What’s The Story(ies?)
L.A. Noire appears, in the beginning, to have four storylines going on throughout the game. One side of the story concerns Detective Cole Phelps's experience in–and shortly following–the Japanese theater of World War II. Story arc number two is followed through the discovery of newspapers found scattered about the city. Pick up a newspaper and a cinematic launches for some plot development. The third arc concerns the theft of government property, including weaponry and drugs, from a U.S. Navy ship.
The fourth story line is actually composed of the individual cases that Phelps is exposed to while on Patrol, Traffic, Homicide and Arson desks of the LAPD. Of course, all stories eventually come together, as video game plots are wont to do, but I can't help but think this might have been a much more interesting experience if it didn't all tie together with a pretty, pink ribbon.
Who Am I, Again?
Rockstar did a rather shoddy job of making me care about Cole Phelps. I didn't feel anything for "my" wife and children when I embarrassed myself with the German singer because I never even met my family until after my downfall. Similarly, enough plot lines were abandoned, dropped and otherwise tangled that it became far too easy to lose interest in the characters and what was going on with them.
In the same vein, I'm rarely happy when the main character of my video game gets sidelined late in the action while I pilot a virtual stranger. This is just another example of a great way to keep me from caring about the people involved. If they really wanted a "Jack Kelso Investigation" sequence, it could have come after the Cole Phelps part was over, or maybe as a sequel. Yes, a sequel would have been much better for young Mr. Kelso.
Disappointment, Thy Name is Homicide Desk
Seriously, how bummed were you when you realized that you'd just arrested and charged several different men for murders they didn't commit? Some of those men were taking the fall for the deaths of their own wives. Instead of being able to properly mourn, they were hanging out in a holding cell waiting for the DA to "lose" the evidence.
Go one way or the other writers! Either it's a serial murderer or it's a series of unrelated crimes, but faking out the player only made me question my deductive skills just before dumping me on Ad Vice and Roy Earle.
Since we're talking about this, who would ever consider going from Homicide to Vice as a promotion? Tell me Phelps didn't believe that, because otherwise, I'll have totally lost faith in the guy.
Street Crimes: Is This Really Necessary?
In all honesty, I didn't complete very many of the street crimes. Most of the time, I was rushing from one witness to a location to the next suspect's home, and then back to corner someone else. It didn't really make sense to detour for some suspicious person lingering outside a resident's backdoor, especially not with a murderer on the loose. Those street crimes I did take followed a standard recipe. Drive halfway across the map, watch a 15-second cutscene followed by a foot or car chase, and then another cutscene of my suspect being loaded into a paddy wagon. Woot.
All-in-all, these street crimes felt like an afterthought, as if we wouldn't believe it was a Rockstar game without the optional side missions. These could have easily been left out, as could the entire "brawl" mechanic.
Investigate THIS, Buddy
One of the most frustrating things about the whole game was the interrogation process. While I loved the detail of the facial expressions and the voice acting, I thought it was junk that you couldn't go back to a witness and re-ask questions, or ask different questions, once you had other statements or evidence. Also, this was the 1940s. The Miranda Act hadn't even been thought of yet. Why didn't I have the opportunity to trick my witnesses and suspects during questioning? Why didn't I have the chance to maybe rough them up a bit in order to get the information I needed? Did I really just let a shoe store clerk shut me down? Wow… I'm pretty pathetic.
Another huge problem with the investigation portion was the sheer repetition. Each crime followed a distinct formula of a) arrive on scene, b) wander about, pausing at controller vibrations until the investigation theme music faded, and c) turn my attention to the innocent bystander just waiting to shine me on. Once I had a perp in my sights, be prepared for either a foot or car chase ending in a cinematic where I watch my suspect get loaded up in the van.
If LA Noire had been willing to give us a bit more freedom, say in choosing the questions to ask, questions to skip, and the order in which we chose to visit suspects and witnesses, it may have become satisfactorily realistic as a crime solving game. I have high hopes for the future of this fledgling genre and expect that the next title will provide a bit more. LA Noire had a great premise and some real potential, but high-def facial animation does not an entire 10-hour experience make. Give me more Rockstar, and make it snappy.
- You can't turn off the radio, and folks, the 1940s weren't known for their catchy pop music.
- The camera turns while the car is in reverse, causing the player to back into way too many pedestrians and stationary items
- You must restart a mission from the beginning or live with a wrong choice, unless you're willing to just quit mid-mission and hope the most recent auto save was pretty current.
- I know that this was the 1940s, and many women in that period lived lives involving frilly aprons and unreported sexual abuse, but come on–can we not have even ONE intelligent female character?
All screenshots are from the official website of Rockstar's L.A. Noire game, https://www.rockstargames.com/lanoire/screens/.