Between the awesome Red Dead Redemption and LA Noire being announced, I began to believe that Rockstar had become a company making games just for me. Westerns are by far my favorite movie genre, and period pieces set in Los Angeles are like crack to me. I love LA movies far more than I have any right to. So, a genre-bending police serial set in 1946 LA seems like something I should absolutely love.
The problem is, I don’t love it. I find the game interesting and support it from an innovation stand point, but I think that the game has a fundamental design flaw: the interrogations.
Every review you read pretty much praises the heck out of the interrogation sequences. While they are by far the most interesting sequences in the game (this is partly owed to the fact that crime scenes are mini adventure games where you learn to click on everything you possibly can and let Phelps decide if it’s relevant), they have a fundamental flaw in them: you have to figure out if someone is lying.
“No shit,” most of you probably say. “That’s the huge sales pitch Rockstar made with the game.” But it’s a little more complicated than that. Every single thing a character says to you in the game is a lie because they’re all actors. None of the events are real, so any information conveyed is fake. This means that an in-game “lie” has to be telegraphed in a way that’s far different from a way someone would tell a lie in real life.
After a person tells you something, you have to decide whether to confront them with evidence that shows you know they’re lying, whether to bluster at them and hope to get them to admit something, or to believe them. It’s pretty easy to decide when to confront someone with evidence that you’ve found, but it’s less clear when to go with doubt or truth.
Part of the reason for this is that there are characters who lie for no reason at all. Seriously, it’s like some witnesses are just pathological liars. They’re not suspects, they’re just people hanging out. Sure, they can occassionally say that they wanted to save details to tell the newspapers (which makes no sense since they could tell the cops and THEN tell the newspapers anyway), but usually it’s just them telling you something completely wrong. Plus, other times, choosing “doubt” triggers a question from Detective Phelps, the player’s character, that could just have easily been a “truth” response. It is just a simple attempt to coax a little more information from a witness.
Another problem is that the game is linear. This is remarked on by other reviewers, but it’s really true. You don’t really have a reason to be casually driving around the map beyond solving your cases. Sure, there are forty “street crimes” you can respond to and stop, but they’re all relatively brief and not overly interesting. You never get a feel for the city the way you do in Grand Theft Auto or learn your way around the map the way you do in Red Dead Redemption. Really, you don’t lose much if you just use the auto-travel. Not only that, it lets you skip the driving.
Again, I realize that may seem pretty obvious, but this game has the same engine as GTA IV, and the driving sucks. If you can drive around this city and not run things over, I tip my cap to you. Regardless of whether it’s doable though, it’s not worth trying to do so. It’s just incredibly irritating to watch cars stop at random in the middle of intersections right in front of your car, leading to a t-bone crash and your computer partner screaming at you for sucking at driving. Guess what buddy. You can go to hell.
Another major problem is that you only work one case at a time, for the most part, and the cases are linear. While you often have multiple suspects to choose from, you run into situations where there’s an overarching theme to your cases (particularly on the homicide desk), you can figure out the common link early on, but you can’t ask the right questions. I figured out who was committing the murders during the second case, but couldn’t pursue that angle. So, it really sucked a lot of my interest from the rest of the cases because I felt like I was just going through the motions.
There are also some major problems with the character designs. You get the faces of actors (sometimes pretty recognizable ones), but then the hair, especially on the women, makes them look jarringly fake. This goes to a rather long-standing theory of mine that all animated/CGI movies are better for telling science fiction or similar stories than live-action. This is because once you get past the fact that none of it looks real, the more fantastical elements look like they belong. In a game like LA Noire, the faces looking real makes so much of the rest of the game look fake.
Look, LA Noire is an interesting game. However, it’s not nearly as innovative as I expected it to be, mainly because I can’t read the faces. Maybe that’s me, but I don’t think it is. As a result, it ends up playing like the slowest quicktime event in history, only instead of failing because you push the wrong button, you just get fewer points (and don’t get the best ending for each case).
FINAL EVALUATION: Buy this thing used. I’m sure there’s a wave of trade ins coming soon that will drive it down in price. It certainly doesn’t have a ton of replay value once you figure out the correct answer to every sequence.