L.A. Noire
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar
Released: 2011
Rating: Mature

Written by Richard Pavis

Theme

Team Bondi has really pegged noir down to a T.  They got the setting, clothes, cars, speech, and pacing all down.  Noir is one style that hasn’t been horrifically overdone lately, so it’s refreshing to see it not just done, but done well.  I could go on and on, taking each element and explaining why it reinforces the setting and theme, or I could step back and say that L.A. Noire is itself a master class on the subject of noir.  So take out your textbooks and turn to page one, let’s see what Team Bondi has accomplished.

Sense of Style

Every case has a unique name, from the big splash for a main case, to the tasteful corner card for the street crimes.  There’s a good mix of interesting street crimes to deal with while exploring the city, and discovering prominent landmarks… or you could just have your partner drive all the time and skip all that.  The game developer in me likes that you can go straight to the main case at all times, but it makes me feel like the street cases are entirely superfluous.

Tutorial

Yup, there’s a tutorial, no you won’t notice it; yes that’s the point.  The game skillfully weaves tutorial elements into the first few cases, and drops tooltips as each new game element presents itself.  In theory all the cases on the Patrol desk are ‘tutorials’ but in practice you’ll still be getting tooltips about finding cover and switching weapons as far as the Homicide desk.  That’s what makes the tutorial so effective, it never overtly disrupts gameplay to explain gameplay.

Speaking of gameplay: There’s too much game in my movie.

Now wait a minute, isn’t that the whole point of this game?  To be played?  In which case, why will the game allow me to skip certain action sequences, but not puzzles?  Is it perhaps that this is some beautiful love child of adventure games and interactive fiction?  When will I find a declarative sentence?

The story is captivating sure, but it feels like a mean uncle is keeping the best part until you’ve done your homework.  I suppose the problem could be avoided if the gameplay was seamless, but I feel like even the smallest error would be magnified in a game this polished.  That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I truly found myself lost in the world, then immediately snapped out of it by the gameplay.  Awful driving, weird facial features, and the ability to find clues before you should all add up to wrecking the immersion.

Continuity of clues

Speaking of gameplay issues, let’s talk about the hit boxes for a second.  You are required to twist and bend many items in front of your character’s face to hone in certain details on the item.  A fine idea to be sure.  The worst example of this is the bloody knife in an early case.  Apparently finding the bloody knife isn’t enough; no you must focus on the maker’s mark before your character suddenly realizes that he is holding a bloody knife after all.  To throw a continuity error on top of the pile, if you find the knife before examining the body, you’l know exactly why they guy died.  After one look at the body your character will say “Hm, it looks like he got hit from behind, and dragged across the ground.”  When you mention the chest wound to the coroner, he’ll recommend you look for a ‘prominent hood ornament’.  This doesn’t add up for me.

Also: I know that you should preserve the sanctity of the crime scene, but it is a bit odd to watch your character delicatly fold up a receipt and put it back in the trunk of a car.

3 Tools

If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a lie.  The only question is do you have the evidence to back it up?  Even if you think you do, the game’s logic maybe different from yours.  ‘Doubt’ often is far, far more forceful than I would be.  When I intend to register some doubts as to the veracity of a witness’ story, I find myself instead threatening them with a short meeting of my foot and their face.  And on a purely menu design angle, why do they assign each action to a different button?  I’m not really doing much else at the same time, and it could be accomplished with a sequential menu.  Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I found myself looking at the controller to remind myself exactly where each button was so I wouldn’t accidentally shout at some poor rape victim.  Good immersion makes you forget the controller is in your hand.

Alright, I’m probably being too hard on the game, it succeeds in a number of areas that have been classically hard for games.  It includes a titanic amount of facial and vocal talent, all of which has to be recorded multiple different ways for branching conversations,  but I keep finding myself wanting more action, and more game, rather than feeling like I’m coming up short if I do anything other than perfect.  Even still, it is by all means an enjoyable experience, and one worthy of recommending.

Verdict: Buy It

Small Things:

*) So, when you run up the the ledge, you get an ‘I’m not falling off’ animation. it’s nice.

*) So, I opened my notebook as my partner was walking by and I found my partners shadow crossing my view.  This means that a single live cam is responsible for most of the in game footage.  I thought that when you open your notebook it goes to a micro world prepped for that shot.  Proves me wrong.  Also, when you catch a bit of your notebook on a wide shot, it will always have the relevant information up.

Having just walked into a bar to question a suspect, your partner decided to sit at the bar while you do work.

Partner: “I’ll stay here. I’m a little parched, pour me three fingers of rye.”

*pause*

Bartender: “Are you going to pay for that officer?”  *pause*  “It’s on the house.”

Partner: “That’s the spirit, pour me another.”

So, In one quick moment we are introduced to not only graft, but drinking on the job…  Role models, every one of em’.

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