It’s funny to me that the first thing I did when finishing L.A. Noire yesterday was rush onto the Giant Bomb forums and check out what the community had to say about it. I barely gave myself time to reflect on the ending and was instantly curious to know what everyone else thought of it because… well, I think it’s pretty well in line to say that I didn’t see that coming at all. And judging by the community’s fairly negative reception to the end, neither did you guys. I will refrain myself from stepping into spoiler territory, but I do have other stuff on my mind about it.
Obviously, the first thing that I need to address is the facial animations. There isn’t a single moment where the tech in question isn’t staggeringly believable, save for the very few cases where children are interviewed and for some reason end up looking like they’re 45 years old. It makes this kind of game so much more possible on modern consoles and it makes it a completely unprecedented experience, something that I found to be totally refreshing and fun in a generation where I spend most of my gaming days staring down the barrel of a gun and having hit markers show up. The methodical experience of investigating a crime scene, interviewing potential suspects and witnesses and tying found clues and evidence to both was a ton of fun to me. It was so great to play through a game so different, especially after getting the early impression that it was to be a Red Dead/GTA-like formula game. It’s not, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I do have a few beefs with the game, the biggest of which is probably the under-developed feeling the rest of the game has. Anything story and investigation related is top tier, yet everything else seems to have suffered. The open world is arguably the most intricately detailed and most well-realized one of any game in the genre to date, yet there is almost absolutely nothing of interest to do in it. You’re given the option to go tackle “street crimes” during downtime in a case, yet those side-missions are a complete snooze, involving either shooting guys in the face or chasing guys until something hits them in the face to stop them for you. Besides the very little setups, there is almost nothing to tell them apart from each other. Only one of those missions is actually different and involves investigative work, only to have that “investigation” be one clue which, of course, ends with you punching a dude in the face. Throw in a couple ladders and drain pipe climbing exercises and you have yourself the recipe for every side-mission in the game. The hidden cars are fun to find and subsequently drive but none of them later spawn in a centralized garage, rendering them completely useless. It’s neat that you get to drive a three-wheeled car called the “Davis”, but having to drive across town just to get it again? Fuck that. With 40 one-minute missions and only three types of collectibles to uncover, the world ends up feeling a lot more barren than it should.
That’s honestly about all I have to negatively say about the game, though. The rest is story and setting, which they’ve created to a stunningly precise perfection. The story dug into me and refused to let go, making me stay up until four in the morning on two separate occasions, both times being completely unbothered by it. There are no crazy plots for world domination, no non-sense business that borders on fantasy, nothing to have you believe this is any universe other than the one you live in. It’s police business about drugs, murder, politics and money, pure and simple. Team Bondi really put the work into making this as authentic a film noir experience as possible and it really hit the mark for me. No other game I’ve played benefits from such a well thought-out periodical direction than L.A. Noire. The music, the radio intermissions, the architecture, the writing, the acting, the character archetypes, the plot, the setting, the imagery, the selection of vehicles… the list goes on and all of it created the most brilliant atmosphere I’ve played through in ages.
What had me most, though, are the characters. The game doesn’t set up the characters and events right at the start, kind of leaving you wondering what the actual plot of the game is. It was a little disorienting to be introduced to a bevy of characters and flashbacks to World War II with none of it really meaning anything until about half-way through the game. All these different narratives then start tying in together and makes for a really, really compelling storyline. The partners you’re introduced to are all great in their own ways, like Rusty’s brilliant punch-to-the-faces-of-necrophiliacs, and the supporting cast of the LAPD was all well-realized on their own, despite their vastly shortened screen time. It’s weird, I really ended up connecting with the characters later on and I didn’t think that would happen, given how there is a very impersonal sense of storytelling early on. There’s a distinct moment in the story where as soon as that event happens, it gets to be a much more up-close narrative and I loved every bit of it. It weaved all these different narratives with those of the main character without fault. Seems like it’s a fairly polarizing end-game, considering the community was really bummed on the end of that game but it really clicked for me.
After beating the game, I sat around for a while just collecting all of my thoughts and immediately set out to write a review. I wrote about two paragraphs and, after reading through it a few times, deleted all of it. I don’t think I’m able to approach the game with a critical eye. As much as I adore L.A. Noire, I don’t see it being anything other than an interactive film. More than any Quantic Dream game and more than any other Rockstar game, L.A. Noire had me treating it more like a movie than a game and I honestly think that’s essential to enjoying the game. The game mechanics are there to support the narrative and the tremendously well-realized characters and plot are in no way hindered by any of the game mechanics and their shortcomings. Even those game mechanics aren’t really game-like, involving nothing other than thinking, watching and pressing a single button. To enjoy L.A. Noire to its fullest, you can’t see it as a video game but only as the evolution of the genre of film and media it’s trying to emulate. Team Bondi has successfully elevated this genre of gaming to a new standard and I can only hope we see more of this forward-thinking creativity from them. It’s a brilliant effort but it’s one I can’t judge as a game.
That being said, if I had to review it then it gets a perfect five out of five sandwiches.
I’m roughly 5 or 6 hours into DIRT 3 now and having completed the first season and nearing the end of the second, I feel pretty confident in saying this is quite possibly the best entry in the series to date. There will always be a special place in my heart for Colin McRae Rally 03, but DIRT 3 does so much right and so much better than the first two that it’s impossible to resist.
The first thing that’s got me completely in love is the glorious return to force of Rally events. Raid and Rallycross events have taken a backseat to allow for tons and tons more of point-to-point rally and it’s AMAZING. There is no thrill like the thrill of racing against the clock in the most varied terrains. This with the other additions and improvements makes the game incredibly fun. The weather effects, for one, make for some seriously challenging changes. There is now rain and snow, alongside times of day, making the already incredible amount of tracks feel varied and fresh. Going head-to-head against another driver at night during a snowstorm with the in-car camera on is an experience like nothing else. The handling is also vastly improved, with Codemasters finally implementing independent suspension. It’s always been a point of contention for serious racing game fans, since the omission of this feature made the earlier games feel a little like slot-cars on a slot-car track. This is gone now, so all of you imbeciles who argued against the first few incredible games in the series have no excuse to miss out on this one.
Also replaced are the trailer menus, switched in favor for the most beautifully designed UI I’ve seen in a long, long time. Philip Cox, Codemasters’ UI guy, is a genius and DIRT 3 is definitely proof. Menus are now far prettier to look at and have the added bonus of being a lot faster and snappier to navigate—something DIRT 2 suffered seriously from doing the opposite. The incredibly sharp presentation alongside the terrific dance/electro soundtrack makes for visual and audio euphoria every time I do anything to get to any race in that game.
The Gymkhana stuff is also a pleasant surprise. I was expecting that stuff to be nothing other than annoying and it’s actually a lot of fun. Hearing it described as Tony Hawk with cars is a little crude but is, unfortunately, pretty apt. It’s tricks and combos with cars and it’s infinitely more fun then you’ll give it credit for. I think it’s silly to have some of the in-game figures describe it as some bullshit form of expression but I’ve grown to like it a lot. I’m glad it’s an addition to the game and even more glad that they gave you the Battersea Complex to drive around in and fuck around with no time limit. I’ve still got far more to do in it but what I’ve played of it so far, it’s definitely shaping up to be a contender as my favorite racing game. Absolutely in love with it.