By Marokai 17 Comments
I rarely buy games based on critical reception. I pretty much never do that, but after seeing such rapturous praise for LA Noire, I decided it looked pretty interesting, that I could get into it, and enjoy it.
I had trouble finishing this game, though. Not in a "this game is too difficult for me" kind of way, because if there's anything LA Noire isn't, that would be at all difficult, but in a "this game is incredibly repetitive, what is even going on" way. I basically took a two and ahalf month hiatus from the game from after it's release, just as I had started the Vice desk. So a few days ago, I finally picked it back up and decided "I'm going to finish this, so at least I will be able to articulate why I don't like this game."
I had no idea what I was in for.
This game went right off the fucking rails after the Vice desk. Suddenly everyone, literally the entire city, hates Cole, because he cheated on his wife with a character I had never even heard of aside from a mention or two in conversation up to that point, and I get demoted to Arson. Really? I understand why they came down so hard on him, the conspiracy, and everything, but it seemed entirely unbelievable. Even the entire notion of Cole cheating on his wife, a woman I have never seen or heard anything of up to this point so why the fuck should I even care about her, was completely out of left field.
And the fact that Elsa was so critical to the endgame was crazy in and of itself. She's a catalyst for the ending and unraveling the redevelopment fund conspiracy, and she's introduced to me, the player, in the final hours of the game? These omissions are just plain lazy, and for a game that tries to put slow paced narrative at it's forefront, it's completely inexcusable.
The fact that I was suddenly playing as a different character in the end, however, is one of my biggest problems. The game has spent the entire narrative getting me attached to Cole, and then I'm suddenly playing as someone else in the eleventh hour. There was no reason at all that they couldn't have written the story in such a way that Cole unravels the conspiracy on his own, or even that I only play as Kelso for a single chapter, as opposed to right up until the ending of the game.
Even the way that you unravel the conspiracy was silly and everytime I found a new clue I basically just thought to myself "Oh right, this is a video game." Why can Kelso use police phones? I know he's an investigator for an insurance company, but as far as I understand it, that doesn't suddenly give him the right to use police phones and police resources. Why is there a film reel laying right out in the open handily detailing for me everyone who is involved in the suburban redevelopment fund? And why would receipts for the lumber be conveniently placed on top of it all giving me the incredibly helpful information of exactly who it was I was supposed to be pursuing? And why is it that everytime I enter someone's apartment, the most important documents I need are just laying right out in the open, requiring no searching whatsoever, and it immediately tells me what the important bits are?
For such a carefully laid out conspiracy, they did a pretty shit job of covering their tracks, what with leaving important documents out in the open and film reels being loose. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the gameplay is stupefyingly simplistic. The game tells you where all the clues are, it tells you the important information, it tells you everything, and the cases end regardless of how good or bad you did in them anyway!
After I beat it, though, I wasn't thinking much about the game, I was thinking about the nature of game reviews. Can they be trusted, pretty much at all? Think about the process of game reviews. You get an early copy, you get a few days to poke around with it, finish it, and write up a review. It doesn't leave a great deal of time for introspection or critical analysis. It doesn't really lend itself to nitpicking until after the fact, when the job of the critic is already over.
LA Noire doesn't seem like the type of game that was built to withstand the test of criticism. Aside from the amazing tech in facial animations and the beautiful recreation of 1940's Los Angeles, there doesn't really seem to be a whole lot there. The gameplay is simple, the story gets increasingly ridiculous before just going full bullshit at the end, and it just got me thinking, "I feel like I've been let down by critics."
Because this feels like it was a game built to wow you and coast you gently toward the ending. It feels like a game tailor made for game reviewers. It has amazing tech that impresses you out of the gate, the gameplay isn't at all demanding, the story is okay as long as you don't think about it too much, and it's a nice gentle ride toward the end that's pretty much impossible to fail at. In my view, it's a game made for people who review games, not for people who play them repeatedly. For people who don't have a lot of time on their hands, not for people who are going to really have the time to spend with it and really think about what it is the game is actually presenting.
In short, I just feel really disappointed, not only by some of the baffling decisions in the game's writing, but also in how simple the gameplay is, and how much I feel let down by reviewers, who seem almost universally in love with the game. A recent bombcast started to criticize the game a little more, and now that I've finally finished the game, I think that's a great thing. But I'm a little sad these thoughts weren't considered before Brad basically instantly labeled it a top pick for GOTY.