Just like LA, not much substance but plenty of flash
If there's any game that's come out in the first half of the year that had a big question mark on it, it was LA Noire. Aside from Duke Nukem Forever which is more about the quality of the game given its long development cycle, it was hard to pinpoint just how LA Noire would actually play. Truth be told, I'm a little tired of the sandbox style of games Rockstar has been doing so when it comes down to it, LA Noire is kind of a hybrid between sandbox and old-school adventure titles so at least it's a little different. Indeed, the game is incredibly unique and certain facets to its gameplay are not commonly found and yet at the same time, not everything gels perfectly well with LA Noire. Granted it must sound blasphemous to criticize a Rockstar game given their pedigree and multiple awards they've won but the game has both excited and kind of bored me.
The game centers on Cole Phelps, a war hero now turned beat cop on the streets of 1947 Los Angeles. Crime was rampant, corruption was worse and the city would soon be changed by the form of a new addition to its streets. Moving from different desks such as Homicide and Vice, Cole rises fast as he finds clues, interrogates suspects, and uncovers the bigger conspiracies involving a famous serial killing, drug trafficking and one worth a huge sum of money.
There's 2 things that LA Noire absolutely nails and the first is in the facial animation on each of its actor. Although you're playing the "where have I seen them from?" game constantly, the staggering amount of detail into every twitch and muscle movement is incredibly well-done and I'm sure other developers will look at their lip-syncing from now on and go "uh oh, we're gonna look so amateurish compared to that game". While facial textures themselves can look almost clay-ish and the bodies those faces are attached to don't always impress, the face animation always does. Speaking of attention to detail, the team went all-out to recreate a specific time in Los Angeles' history and unlike most other media (or at least badly done ones), you never feel pulled out of the experience and whenever you play LA Noire, you're locked into 1947.
However, the world of LA Noire can be not as impressive as the tech behind it. While the city itself is immaculately recreated, it's kind of....dull from a gameplay perspective. Sure they give you things to hunt for such as cars, film canisters (the pigeons of LA Noire) or random street cases, it's not really a world that I actually want to explore and do all these side things out of enjoyment. If it wasn't for trophies/achievements, I'd probably never bother. I do get it though, not every game Rockstar does, or publishes in this case, has to be filled with 100 menial sidequests to do to be considered open world but if you're going to make a giant sandbox to play in, at least give us toys we actually want to play with.
As for the core experience of LA Noire, it comes in 2 forms: crime scene investigations (whoooo are you, who who, who who.....sorry) and interrogating suspects and witnesses. The former is simply walk around until your controller vibrates, press X and examine the object, sometimes requiring you to turn it around to get further detail, read over letters and legal documents or have Cole say "it's probably nothing". With audio cues on, it feels kind of tedious as you constantly walk with the still-awkward controls (which they should've perfected by now) finding that last cue, no matter if it's important or not to get the "all done" chime. The other aspect of LA Noire comes in the form of interrogations with the facial animations providing a cool gameplay feature: you're to "read" whether somebody is lying or not. Some of them are glaringly obvious whether through poor lying and acting (on a gameplay part) or unable to get real subtlety forcing a more visible tell (tech part) but it is a really great feature to actually use impressive technology as a gameplay component and not a show-off piece. Unfortunately those interrogations themselves can devolve into the school of Phoenix Wright logic as clues which you've figured out to be vitally integral to a question and outright proves a suspect is lying is met with the "wrong" chime while other clues which you probably never would've used are accepted.
Another fault though I can't completely criticize Team Bondi and Rockstar for it is the actual story itself, not necessarily the storytelling. With combination of either very excited music or some incredibly eerie tones, the actual method of telling the story in LA Noire is engrossing and murder mystery lovers and even arc-driven shows like Lost will eat this up as the game loves to propel you forward based on intrigue alone. However I do have some fault with the actual story itself as the love interest is barely introduced, then disappears for a huge chunk of time until she becomes a major contributor near the tail end of the game. On top of that, one story development found at the end of the Vice desk practically comes out of nowhere and without spoiling it (even though I'd like to for full clarification), it feels unearned and even if it is necessary for how the story ends, it's sloppily done. And then there's the ending and final 3 cases which will probably be controversial among players and I really hated it. Handled better in Red Dead Redemption, not so much here.
While opinions will naturally vary, I've always felt every since Rockstar entered the "next-gen" age that they've been so focused on making the most detailed, the most perfectly produced worlds in the sandbox genre yet they sometimes forget that games are supposed to be fun. LA Noire from a technology standpoint is a landmark and it will surely inspire other developers to do just as much advancements but as a game it left me strangely cold. So often I'd be always wanting to turn the game on and be immersed into the world yet once I was, I couldn't escape the nearly dull gameplay and a city built more on detail rather than entertainment. The game's not a complete failure and for a game that I wasn't hyped up as everyone else was, it's a strange disappointment.