More thoughts on L.A. Noire

Someone asked me the other day what I meant when I said in my review of L.A. Noire that it was a flawed game.  So what do I mean by that?

I mean that it’s a good game hampered by a few niggling issues that stop it from being a masterpiece. Settle in and I’ll tell you what I mean.

I like L.A. Noire and I enjoyed playing it, for the most part. It’s a groundbreaking game from Rockstar that will be remembered for a long time. I loved its production values, gorgeous recreation of Los Angeles, and soundtrack but it’s not perfect.

L.A. Noire is strongly narrative driven – set in Los Angeles 1947 – the story is the focus here first and foremost and the way that it plays out in an almost episodic manner is well done. The facial scanning is uncannily realistic and really draws the player into the game – never before in a game have I had to stare so intently into the eyes of a suspect to determine what they were thinking.

But the further I got into L.A. Noire the more I realised how linear it is – I guess it has to be for the sake of the story.  Each case, be it arson, homicide or traffic, follows the same pattern:  go to the scene, examine the scene, talk to witnesses and suspects, then interrogate a suspect and hope for a confession.

The game is very different from previous Rockstar games like GTA4 and Red Dead Redemption in that it’s set in a sprawling environment but it’s not an open-world game. There are no side branching story lines to investigate or multiple characters with their own tales to tell: it’s just Cole Phelps making his way up the ranks of the L.A.P.D. solving cases and putting the bad guys in jail. The game follows a prescribed direction  and doesn’t deviate from a prescribed path. Ok, there side missions like answering police call outs and searching for film reels, hidden cars and landmarks, but try to do thinks in a different order than the game wants, and interesting things happen.

I don’t want to spoil the game for those of you still working your way through it, so you might want to skip the next par or three as I sort of talk about a case,  but near the end of one case Phelps has to hunt down a killer by deciphering excerpts from the poet Shelley left around Los Angles landmarks. Phelps and his partner have to go from one landmark to the next, each new location garnered from the previous clue, until he has them all and confronts the killer.

To keep the story flowing  you should visit each location in a specific order, but I misread one excerpt and went to what I thought was the right location (note: this was the first time I had been to this location but I didn’t get an indication that I had discovered a new area). I wandered around, no cutscene kicked in, no controller vibration to indicate a clue was around, so thinking I had gone to the wrong place I jumped back in my car, asked my partner’s advice and drove to another location, which was the right one.

Phelps read the excerpt and was directed to another location – the one I had just come from. Arriving to the location I got an on-screen pop-up telling me I had discovered a new location – despite the fact that I’d been there 10 minutes before –  and the controller started vibrating telling me that there were clues to discover. I was confused: I had visited the location earlier and nothing happened. It hit home just how linear L.A. Noire is and there is no leeway to deviate from what the game makers want.

I could also mentioned that while L.A is beautifully crafted there’s nothing to do in it – but if there was it would obviously break the storytelling – and I couldn’t understand why in some chases Phelps could pull out his gun but in others he couldn’t. As a cop wouldn’t he be able to pull his gun out at any time?

Look, I still enjoyed playing L.A. Noire, and again I recommend it to people to play,  but I can’t see myself searching for every hidden car or film real and it was instances like what I’ve mentioned above that made me realise that L.A. Noire is a good game but not a masterpiece.

Oh, my daughter also wants to know why when Phelps examines a crime scene he isn’t wearing gloves or any sort or use a pencil or anything to pick up evidence? He’s contaminating the crime scene, she reckons. I couldn’t answer that.

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