Rockstar’s much anticipated new game LA Noire came out this week. In a previous article called LA Noire Preview here at Comic Booked, I talked about the game and explained the premise, gameplay mechanics, and new technologies on display in this title. Now after extensive hands-on time (read: playing for hours and hours and days on end) I am ready to offer up a full review.
LA Noire is a very ambitious game. Some parts of this title break new ground and will be remembered for years to come. Wonderfully cinematic with facial animations that set a new videogame standard, this game is a triumph on many levels, but not all. There are a few fairly big issues that leave you scratching your head and wondering how, with such big steps forward, Rockstar can also take a few steps back. Is the game worth playing? Undoubtedly! Is it perfect? Not by any means. In this review we will break down the good and bad that is LA Noire.
In many ways LA Noire lived up to my high hopes. The facial animations are leaps ahead of previous games. The characters are written, acted, and rendered with an expertise that many filmmakers can’t even manage. The character of straight-shooting Cole is developed nicely through a sub-plot detailing his WW2 experiences and his in game interactions with the jaded and often corrupt LAPD detectives that he works with. Dialogue is fairly accurate and full of anachronistic turns of phrase. Many of the ideas expressed by the characters seem sexist, racist, and wrong-headed by today’s standards, but are completely accurate to the 1940’s era. I respect the fact that history has not been white-washed in this title. This game pulls no punches. Serious issues are addressed in the game such as: murder, sex crimes, drug addiction, socially accepted spousal abuse, corruption, alcoholism, homelessness and so much more. The game is presented in a very cinematic fashion that seriously blurs the line between film and game in a very convincing way. The list of voices and actors that worked on this game is just completely staggering and can be seen in the game booklet. The graphics are often beautiful and inspired. Watching other people play through parts of the game I had completed I saw different dialogue and information than I had received, thanks to the choices you make during questioning witnesses and suspects. The story is very episodic and cases can be replayed upon completion to see different conversation paths and to get better case completion ratings.
The city of 1947 Los Angeles is sprawling, massive and true to life. The street grid is completely accurate and you will find famous landmarks exactly where they should be. There may not be a huge variety in buildings and neighborhoods, but the game is historically accurate down to small details. Chasing down fleeing criminals on foot through alleys and rooftops is quite satisfying. Even after playing the game extensively, I still find joy hopping in a car and just cruising around the in-game LA listening to Duke Ellington , Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday. This is possibly the best and most accurate depiction of a real city in a game, ever.
The cars are another highlight. Rockstar excels when it comes to the driving aspect in their games, and Noire is no exception. If you have played any of their other games, you will instantly know how to drive in this one. This time around, there are 95 real cars from the era to take for a spin. Yes, “real cars.” Since all of these cars are vintage and out of production, they can be portrayed accurately and the real names can be used without manufacturer fear of the in-game damage they receive scaring potential buyers. Many of these cars handle like a brick on wheels, but can take quite a bit of damage. Look for hidden cars around the map to find a ride that reaches faster speeds and handles even better.
The cases you work are based on real crimes of the era. You must carefully look for evidence and pay very close attention to NPC reactions during questioning to avoid being deceived. You actually have to use a fair amount of skull-sweat to see the connections of how evidence you have found can be applied to prove a suspect is not telling the truth. This is a fun challenge, but one you may not always execute to perfection.
Despite all the good to be found in this game, there are faults. The story unfolds in a very linear fashion, too much so for my tastes. Rockstar’s last game Red Dead: Redemption offered much more variety and felt a lot more open than LA Noire. There was so much to do in Red Dead that it kept the game fresh and felt as if you really controlled the flow and continuity as a player. There are side quests in LA Noire, but not enough of them. It feels like you have this massive, beautiful city, with not enough to find and to do in it. You can respond to street crimes and search for hidden cars and landmarks to add some variety, but the crime cases you work take up a vast majority of the game. Being able to find or purchase weapons and other outfits would have been great.
This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the cases you worked offered more variety and didn’t stick to such similar modus operandi. I get the impression that Rockstar will likely try to supplement this dilemma with future DLC, but I feel they missed a golden opportunity to flesh out the game experience and really put LA Noire over the top.
The way you work cases gets stale as well. Cole never gets to really spread his wings as an investigator. I would have loved to see the crimes being solved using different evidence and paths to arrive at the conclusion. Even after questioning many people and starting to feel confident in my interrogation skills, every once in a while I would whiff and do a poor job at reading facial expressions and determining the truth. The dialogue does vary, but what evidence you use to solve cases remains quite static. Adding small touches like dusting for fingerprints or taking hair samples would have spiced things up a bit. I understand that forensics and crime-solving techniques were pretty dismal in the 1940’s, but even little flourishes and more mini-games within the existing framework would have been a welcome change.
Remember those wonderful cars we talked about in the “good” section? Why in the hell can’t you save them like you can in GTA? In GTA you can save prized cars in garages or parking spots. The same doesn’t apply in LA Noire. Why the step backwards? Sure, your sweet ride may be where you left it occasionally, but you will lose it for no explainable reason sooner than you like. You can go back and find the cars again but have them disappear in the middle of a scene. I even had parts where I got back into my car to move on in the game, triggered a cut-scene, and when the game resumed I was no longer in the car I was driving when the scene started. This was annoying and made me wonder what the point was of hunting down hidden cars, only to lose them quicker than it took to find them. And why can’t we switch the radio stations while driving like in GTA? These little flourishes are missed.
I encountered quite a few bugs and collision detection issues while playing through LA Noire. More than once my partner became stuck in doorways or walls for no reason that I could discern. My efforts to push him free proved pointless. Eventually I would just leave him there and he would reappear later when I needed him, but this happened more than I like to see. Other times he would end up blocking me in dead-ends while I was investigating different areas. Sometimes the cover system during gunfights was much stickier than in other games. Many times the collision detection failed as I walked through people and objects. These are small issues individually, but put together and taken as a whole make this ambitious game seem a little sloppy. There are also reports of PS3 users having their consoles overheat while playing LA Noire. While this problem hasn’t been conclusively linked to the game or new PS3 update, it is bad press and yet another problem I am sure Sony could do without.
LA Noire is a game that you really should play. It isn’t perfect by any means. A few flaws and pacing issues really hold it back, but I haven’t regretted buying it at all. The game begins slow, but really starts to open up more by the time you get promoted to the homicide desk. I really wish the game wasn’t so linear and was more open like previous Rockstar games. Maybe I am nitpicking. Being forced to offer a solid review score is very difficult. The new technology, ambitious cinematic effort, original idea, and historical accuracy deserve high-praise. The linear story, lack of variety and bugs, unfortunately, drag the overall score down. I rate LA Noire 8.5 out of 10.
For even more on LA Noire check out Kyle Black’s article Detective Dispute: LA Noire vs Heavy Rain!