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When Rockstar announced it was publishing a video game where players would be a detective in the the 1940s, it sounded like a great idea. As the release date got closer, we learned that the game would use a special facial recognition technology that allowed players to read the emotional responses of witnesses and suspects. While this technology is amazing, many other parts of the game felt ignored. L.A. Noire is suppose to be a different experience, I understand and welcome that, but it still seemed that some of the gameplay and other elements could have been better.
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L.A. Noire is set in the 1940s and there is amazing music from that era. Game series like BioShock and Fallout have exposed me to music from the time and I thought L.A. Noire would have been a gold mine of oldies. There weren’t many songs and they rarely played them on the cars’ radios. The other music was okay, but for a game set in Hollywood’s heyday, it was lacking. While music doesn’t necessarily make or break a game, it’s an element that needed improvement.
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While L.A Noire is focused on asking questions and finding evidence, there are still action sequences. Unfortunately, they aren’t many of them and they feel a bit repetitive. To make matters worse, you never run out of ammo and if you fail the sequence too many times, you are allowed to skip it. For a game that hyped itself on realistic investigations and readable facial expressions, L.A. Noire’s action elements are unpolished, uneven and frequently too easy. If they were going to include action, it should have felt engaging and tense.
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In a good sandbox game, players should want to explore. L.A. Noire has a huge map, but not much to do in it. There are landmarks and cars to find, but they don’t add to the gameplay. Occasionally, a side mission would be announced, but these weren’t anything special and were pretty linear. They can be a fun distraction, but they were generic car chases and shootouts that didn’t have any substance. It would have been great if the side missions encouraged exploration and lasted longer. They could have been mini-cases that were different from the main campaign. Ongoing, smaller cases would have broken up the monotony of the overall story and gameplay.
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I absolutely enjoyed many of the early cases in the game. All of the suspense and tension focused around who killed the women in such a brutal manner was interesting. The storyline reached a brilliant climax when you were tasked with driving around and finding the poetry clues. Unfortunately, if you couldn’t solve the clues within a few minutes, Cole would just spit out the answer and then you knew exactly what to do. Once that string of cases was over, the game seemed to lose its steam. The investigations began to feel repetitive and uninteresting. It was almost like the game worked backwards. While they tried to mesh the storylines of the later cases together, they felt forced and weren’t as exciting as the beginning.
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In a game like L.A. Noire, the characters should be well developed. This really didn’t happen, especially with Cole Phelps. As a main character, he often felt like an afterthought to his more colorful partners. Players never really learn much about him. He’s a “good" cop among corrupted ones. He was in WW II, but this was shown through cutscenes that were often confusing. He has a family, but they aren’t seen or talked about much in the game. With the “is Cole cheating on his wife?" storyline, they could have done more to humanize him and flesh out his motives and personality. Instead, Cole came off looking like an unfeeling jerk. Even in the end when he sacrifices himself, there is no real emotion there and his death doesn’t have the impact it deserved.
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There are gameplay elements, like the facial recognition technology, that are stunning, but it wasn’t enough to carry L.A. Noire to true greatness. While smaller things like the lack of music won’t break a game, other things like repetitive action sequences and dull cases can make players lose interest quickly. L.A. Noire definitely is an unique gaming experience, but that doesn’t make up for the less than stellar parts. If there ever is a sequel, hopefully the gameplay will be more even and exciting.
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All screenshots and information from L.A. Noire