Thursday, May 19, 2011

IMPRESSIONS - L.A. Noire. which I complain about L.A. Noire.

This post contains minor spoilers about the type of murders you are obliged to solve once you work the homicide desk.

L.A. Noire is freakishly, willfully different. Don't go into it expecting the experience any other open-world game offers, because that is a far cry from what you're going to get.

There's something both exciting and infuriating about that. The whole point of a sandbox is that it's something you're permitted to play in and make a bit of a mess - and that is the precise opposite of what you're allowed, here. You can't draw your gun without the story saying so. You can't punch a dude. You can't even run over pedestrians, should you choose (they leap out of the way, or stand up and dust themselves off should you manage to hit one).

There's a lot in L.A. Noire that you can't do. At the same time, there was always this part of me that, when playing Grand Theft Auto or its ilk, felt the urge to obey traffic signals. It's weird. Noire wants you to roleplay a stoically law-abiding member of society who would never want to do all the insane crap we usually pull in open-world games.

At the same time, there's something nice and rich and flavorful about a game that's willing to go so far with its simulation. L.A. Noire could have, I'm sure, just as easily been a linear, level-based series of situations. The sprawling streets of Los Angeles only serve to help the audience buy into the world that's presented here - to allow the player to discover a mutilated body in an alley here, and connect the dots to a place they can actually drive to over there.

It's infuriatingly linear. A huge aspect of open-world games is the idea that you can receive a task and approach it with any strategy you'd like - but here, that's not the case. Everything is laid out in advance, and you are largely powerless to make any changes to it (thus far).

There's another thing that bugs me about it. Why is it, whenever I'm called for a homicide case (thus far), what I find is a brutally executed woman, stripped naked? They're no doubt setting up a serial killer. Again, it's hugely frustrating that you're obligated to finger men the player is quite sure are innocent - but the game forces you to - because they're clearly setting up the oh-my-God, all-those-men-you-put-behind-bars-were-innocent moment. At least player-character Phelps is as disgusted with the outcome as I am.

I see it coming a mile away, and although I know how it's going to service their narrative, I'm not enjoying the fact that every time Phelps wakes up for work in the morning, I know he's going to be spending it picking over the corpse of some stripped and butchered woman. Couldn't they have at least switched up the pacing with a dead man? Y'know, given us a case where we're allowed to think for a moment that maybe it wasn't a serial killer, and suggests that maybe there are murders in 1940s L.A. that aren't laced with some disturbing sexual violence?

It totally happens once, early in the game.

I'm crossing my fingers it'll happen again.

That's kinda morbid.

Still... one can't help but give L.A. Noire points for being so incredibly different - and often very involving - very entertaining. There's this cynical part of me that wonders if that's where all those 9/10 and 10/10 reviews are coming from - because game journalists play so many triple-A titles that are all exactly the same, if you give them something that manages to be markedly different and still reasonably successful, they'll gush until they run dry.

In service to its singular vision, L.A. Noire discards almost all of what we associate with the open-world video game - almost all of what makes it fun. The question is, does what they've replaced it with make up for it?

I'll get you a review when I can.


  1. Regarding the 3rd pic; RIP Kevin Butler.

  2. So that's why we haven't seen him since the PSN breach.