L.A. Noire - Finishing Thoughts

Game: L.A. Noire (The Complete Edition)

Platform played: PC, controller

Publisher: Rockstar Games & Team Bondi

(This article contains spoilers)

I finished L.A. Noire this week. Finally. For some reason I really started to lose interest around 2/3rds of the way through, but I got back to it this week and completed all the cases. Steam shows my total play time as somewhere around the 30 hour mark.

I finished all the cases, and progressed through the whole story, but wouldn't say I 'completed' the game in the completionist sense of the word. I did not unlock all the vehicles, nor did I respond to all the street level crime that comes over the radio. I didn't drive around and explore all of L.A., or look at all the landmarks.

But I will remember my time in post-war Los Angeles fondly. I spent much of my time turning my time in between destinations into my own personal version of Carmageddon, where I would commandeer random vehicles on the street and then run over pedestrians and destroy street lights. My favourite was getting into a fire truck and running over my partner repeatedly. Each time I ran him over he would pop right back up, and stand there waiting for me. Sometimes I would merely take cars and park them in the middle of intersections, blocking traffic in all four directions.

The cars themselves handled pretty badly. I failed many a car chase scene because my car would corner so poorly I would drive into fences or walls. I'm not sure if it was just janky controls, or whether cars of that era simply did not handle well. Does a Packard really handle like a boat? Anyone know?

When I wasn't causing grief on the roads, another of my pastimes was walking around on the sidewalk pushing people out of the way, sometimes even knocking them down to the ground. I'm glad there wasn't any sort of reputation or infamy point system, or else I'd have been in deep trouble.

Since the game is from the third person perspective, I didn't have too much trouble with motion sickness or dizziness, with the exception of the underground tunnel section of the final case in homicide. That was bad for me. Mostly because I had to chase the suspect and I didn't move fast enough, so I had to repeat the sequence several times. I don't do well when looking at confined spaces.

A big part of the game is the facial expressions, and one of the selling points of L.A. Noire's gameplay was the necessity to read people's facial expressions while questioning them, in order to determine whether they were telling the truth or lying. In this respect I think the tech was pretty good, but I felt that it was the first attempt at it, and that it could (and subsequently has) go a lot further.

If a game relies heavily on facial expressions to tell the story, then it behooves the developer to get good actors for it, and in the case of L.A. Noire, they certainly did. At least 4 actors, including the lead character Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton), came from the acclaimed TV series Mad Men. The character of Leland Monroe was played by John Noble, star of the TV show Fringe, and also Denethor from Lord of the Rings. For this reason L.A. Noire is unique, in that its characters are acted by real actors, not simply voiced. By that I mean that the characters have the same likeness as their real life actor counterparts. So while Cole Phelps is on the screen, a part of me can't help but see Ken Cosgrove, the character from Mad Men. I'd say "Hey, that guy is from Mad Men too," whenever another actor I recognized would appear, as a suspect or witness.

L.A. Noire really immersed me into the era, not only in the visuals, but the sound design as well. Radio programs played a huge part in this, especially driving around town. Each time you got into a vehicle the radio would be on, and you would hear news, or a comedy program, or commercials of the era, lending a real sense of place and time to the game. Another aspect which stood out to me was the telephones. Having Phelps look for a phone to call in to look up addresses or get messages was fascinating. And you never had to dial, you just picked up the phone and talked to the operator, uttering magical words like "Get me dispatch, please," or "KGPL".

(Major plot spoilers follow)

Near the end of the game, the playable character switches from Phelps to another character, which when it happened was incredibly strange and odd feeling. Suddenly I was a different person, and it was no longer 'my' story, but it became their story, of which I was just playing a part. And as the story wound down, I felt that there wasn't that much of a climax or major plot twist. I was not surprised by the ending, because aside from the gameplay device of switching characters, the story came to a logical conclusion.

Should you play this game? As a technical demonstration of what can be done with facial mapping and motion capture, L.A. Noire excels. If you like exploring a historical open world, similar to the vein of say, Assassin's Creed, then you might like this game to just wander around in. If you're looking to solve crimes using your wits and powers of observation, the game may be less than fulfilling. Players looking for action will be disappointed.

Due to the case by case nature of the game, I was able to play in shorter 60 to 90 minute chunks in the evening, which may be important to you if as a parent your game play time is constricted. Obviously this is not a game for kids, rated M for mature, as it involves gruesome bloody crime scenes and murders, as well as the use of firearms.

All in all I found the game to be full of promise, but one that lost its momentum. It felt like a chore to get to the end, and I'm not sure why. Was it the sameness of gathering clues, questioning witnesses? Was it the difficult action sequences (made difficult by controls more than game difficulty)? Perhaps. All I know is, I finished it, I experienced the story, and I'm glad I did.

Posted on December 20, 2012 and filed under Reviews.