This review may contain spoilers.
This is going to be a hard review to write, especially with trying not to include spoilers (the warning is there for a reason though). If you read my quick thoughts on the game after spending a few hours with it Tuesday, then you know what I initially thought of the game. I loved it; it was fresh and different, and the world was beautiful. Now that I’ve finished the main story, I’m not exactly feeling the same way.
Exploring 1947 Los Angeles is still an absolute joy. I really can’t heap enough praise on Team Bondi and Rockstar Games for the job they did in recreating L.A. All the scenery is gorgeous, perhaps the best I’ve seen in a game of this size. The MotionScan technology is still an amazing and revolutionary piece of tech for the video game industry. The realism, when it works, is stunning.
L.A. Noire tries its best to blur the line between film and game, but in doing so actually manages to shatter the realism illusion. There was a part where I was carrying a rifle and kicked a door in. This triggered a cinematic that showed me kicking the door in with my pistol drawn. Steal a car and drive it to a scene, do the investigating, and low and behold there’s your cop car waiting for you despite it not being driven. These may sound like trivial matters, but in a game going for realism and attention to detail, they shouldn’t happen.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to L.A. Noire’s numerous flaws. The city streets are filled with some of the worst drivers and dumbest pedestrians that I have ever seen in a video game. Your horn or siren does absolutely nothing but make noise; other cars will cut across lanes for no reason, pull out in front of each other and you, and scrape up against one another. Pedestrians will run out in the middle of the road, forcing you swerve to avoid hitting them although there’s usually another car around doing something stupid and you end up hitting it. For a game that punishes your case rating for harming civilians or causing damage, you would think better care would be taken to insure the AI weren’t complete idiots.
There’s also plenty of frustration to be had with the game not cooperating. Asking your partner for help? You may have to ask a few times before he finally says something. Accidentally pull off before you partner gets in? Don’t be surprised if he stands on the sidewalk looking stupid until you get out and then get back in. It’s also easy to get hung, briefly, in cover. In short, there’s a lot of little issues that add up to detract from the overall experience of what was the first game to be showed off at a film festival (even though at one point very late in the game, during a cutscene, I saw a folder floating in mid air opening and closing like a bat flapping its wings until it magical scooted across the screen and into the hands of a character).
The gameplay itself gets to be repetitive after awhile, and while some may say that’s true of all Rockstar games, there’s really very little here to break that feeling. The majority of the time you’re walking around picking up or examining clues, a lot of which are of no relevance to the case, and then questioning suspects. If not for the amazing and realistic facial expressions, and the terrific voice work, this process would not be nearly as fun and would lose its appeal much faster.
At this point, despite everything that I’ve said, I still really enjoy the game and would still give the overall experience a little bit higher score than what I’m actually going too. My biggest problem with L.A. Noire isn’t the little game bugs and glitches, it’s the story (and this is the part you might want to be weary with spoilers). The game starts off really good, but it falls apart. Once you complete the homicide desk (desk number three of five), you have seen the best of L.A. Noire and it is all down hill from here.
Homicide features the best cases in the game and the most intense. There’s a series of murders of females, and you’re left examining the evidence and trying to determine if its individual murders or a serial killer. There’s excitement here and even a little sense of urgency. This desk is then highlighted with a case that completely breaks the repetition by offering up a series of riddles and action sequences. It’s just a shame the momentum gained during this desk completely falls a part and the story becomes a complete mess with only a moderately satisfying conclusion.
I could write a lot more about the story and the ending, and may very well write an opinion piece on it someday soon, but I don’t want to get into obvious spoilers. Suffice to say the late game “twist” or shift of focus really only serves to purposes: leave you confused, and make you dislike the main guy despite his being a good cop in a city of corruption.
Each case feels like an episode of a TV series, and it’s pretty convenient since once it was over, I felt like I had just played/watch a TV series that started good, had a really strong mid-season, and then completely jumped the shark at the end.
The action sequences provided during the main story are good and compelling, and the unassigned cases that I’ve experienced so far have all been quick and fun little bursts of action, and ultimately the game could have used more of this. Looking for clues can become tedious and the questioning loses its appeal near the end once you get into cases that just aren’t as good as the ones that come before it.
Despite the mess that becomes of the story (a real shame given that the game known as Red Dead Redemption had one of the best stories in a game), there’s still a lot to like about the game and some great moments (watching an idiot suspect you’re chasing drive his car right onto a train track just in time to get nailed was hilarious, even if I probably won’t be able to see it again.) As a video game, there’s some great stuff here, but a lot of flaws too and they add up. It’s not the epic masterpiece the hype may have led you to believe, nor is it as awesome as the first several hours would make you think it is. But it is a game worth experiencing.
L.A. Noire gets a three out of five: GOOD.