Release Date: May 17, 2011
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Team Bondi
Metacrtic Score: 89 (PS3)
The year: 1947. The place: Los Angeles. World War Two is still fresh in the memory’s of many young men, and the fear of war with Communist Russia weighs heavily on everyone. In the homeland things aren’t looking much better: Racial tensions are beginning to boil, army surplus dope is being smuggled into and sold in the city, and there are murder’s running lose, prying on young, drunken women. 1947 is said to be the most violent year in L.A.’s history. That makes it the perfect setting for an old school detective yarn.
You play as Detective Cole Phelps; a returned war vet turned police officer. Through the course of the game you will take Cole Phelps from a lowly beat cop to a Detective in four different offices. As far as the main story goes, that’s about it. There no real connection between the four offices. This is both a plus and minus for the games story. The big plus is that the non-connectivity allows each department to be it’s own thing instead of trying to force some big conspiracy story into the plot or something equally stupid. In fact, if the guys at Team Bondi had extended each department just a bit, the each could have been sold as stand alone games (especially the Homicide section). Hell, if some of the cases were expanded upon and cast with real actors they would make a kick ass Film-Noire.
The negatives of this approach is that it does kind of ruin the flow of the story and never really lets us connect with any of the characters. It also make it really hard to talk about and judge the story as there isn’t much there to talk about. Not helping matters is that any mistakes you make are either fixed for you, or ignored as you progress. I once put the wrong man in jail, then got yelled at for it, only for the next mission to open with the same person congratulating me for all my good work. For what it’s worth, did enjoy each of the games case and wanted to find out who did it, but some more consistency would have gone a long way.
One last thing I want to touch on is the games use of race. While you do play as a white man in an era make to push white men up while keeping black men down, the game does touch upon these race issues in a novel way. I would talk more about this, but it would just be a cheep rip off of what the guys at “Extra Credits” said in their segment titled “Race In Games”, so finish this, then go to youtube and watch that. These guys are awesome and have been doing some of the best video game commentary for years now, so if you haven’t been watching them, here is the perfect time to start.
At the end of the movie “SLC Punk”, Stevo (played by Matthew lillard) has an internal monolog that he ends by saying “I guess when all was said and done, I was nothing more than a God-damned, trendy-ass poser”. That’s the perfect sentiment for the game play here. L.A. Noire is a great puzzle game, or even a great updated “point and click” adventure, posing as a third person action game. And like it is with all posers, you can tell when it’s trying to hard and when it’s just being itself.
The game is at it’s best when it allows you to be a detective: searching the victim and crime scenes for clues, interrogating witnesses and suspects and choosing wither or not to believe them, doubt them or accuse them of lying. All of that is just awesome. In fact, I really hope that “Batman: Arkham Knight” uses this method for it’s detective missions, instead of the sub-par systems they’ve been using (those were always the weakest parts of that franchise). The way the game test your intelligence is just fantastic. For example, in one latter mission, you are give a clue in the form of a poem. It is up to you to look at the world map and find the place that most accurately fits the description. It is, hands down, the best brain teaser i’ve played through this generation.
But then, out of nowhere, there comes an uninspired, poorly constructed and samey foot chase, car chase or shoot out. I understand that not every one who are being interviewed by the cops are going to just allow themselves to be caught, but these sections feel less like important story beats and more like Team Bondi are just checking off the prerequisite open world checklist. I wouldn’t say that any of these sections are game breaking, but you can feel all the love and energy being drained out like a black hole of fun had just opened up.
This really is the bane of modern gaming. Game developers and publishers are so scared of losing money due to the high production cost that they are completely unwilling to take any chances and end up pumping out the same product, even when there is no reason too.
Game Play 3.5/5
Music and Sound:
The soundtrack pretty much sticks to the Noire formula, but i’ll be damned if that formula doesn’t just work. Sure, i’m not likely to look up the score anytime soon, like I do with the Halo soundtrack (the only good part of that franchise, by the way), but I loved hearing it while I was playing. Then there is also a nice subset to the soundtrack full of 1940’s pop that I also really like a lot more than I thought I would. Basicly , if you like Film Noire, you’re going to like the soundtrack to this game. It gives you exactly what you expect, but when what you are expecting is this good, can you really complain?
The voice acting is also very good, but not quite up the the movie quality that the music is. The much talked about motion capture technique is both a boon and burden to the acting. By giving a physical performance as well as a vocal one make the acting more believable, but it doesn’t always work the way the developers wanted. Some of the actors are so obviously lying that it’s almost comical to give me the choice to do anything other than call them out. Other times, the only way to get all the questions right was to guess, then quite before I saved and make new choices where I failed, because trying to guess based off there body languages and vocal inflation just wasn’t going to cut it.
Music and Sound: 4/5
Overall Score: 3.5/5
Who is this game for:
This is for people who want more brain work in their games and who are able to over look a few ugly flaws. Or any one who likes old school Film Noire. If you’ve ever wanted to play “Chinatown” this is a game you should look into.