Tuesday, September 13, 2011

L.A. Noire Review

I think I said in my last post that I would likely be done with L.A. Noire pretty soon. I had no idea how close to completing it I really was as I got to the end of my journey with the LAPD this evening. I have loads of opinions about this game, so here we go.

The hype about this game from day one was the technology behind the "animation", MotionScan, developed by a company called Depth Analysis. The technique employs a 32-camera rig that captures every nuance of facial expression as actors read through their lines in a white room. A server is used to automatically map the faces. Considering advancement through the game is dependent upon interrogating witnesses and deciding whether they are telling the truth or lying based on their facial expressions, this stuff has to work pretty well to make the game successful. I thought it worked exceptionally well. There was nothing obvious or hammed up in the way witnesses reacted to questions, making it reasonably challenging. 

The facial acting is by far the best aspect of this game, because in just about every other way it suffers from repetition. Each case starts off with a cut scene allowing the player to get a glimpse of the crime in action. The player then takes over as Detective Cole Phelps. The investigations always begin with a thorough perusal of the crime scene, the process of which has been pretty dummed down. Either the pertinent clues are already marked off with letter placards, or you simply walk around the area and wait for the controller to vibrate to alert you to a clue. At first I spent a lot of time combing over every inch of the scene, hoping there would be some Easter Egg or extra something for a player who's more careful, but that's not the case. It's easy after a while to lose the enjoyment of discovery and go through the motions with each scene.

The game throws in some chase and tailing scenes via car or on foot as well as some fistfights to break up the investigations which quickly become a little monotonous, but it doesn't do much as each of these in turn become formulaic and lose any sense of newness and challenge. The only things that keeps the game even remotely interesting are the writing and story development. I was honestly invested in solving the big serial killer case, and putting together all of the pieces for the corruption storyline of the second half.

I also have to note that I found the character of Cole Phelps to be irritating. It's difficult to play a game when your character is someone you don't feel any empathy for. I've had my mixed feelings about Niko Bellic and John Marston, but I found Cole Phelps to be a pompous, self-righteous jerk right from the beginning. ***Spoiler Alert*** When he gets knocked down a few pegs and demoted for having an affair with the German lounge singer, I was actually overjoyed. I cheered. This was my character mind you, someone whom I walked through the ranks of the LAPD, and I was actually happy when he got shut out. I didn't feel bad for him at any point in the game. I think that's a pretty huge detriment to the storyline.

My other criticism would be the awful driving controls. I typically find open world games like this a lot of fun and worth exploring, but driving those cars was so difficult and cumbersome I found myself having my partner drive for me most of the time so as to skip the trip. This was no Grand Theft Auto

Overall I had a good time playing it, and enjoyed the acting and storyline. Game control was decent, and the targeting system for shootouts was good as well. I found the characters heavy-handed and generally unlikeable though. It was hard to play a game that didn't have a compelling protagonist, much as it would be sitting through a movie of the same. It was weird being happy about my character's failures and setbacks. I had downloaded a few DLCs, but I don't think I'll be playing those.

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