vostokone's L.A. Noire (PlayStation 3) review

This game was a joke and a bad one at that.

No loading screens between islands. Euphoria physics. Real-time weather effects and random wildlife. Accurate bullet impact and recoil. Facial mapping technology. These are the features that are pushed by each new Rockstar release. Technical marvels that sell their AAA budged games. Then these features are recycled into redundancy in every subsequent title released by the studio. Don't get me wrong, these are amazing technologies that open up possibilities for the industry as a whole. But they aren't games, despite what Rockstar tries to sell them to you as.

L.A. Noire's claim to fame is it's ultra-realistic facial recognition that scans an actors face onto a character in-game. Just the face though, the bodies are still awkward as fuck. This technology would supposedly allow players, who play as a detective, to rely on subtleties of the human expression to determine if a suspect was being truthful or not. Ambitious as hell and quite interesting, sometimes. This tech is quite impressive for the first 40 minutes. Once you have adjusted to it, the biggest impact it has is when you switch to another game and chuckle about how shitty the jaw animations are.

Naturally, the hopeful reliance on subtle facial features works about half the time. Praise should be given to Team Bondi for avoiding having eccentric and obvious visual cues in peoples faces and for diversifying the characters so not everyone delivers the same traits. It goes a long way to sell the individuality of even the most redundant background characters. But the failure of the face system lies mostly in the simplistically poor interrogation system. Borrowing heavily from adventure games of the past, these scenes, which are stringy meat to the starving, feral bones of this game rely on you to pull out evidence you've gathered and try and catch suspects in a lie. However, the difference between "Doubt" and "Lie", the most common keys used in these scenes, is so indistinguishable that you are often unsure which is the appropriate response. Sometimes, a clue you think logically catches someone in a lie doesn't work, because you didn't think like the developers wanted you to think, dammit! Moments like these are like sharp pinches, alerting you to how narrow this game operates and if you try and divert even slightly from the pre-determined path created by Team Bondi, the game will slap you back on course. Sure, you can flub a whole case, but the final outcome is no different than if you aced it.

Like their terrible "The Getaway", Team Bondi is focusing in all the wrong places. What is the point of rendering a lusciously detailed Hollywood if you have no motivation to explore it? There are a few standout elements of this era and the detail given to it, such as a recreation of the set of "Intolerance", but this is story-related anyway, not a reward for an explorer. Even "Mafia II" permitted mayhem in it's empty, but beautiful sandbox. L.A. Noire offers nothing. The focus on period detail, car models, and facial expressions makes L.A. Noire feel self-important. As if it demands you look and appreciate all the work it's done and scolds you for trying to have some simple-minded fun. It's a pandering game that thinks its rewarding the methodical player for searching for all the clues and taking investigations seriously, when instead it's a copy-and-paste serious of slightly altered recurring events. You walk around a crime scene taping X until you find something, chase someone until a scripted sequences stops it, talk to someone, drive, talk to someone, draw a conclusion and repeat. The free DLC included with the game is almost an insult, as if I'd ever want to do MORE mundane, utterly exhausting cases, and ones that have no bearing on the main plot at that!

For a game that sticks its nose up at the average player for not "getting" it and it's unusual (see: boring) approach to sandboxes and action-adventure gameplay, it's suspiciously off-point with its noir aesthetic. Noir films are usually characterized by hard-boiled detectives who are heavily flawed, femme fatales that seduce and manipulate, and seedy underworlds where justice is served with bullets (and that type of dialogue/narration). L.A. Noire instead follows a boy-scout detective, a by-the-numbers police department, and completely mundane cases that build to semi-interesting conspiracies now and again. A backstory develops at a snails pace thanks to a game that drags on for far too long thanks to a modern trend in believing games need to be long just 'cause, so any narrative impact is completely diluted. But given the snobby nature of the game as a whole, it wouldn't be surprising if the game didn't want to be a noir, because that's such a cliche, man!

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