Evis T Reviews LA Noire On The Xbox 360.

LA Noire is a strange beast. I’m really not sure what to make of it. On the one hand I love most of what it tries to do, but on the other hand it gets stale quite quickly thanks to a few glaring issues.

To begin with I was thoroughly enjoying myself. The cases were interesting and the game’s interview mechanics were very rewarding and something I had not seen done so intricately in gaming before. Needing to read your subject’s expressions is a good idea, and the technology used to create the digitized acting is impressive- if a little unnerving. The technology isn’t quite there yet and you can’t get away from the fact that people look like film footage stretched out and stapled over a mould. It certainly isn’t Xbox Live Vision levels of bad, and when the effect works well it looks stunning. However all too often you can see the proverbial strings, usually in the form of a nose or ear not having a hole in it but rather a black coloured patch.

LA Noire’s investigation mechanics can be broadly divided into two sections- evidence collecting and interview. In this way it plays a lot like the Phoenix Wright games on the DS. At first both of these ideas work well- you pick apart a crime scene for evidence, and then question suspects using the evidence to prove they are lying when you feel their story is inconsistent.

I say these only work at first because after you’ve been playing for about four hours, it’s nigh on impossible to fuck this up. When you’ve cleared a crime scene of evidence, the music stops, meaning that provided you are not deaf (and this is a big kick in the nuts to those of you who are), you simply CANNOT miss any evidence.

I get that the actors need to exaggerate the facial expressions to indicate when they are lying. After all most of us are not experts in reading people- so subtle expressions will be lost on us. Sadly though this means that once you get used to identifying the cues, telling if a suspect is being truthful, lying, or withholding information becomes almost automatic. Sadly this leaves you with very little in the way of a challenge.

Consequently LA Noire is very much a one trick pony and once you’ve figured out how the trick is done, it just becomes one long cut scene that occasionally requires you to press a button. The only other curve ball the game can throw at you is visiting locations in the wrong order. But of course, anyone with half a brain cell should be able to figure that out once they realise it’s actually important. While the illusion of interactivity lasts though, it’s a very involving and entertaining experience.

Sadly, LA Noire has nothing else to do beyond these cases. Unlike most Rockstar games which are usually chock to the brim with interesting things to do around the map; random encounters, challenges and well crafted distractions (the comedy club in GTAIV anyone?) LA Noire’s ‘side quests’ are distinctly lack lustre.

Virtually all, in fact literally all of them are Pointless Fucking Collectables (PFCs). If you feel like taking some time off the cases, you can collect cars, film reels, newspapers (which to Rockstar’s credit actually serve a point as they reveal cut scenes giving some back story to the main game), discovering landmarks, or solving street crime- none of which bar the newspapers actually serve any purpose.

By solving street crime I mean you respond to radio call outs which result in a firefight with a handful of gunmen and then getting back to your day. These are just boring by the numbers firefights we’re familiar with from previous Rockstar games, but without any background to give them a sense of urgency, motivation or accomplishment. Well done Rockstar, you’ve found a way to turn what should be an adrenaline fuelled gun fight into another thankless collectable.

I just don’t understand it- LA Noire features probably the most detailed and intricate map Rockstar has yet produced, and they don’t do a damn thing with it.

To add insult to injury, one of the cases pretty much requires you to have behaved like an obsessive compulsive as if you have not found one specific land mark, you can’t proceed. The worst part of this is that the prior to that landmark, others you need to find are revealed to you if you take too long finding them. This last one serves the sole purpose of forcing you to drive around for hours looking for the damn place, killing time. Unless you do what I did and just check the internet for the advice of people insane enough to kill every pigeon in Liberty City...

Beyond the gameplay I also question just how Noire LA Noire actually is. I’m not a huge movie buff- in fact I rarely watch films. However I am familiar with Noir through a friend of mine who has a passion for it, and as such I’m familiar with many of the tropes and trappings of the genre. Therefore I’d question how closely LA Noire actually follows them. Outside of the first hour, there isn’t much in the ways of voice over, femme fatale or anything else I’d associate with Noir, beyond maybe the themes of drugs, sex and general vice. To be honest though it felt closer to 70’s cop shows and Dirty Harry movies (Minus Harry Callaghan if that makes sense) than anything else. Still, I’m by no means an authority here so you’ll need to take that with a pinch of salt.

From a technical standpoint (and this may not be true for the PS3 version; I’m playing it on the 360) LA Noire does have a few issues with loading textures and jittery cut scenes. It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen often enough to make it worthy of note. Installing the game does seem to make a difference though and the occurrence of these errors is heavily reduced if you do so.

Overall, I can’t really speak against LA Noire in a big way. While its execution has some big holes in it, the ideas presented are interesting and also demonstrate great strides towards truly engaging non combat centric gameplay. The problem is that these concepts age very quickly, even within the lifetime of the game itself.

My final word on the matter would be simple: LA Noire is certainly worth playing, but you’ll want to pick it up cheap second hand and I doubt that DLC will extend your enjoyment of the game. It lacks the entertainment value of games like Red Dead Redemption or the GTA series, but shows some interesting ideas that deserve exploration. If you’re after a murder mystery though, I think you’ll find more mileage with Heavy Rain on the PS3.It isn’t as long or as complex, but it remains challenging and entertaining all the way through.

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