Wednesday, July 18, 2012

LA Noire review

    L.A Noire is a game that is visually stunning, technically beautiful, and boring as hell. I am going against the grain here because I know it was very popular in some circles and a critical hit. I am extremely fond of noir, police procedurals, and even Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (which the gamestyle most closely resembles) so I don't know why the game doesn't do anything for me.

    The premise of L.A Noire is simple. You are Cole Phelps, a 1950s Los Angeles police officer who is sent through a series of investigations which eventually take him up against a conspiracy within the force. The plot is a combination of Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, and seminal police-procedural Dragnet.

     The majority of the game consists of you visiting crime scenes and collecting clues. You proceed to pick up these clues, mark them in your notebook, and use them in interrogations with suspects. If you are able to present the right piece of evidence at the right time they will crack and give you more information. There's a bit of shooting and a few car chases but these are minor interrupts from the investigation.

    The first problem with the game is the pacing. The vast majority of cases throughout the game are unrelated to the main plot, which only occupies a minute portion of the game. For the most part, the cases are completely unconnected to one another. You move from Patrolman to Traffic Detective to Homicide Investigate to Vice Cop to the final stretch with each section independent of one another. It's like playing five different, equally lifeless, games.

    The stories are well-written but there's only a few stand-outs in the lot. There's a wonderful work about the casting-couch in Hollywood, another about the Black Dahlia, and others still which catch the eye. Unfortunately, the majority of them are kind of perfunctory. Someone has been murdered and the reason is usually mundane. This is a good thing in small amounts, in L.A. Noire the stories are pretty easy to figure out well before you have the evidence to convict.

    I'm also rather annoyed by the protagonist himself. Cole Phelps is, without a doubt, the most irritatingly sanctimonious ignoramus who has ever had the privilege of headlining a major video game. No, seriously, it took awhile but I grew to hate Cole Phelps with a burning passion.

    Part of this is due to the fact Rockstar attempted to write a modern liberal attitude into Cole in order to highlight the racism, sexism, and classicism of the period. This is not something I necessarily object to. It's just Cole does it badly and some of the things he says actually make him sound like a complete moron to people who actually know anything about the time period. This is, unfortunately, unintentional as its clear the writers assumed they were writing an enlightened wise-beyond-his-time protagonist.

    For example; Cole Phelps makes a timely comment about how the Japanese only went to war with the United States due to the later cutting off its oil supply. This is a thinly disguised allusion to the War in Iraq. The problem is that the United States cut off Imperial Japan from its oil supply because the later was invading all of East Asia.

    I'm a flaming liberal but the attempts to equate the United States Army to the Imperial Japanese during one of the darkest periods of human history is so blindingly offensive it soured me on the rest of the game. Cole makes other comments meant to show he's an enlightened man but which make him sympathetic to Mao and Stalin. One of the great ironies of the early Cold War was that the United States' handling of dissent was vile and overbearing (not to mention useless) but it doesn't make the guys on the other side any better.

    The game is beautiful, don't get me wrong. The technology used to capture the appearance of actors is incredible. I recognized many of the people involved, including John Noble (Fringe, Return of the King). The efforts to realize the period in an authentic manner are incredible, not shying away from the racism and sexism of the period. If not for the ham-fisted attempts at making Cole Phelps sympathetic and poor pacing, the game would have been like candy to me.

    Unfortunately, playing L.A. Noire felt more like watching a series of period television show episodes as opposed to playing a well-designed video game. It didn't even have Phoenix Wright's own sense of tension and pacing. The game more or less just meanders on if you fail at a case, with very little deviation in the plot. In short, I'm sorry to say I found L.A Noire to be a game which lost its charm after the first couple of discs. Maybe it's just me, I dunno.

    Still, I can only comment on what I felt about the game.


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