idea of requiring the player to read these expressions as an integral aspect of gameplay is admittedly novel and worthy of praise. However, the implementation falls far short of the intended result, in my opinion. I'll explain why further along in the review.
Breaking it down in that traditional game review way....
Graphics - 9/10
As I previously mentioned, the detail of the characters' facial expressions is jaw-dropping. As a period piece, the game feels accurate and immersive. The environments look great for the most part, and the objects that can be examined in the player's investigative escapades are incredibly detailed. The reason I've withheld one point is because there's an unnatural blur effect that manifests itself when looking into the city's horizons. I feel like I've seen better handling of limited draw distances in other games, but this might be a matter of aesthetic taste from the perspective of the developer. Some of the characters look a little awkward as well. It's almost as if a hyper-realistic face has been pasted onto the head of a traditional character model's body (which I imagine is exactly what they did), but perhaps it's peevish to identify this as a fault. I'm not a technical expert, so it's difficult for me to know whether or not my graphical expectations are unreasonable. Suffice it to say, the game more than delivers in the graphics department.
Writing (Story/Dialogue) - 7/10
note: I haven't finished the game, so I can't yet make a decided statement concerning the story as a whole. So, this section of the review will be a critique of the dialogue and narrative's quality in general. (i.e. a provocative story can be clumsily told, and an uninspired, uninteresting story can be told so expertly that the delivery almost redeems the lackluster core of the story itself). The tone of the narrative so far is pretty engaging. The voice acting is great, and the lines are believable for the most part. Sometimes, the "badass-ness" seems a bit forced, but this is relatively infrequent, and easy to forgive given the instances where it feels natural and oh-so-satisfying. The cases that you have to solve are pretty interesting most of the time, which is important for a game like this. So far, the game has been very lacking in character development though. I'm several hours in and still have not truly "met" anyone. I feel like all of the conversations that have taken place so far are more or less surface level interactions that fail to reveal the "nature" of either character involved. So what I'm left with is a hand full of characters who are "badass," but nothing else. Again, I haven't yet finished the game, so I don't want to rail on it too much for this, but if nothing more, it at least deserves a small reproof for having taken so long to evoke any affection for the characters. On one last note, many of the cases have little to nothing to do with the core narrative, making the game feel like the video game equivalent of a compilation of short stories. This would be more forgivable if the seemingly unrelated events helped to better acquaint us with the main cast by bringing out character traits that otherwise wouldn't be seen, but as I've said, this is not the case. The characters so far are nothing more than vehicles for "cool" dialogue.
Gameplay - 3/10
Here's where the game crashes and burns hard, in my opinion. The gameplay centers on gathering evidence at various crime scenes, and interrogating witnesses in light of said evidence. This could have been brilliant and refreshing, requiring wits and keen perception, but instead of entrusting the player with what could have been the engaging task of cracking the case, it's all hand fed to you to keep the story moving. First of all, when you're exploring a crime scene and examining bits of evidence, the game automatically tells you which pieces of evidence are relevant to the case. When you examine something that isn't relevant, the player character will outright tell you that it isn't. Because of this, these extraneous objects (the ones that aren't relevant) add absolutely nothing to the quality of the gameplay. All you do is walk around the crime scene, examine every point of interest, and the game automatically compiles a list of pertinent pieces of evidence. It takes absolutely no thought or skill, it's just a mandatory mechanical task for each case. Generally, when you've gathered all the evidence, you interrogate a witness or "person of interest" at the crime scene. The game compiles a list of questions that you can ask the person, so you go down the list, and ask all of the available questions. After the person answers a question, you will be given three ways to respond: truth, doubt, or lie. If you think the person is telling the truth, choose truth. If you choose "lie," you will be asked to prove your accusation by choosing the item in your "evidence list" that proves the falsehood of the person's statement. Doubt simply means you think the person is lying (or withholding information) but can't prove it. There's always a "right" choice, but there's almost no penalty for getting it wrong, except a reduction in the value of some inconsequential number that scores how well you complete the case. It's like the game itself is a side quest. You can just press x through all of these dialogues to keep the story moving if you're so inclined. Furthermore, the right answer often relies on so equivocal a thread of logic that you just better hope you're thinking in the same way the writers were. Oftentimes the logic that supports the right answer is no more robust than an equally tenable train of thought that would support one of the other options. Like I said, you just have to guess at what the writers wanted you to pick. This fact really rears its head when you have to prove the validity of a "lie" accusation. On one case (I'll change this slightly so as not to spoil it), a woman's husband left an I.O.U on his floor. The I.O.U. was addressed to Bob. The woman tells me she doesn't know why her husband owes Bob money. I say she's lying and choose the I.O.U. as evidence...and it works...So I proved that she knew WHY her husband owes Bob money, by pointing out that he does, in fact, owe him money. This is not a rare hiccup either. The connections between evidence and statements are so nuanced that clever thinking on the part of the player is almost completely useless.
The other parts of the gameplay involve car chases, foot chases, hand to hand combat, and shooting. The shooting scenes are the only times at which this ever really feels like a game. The hand to hand combat scenes are extremely shallow, as are the car and foot chases. With the foot chases, don't worry about quick reflexes or anything, as these are completely scripted, and your character will take care of everything as long as you just keep that joystrick tilted in the right direction. You can only use your weapon at designated times. etc... I don't want to go into every little detail because this is getting long enough, and there are so many qualitatively different sides to the gameplay that it would take quite a while to get through them all in detail. Nearly all of these different aspects of gameplay are inexcusably shallow, in my opinion.
Music - 10/10
Exquisitely fitting. I won't harp on this much. The music fits the period and is complex and interesting. Nothing to complain about.
Replay value - none
choosing different options in cases doesn't alter dialogue sufficiently to justify a second play through, unless one simply wants to the experience the game again anyway.
As a movie, perhaps L.A. Noire would fare better. As a game, it is inexcusably shallow.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 06/02/11
Game Release: L.A. Noire (US, 05/17/11)
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