Progress : 21/21 Story Cases Complete, 80.6% overall progress, 22h 41m 17s – logged game time.
Part 1 : Early Impressions
My relationship with Rockstar Games is a strange one. I am not a GTA fan at all, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy my sandbox game every now and then (Impatiently waiting for Infamous 2). Red Dead Redemption, turned out to be one of my favorite games of last year surprisingly enough. Not knowing what to expect, L.A. Noire for the past few months has been not much more than a growing curiosity. Would it be like GTA? Would it be like RDR? The anticipation lasted until the copy landed on my doorstep three days ago.
The tutorial investigation was admittedly a pain in the ass. It took me a while to get the controls down in RDR and it took me probably longer this time around. Roaming around the alleyway, figuring out the run button from the search button, looking around for something to climb while my partner refuses to shut the fuck up… it was a nightmare. The control gets more comfortable over time with a single exception : the climbing. You have to be spot-on if you want to climb a pipe or ladder, otherwise you’ll be running into wall for a few seconds while trying to realign yourself. Usually this happens when in pursuit of a fleeing suspect making things harder than they should be. Because there is no jump or climb button, any action that involves leverage happens automatically by running into the proper obstacle. By doing this, you climb the ladder, hop the fence, jump across the rooftop, etc…
Once the game really begins, things start to pick up. Each case starts off the same and (usually) ends the same. Everything in between occurs at your own discretion. Some events such as one in the first case fucks you up if you decide to move around too much. I was at the crime scene, and found a location of interest. There was also a witness inside the store at the crime scene I was supposed to interview. I decide to let her wait and move on to the next location which instantly propels me into the end of the case scenes, which showed right off the bat that some interviews might be optional. Depending on answers you give in interviews, witnesses may give you information that you otherwise wouldn’t find until later. In the case I just finished, two successful interrogations gave me the locations of two places with more evidence to look for. Had I fucked up, I would have had to break into this guy’s apartment, beat his ass and haul him to jail before finding both addresses in his apartment. I still did all of the above, so I got two copies of the same addresses, so it might be possible to finish the case without even having to make this break-in.
There is a perfect route that gives the hard to achieve 5 star rating at the end of the case, but that’s only fun if it happens legitimately. Reading a guide would ruin the fun of looking around every corner for something, and the intensity of making your final call for each testimony.
Otherwise, gameplay is mostly about solving these cases. There are secret film reels, cars and landmarks to discover here and there for the person who wants to take a break and explore L.A. in depth. Randomly, while driving around with your partner, you might get a radio transmission giving an optional street case which begins as soon as you drive to the location. These cases are usually short, and involve handling criminals the same way you would in the story cases : either by shooting them, chasing then shooting them or chasing then shooting them while their head is exposed behind their human shield. They’re simple, but give a nice breather from the more investigation-heavy main story.
The main attraction behind L.A. Noire is in the narrative. The infamous Black Dahlia murder looms in the background of the entire game, but each case has a story of its own. This makes it a great game to play more casually, which is great because each case is physically draining and you’re not going to want to rush through it all in one sitting. There is a lot of dialogue in the game, most of it you are not going to be able to hear in a single playthrough. Each line of interrogation, even wrong choices you make lead to their own sets of dialogue, and sometimes when you leave, your partner will actually comment on something you said in the interrogation. Actually, a lot of the game’s best dialogue happens while driving around with your partner.
When starting out, my first opinion was that the main character, Cole Phelps is going to be a pretty boring guy. My first impressions of the assigned partners were that they’re dicks and I want them out of my face. Strangely, after some time, they grew on me. Cole is a pretty cool guy, and although a bit of a womanizer and alcoholic, so is the homicide partner. I still miss my old traffic buddy (below), so here’s hoping a lot of new DLC puts me back at these desks.
There is one character that is consistently awesome : the police captain. He has a thing for dealing with criminals personally (usually beating the hell out of them behind the scenes), and is a scary guy to piss off.
A lot of the writing in Red Dead Redemption was a post-modern take on thought in the late 1800’s. While the supporting cast had personalities and ideals that we would frown upon now, the main character, John Marston was the guy whose thinking was far ahead of his time. He was out of place among the rest of the cast, as he was capable of reflection and questioning the morality of everything around him. Similar arguments could be made for Cole Phelps. While everybody else is living in the 1940’s and can only understand the world in which they live, Cole is that ever-questioning presence, the guy with today’s sense of right and wrong thrust into ’40s L.A.
There is some more thematic stuff I want to discuss, but that can wait until the update.
Oh yeah, and hope you like Jazz music, cause there’s a whole lot of it to go around and some killer bass action to go with it… mmmmm!
Part 2 : Final Impressions
The ending was actually very easy to predict, and I’m glad that the storyline stuck to the archetypes that it established early on. Not to spoil the game, further thematic discussion will have to wait for another article.
I spent the entire day after thinking. Not only about the ending, but about the friends I made during the course of the game and the characters I got to know. Almost every change of partners was a sad moment for me. As mentioned before, Cole Phelps, the main character is a pretty plain guy. Three of his partners give off the exact same first impression : boring old fashioned cop who initially wants little to do with Phelps. Part of the magic in the game exists in the character development. Ever watch one of those buddy-cop movies where you have two officers partnered with little in common? By the end of the flick they pull through as a pair and save the day. Playing L.A. Noire is like watching a different buddy-cop flick three times over, except one of the officers is always Cole.
The other part of L.A. Noire’s magic lasts in the pacing. While each desk has its own little story going on and contains elements of the overall story, everything starts off nice and peaceful. You’re just a cop wanting to investigate things after coming home from WWII Japan. The traffic cases reflect that with barely any direct involvement with any of the characters and little significance to the overall plot. Homicide cases up the ante with its own story and set certain events into motion. The vice desk leads to the game’s major turning point while the arson desk propels the story to its end. That is, each desk makes up a small arc of increasing importance. That’s good storytelling in a nutshell, but the way that the overall story can be broken into arcs and each arc can be further broken into individual episodes makes the story far easier to approach than just a series of missions leading to the ending.
As good as the story and supporting cast are, the game is not without its flaws. L.A. Is huge, sure, but there just isn’t much to do around the city. Travel can be skipped altogether by holding a button (triangle for PS3), making it only necessary for exploration purposes. There are 50 film reels scattered around L.A., but hell if I’m gonna look around that mammoth of a town to find them. Secret cars also exist to be found, but those appear on your map, same goes for landmarks, so those aren’t a big deal (then again, I haven’t checked the free roam very much, so for all I know you might be able to see film reels on the map).
On top of that, by design the game is repetitive. There’s four phases to gameplay : interrogation, investigation, free roaming and action scenes. Interrogation is the game’s big selling point as you have to watch the person’s face as you talk to them and try to react accordingly (you can also provide evidence here). I’ll admit, I suck at it… half the time I can’t read the person and the other half the time I can’t decide if I want to doubt the person’s testimony or toss something in his face as evidence. The concept is cool, and if you mess up, while it’s no big deal, I give the game props for forcing you to roll with your choices unless you’re an ass and cut the power before the game auto-saves. This gives a welcome tension to interrogating a person compared to say Phoenix Wright where I’ll be a dick, save in the middle of one guy’s testimony and keep loading until I get it right. The stakes might be lower in L.A. Noire, but because the episode can play out different depending on how you play through it, a strange replay value surfaces.
Investigations are the other huge part of the game. To put it simply, you run around a given area while slow, inquisitive jazz music plays. When you find everything you’re supposed to, the music stops indicating that you can move on to interrogating the nearby witness or using the phone to obtain any new locations. There are a bunch of useless items scattered across the crime scenes though, so don’t expect progress every time you feel the controller rumble (an indication that something you can investigate is nearby). Sometimes it can get tedious, and sometimes there’s one fucking thing that you need that takes forever to find. I love it, especially when one search leads to a ton of clues (most of which have no use presenting as evidence, instead opening up topics of discussion with the npc’s) and a stack of locations you can head off to.
Action scenes are usually very easy. In the few difficult ones, if you die enough times you can choose to skip the action scene, but as far as the main story is concerned, you would have to suck hard to not be able to surmount any of the challenges… except maybe one involving a certain construction vehicle, that one was a dick. You shoot people, they die. They might take a hostage, in which case you wait for their face to be exposed behind the hostage and shoot them in the face. It’s basic, but considering the stiff controls, combat clearly was not the focus of the game…. that is unless the action scene also includes chasing someone either by foot or by car. They usually end up failing hard before you can spin them out or make the tackle. Good times! There is also the occasional fist fight, but those are basically just mashing the punch button so the other guy can’t do anything while Cole wails on him.
Free roam scenarios are what bridge every other phase. From here you can find the previously mentioned secrets or participate in Street Crime cases, small missions with a unique set for each desk. In short, they are individualized action scenes. You either do the shoot people in the face routine or chase someone down… or chase someone down so you can shoot them in the face. Since there isn’t much to do on the side, it gets old over time (thank god for auto-travel), but hopefully future DLC adds more to do in the town, something that would make free roam awesome.
If you expect an action game, you’re going to be a little disappointed. If you want a mystery game with heavy buddy-cop elements and a little action here and there, you will love L.A. Noire. Here’s hoping that DLC comes out swift, lengthy and reasonably priced, because I really want the excuse to hit up the streets of L.A. all over again! It’s a huge and engaging world asking for more things to do and more good times with my partners.