Game: L.A. Noire
Developer(s): Team Bondi and Rockstar
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Distributor: Take-Two Interactive
Reviewed: September 2013
Game Type: Third-person shooter, action-adventure
L.A Noire was the second of my Steam Summer Sale game purchases that I tried, straight after completing Sleeping Dogs. It is yet another open world game involving a lot of driving around a big virtual city; this time being Los Angeles in the late 1940’s. But it was very nearly a game I would never get to play, due to a substantial flaw that a number of other people have been unfortunate to encounter in the PC version of the game. It is a major blemish to an otherwise decent record, since the game itself is definitely worthy of your time.
The issue that caused all the fuss involved that game getting stuck at the full size LA Noire logo in neon lights, just before the main menu screen, and in the corner was a constantly spinning icon next to the word ‘Synchronising’. After spending several hours, literally, trying everything to try and get the game to work, including numerous reboots, game reloads, reinstalling of the dot NET framework for Windows, and playing around with Firewalls and Windows security settings, I eventually solved it via blocking the game in my firewall. Yes, you heard that right: BLOCKING IT. Now, of course, my particular fix could have been an isolated issue, but the fact so many other users were posting threads on forums asking for help about the same issue, and having varying degrees of success trying to get it to work, showed just how bad the problem was. Luckily, my fellow reviewer ValkyrDeath, never had such an issue when he originally tried the game a couple of years back, and thus got to sample the game without having the hassle of all this palaver. It’s always possible the developers purposely made it this difficult so that I could hone my skills of playing detective, however, I very much doubt that is the case.
Anyway, enough of my ranting, and onto the review proper of the game itself, which seems to have taken the back seat of this review, rather than being the centrepiece.
L.A Noire places you in the (very polished) shoes of a new L.A.P.D Officer going by the name of Cole Phelps, and playing the game sees you climb the ladder of the police hierarchy, becoming a more highly decorated detective. The game is split into a number of chapters that each have a central criminal investigation to solve, as well as numerous other minor cases that present themselves over the police radio, and that you can optionally partake in as you are driving around.
While each investigation is generally concluded in each chapter, there are a couple of longer running themes throughout the game that make up the core story of the game. The main story is supplemented through cut-scenes that appear between every chapter/case, and also if you manage to find certain newspaper articles that you can click on for further information. The story and general investigation cases seem to start off a bit slow at first, and thus the game may seem a little bit dull in the first few hours, going from one place to another searching for clues. If you gave up early on though, you’d be missing out, as the game does pick up in terms of the level of interest it generates, and while the game-play remains pretty much the same throughout, seeing the bigger picture emerge in the story should be enough to keep you engrossed in the game. In my case, I could easily spend half a dozen hours at a time playing the game, meaning that I completed the game in a just handful of days, despite taking around 30 hours in total time.
As you may have guessed with a big open world environment full of cars, there is a fair bit of driving involved. You get your almost standard ability to drive almost any vehicle you see fit as you pass by, this done in context by the fact that you are an officer of the law commandeering a car for police work. There are 95 cars in the game world, and a lot of these are genuine models from the 1940’s, unlike a lot of games that have look-a-like versions. Some are hidden and unlocked through completing quests, but the vast majority are there for you to take at any time. Just keep in mind that you don’t get the police radio though once you leave the official police car, so you won’t be able to take on any fresh side quests unless you are very close to the crime scene. The cars generally handle decent enough, considering both the era, and the fact I was using a keyboard, and don’t feel overly twitchy like they were in Sleeping Dogs.
Some of the quests involve you tailing a suspect’s car (as well as tailing people on two-feet) and these are generally easy sections providing you don’t get too close, requiring you to restart that part of the quest. Of more challenge are the quests that involve a car chase, and these can be quite tricky when the A.I car you are following seems to make an almost impossible sharp turn that you have no chance of following, meaning that you end up hitting a lamp-post or tree, and then having to play catch-up. All too often if you simple stay in range, the suspects car will crash anyway, which kind of makes the car chase feel automated and on-rails, as it is very rare to actually get close enough to cause the car to go off by your own doing.
As well as the basic driving around sections of the game where you are travelling between crime-scenes and searching for people and clues, a lot of the game-play in the game involves a finer clue hunting, whereby the game turns into a point-and-click adventure rather than the third person action game that the rest of the game is. Unfortunately, like a lot of adventure games, it ends up just turning into a pixel hunt on some occasions as you hunt around a location randomly clicking items hoping that they may be evidence. It wasn’t until much later in the game that I noticed a very subtle hint in the form of a short tune every time you got near an object you could click on, and from then on, it became a little less tedious. To be honest, you could argue that real detective work isn’t exciting all the time, and that clues aren’t always there on a plate for you, but as this is a game, it has a job to do to keep a player happy.
One of the biggest show-pieces of the game is with the games facial animation, which is modelled on real actors, and produces the most life-like facial expressions and lip-syncing that I have ever encountered in a game. It certainly looks very impressive, but is let down by the fact that it sticks out against the relatively standard-fare graphics of the rest of the character (sometimes the back of a characters head looks terribly low-resolution), and almost feels out of place as a result. Rather than just making the game look better, it has the side effect of showing up the rest of the games graphics. That isn’t to say that they are bad; far from it, as they are decent enough. They are certainly not so cutting edge though, and the general look of the game could definitely have been a little better in places, since Mafia 2, which came out a few months earlier, and also features a large open world (although nowhere near as big admittedly) manages a better balance to the graphics overall.
At this point I should mention that some reviewers did mention that the game did have a few issues with performance on release, but my own experience of the game was that it was pretty much rock-solid 98% (ha!) of the time, and this with a PC from 2010, around a year before the games release, so not the absolute cutting edge. My fellow reviewer ValkyrDeath who has an almost identical PC, but with a Quad Core CPU from 2007, also had no issues.
Going back to the fancy facial animations, these are a key feature of the game, as they play a major part in the criminal investigations, as you will need to interview both witnesses and suspects a number of times throughout the game, and combine your intuition based upon their body language, and along with the evidence, to make a decision on whether you think they are telling the truth or lying. I liked the idea of this, and it does look very realistic, but at times I felt like I wasn’t getting any of the subtle hints that I was expecting, and too many times it became a matter of picking a random option rather than having a good idea of whether they are withholding anything.
If I was to summarise L.A Noire, I’d say that it was a flawed gem. Not so much looking at the issues I had to start with, but the fact that the game starts off so slowly, and doesn’t do enough to get you, the player, interested enough from the beginning. There is also the issue with the interviews themselves, when trying to discern whether a Person of Interest (i.e. a Suspect or Witness) is telling the truth or not based upon their facial expressions and relating to the sometimes limited evidence you have at hand. While I admit I’m not too good at that kind of thing anyway, especially when a criminal may be trying to hide their real thoughts, I think some of the options could have at least been a little bit more narrowed down when you are required to provide backup evidence when accusing the person you are questioning, since sometimes it is not completely obvious which piece of evidence should be used, when a couple of items seem to both legitimately back up your claim. The fact that I had little more than a fifty-five percent success rate from the whole game makes it look like my attempts were little more than guesswork, when I was genuinely trying my best to examine everything.
In the end, I did like the game a fair bit, and it certainly kept me entertained for a good length of time, meaning that it deserves a relatively high score, but I will have to take account of the game breaking issue I had, and thus score the game accordingly.
+ Great voice acting
+ Impressive facial animation technology
+ Nice musical score
+ A game that tries to be a bit different
+ Decent central plot/story
- Slow to get going
- General graphics and character models, while ok, stand out against the fancy facial animation.
- Hard to work out whether suspects are telling the truth or not, but that might just be me!
- The Synchronisation issue
- A couple of crash to desktops
Arbitrary Final Score:
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