LA Noire: First Impressions

First Impressions

L.A. Noire is the newest Rockstar (GTA4, Red Dead Redemption) game created by Team Bondi ( The Getaway). The game is set in the late 1940's in Los Angeles. The main character, Phelps, is a war veteran rising through the ranks from police officer to detective.  The game is presented in mini episodes (one case per episode) and flashbacks. Once you finish a case, you go straight to the next one. Having played four cases where the character moves from police officer to detective, here are my initial impressions.

The entire first case

The game's fragmented game play makes it hard to stay with the story. With the start of each episode, your character is already at the initial location. There is no starting the day at your house, driving to work, or while randomly patrolling to be called in for the case, like you would in other Rockstar games.  There is no routine, or life outside of the case. The character always starts at the point where everything begins, and the only sandbox options are when the player has to drive to get to a new location in the story.  Even with driving, when the location is approached there is a cut scene. I find this problematic because it means there is no original way to approach a location. If I arrive at a person's address, it will always cut to a specific location to where I can get out of the car. I can't by my choice approach from the back or park sideways or maybe just run my way there, just because I can.

The initial three cases were short. There was a murder that was solved very quickly by tracing the owner of the gun, a roof top chase, and a bank robbery. This led to a lot of what I described above: long cinematic, followed by a few minutes of game play, then more cut scenes. If the cases were longer this type of format would be ok, but these initial cases were too short to have a proper balance.

Fourth case. This one includes witnesses and interrogation.

The fourth case, a murder in broad daylight, is where the game starts to show promise. The player can search the body, look around the street for clues, and question witnesses.  The player can choose if they think the witness is lying, telling the truth, or not being entirely honest. Depending on the answer and the evidence you have to backup your suspicions, the witness will act accordingly. You could also use your intuition points to help you, just like the lifelines in How to be a Millionaire. You could use an intuition point to remove an incorrect answer (lying, telling the truth, doubt), ask the community (what other players have chosen), or show all the clues.

In my case, I made the mistake of calling the witness a liar on my first chance, but without any proof, she insulted me and refused to speak. What I should have done is search the street more to find a couple more things before talking to her. I also didn't look around very well and didn't find as many clues as I should have. The case was still solved, but it could have gone a lot smoother with more evidence.

Some quick notes and observations:

  • The game can be played entirely in black and white.
  • The dialogue that begins the start of each episode is dreadfully cliché. The game would be better without it. Just listen to the beginning of the first case and see if it doesn't remind you of the Twilight Zone openings.
  • So far, the character dialogue is bland. All of the dialogue is B-movie, daytime soap material. This is disappointing because GTA4 and RDR had some great scripts.
  • The diary used to question is a very clever and clean way to conduct investigations. The notebook remembers all the clues, witnesses, and locations. When questioning people, the book is used to bring up evidence, instead of having the player remember everything
  • The main character, Phelps, doesn't talk much and has no personality. Don't expect any clever one liners or emotions.
  • Animations are a mixed plate. Before release, Rockstar was touting their facial animation technology. Playing the game, body animations look stiff and facial movements look wooden.
  • 360 Performance: It plays well, didn't notice anything wrong except for the first ten seconds of the introduction. There was severe slowdown in the opening shot but nothing after that. Also, my computer is not next to my 360 anymore to capture footage, so I'll have to rely on other's videos for this game.
  • Curse you Amazon for being a day late.

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