Over the last week, I’ve been spending a good chunk of my gaming time in 1940’s Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful place, L.A., filled with an incredible amount detail and color and the irretrievable sense that this is all one big set piece.
See, my problem with L.A. Noire is that the world, with all of it’s incredible tiny details, is perhaps the least interactable of any Rockstar game ever. Maybe that’s not fair; L.A. Noire is it’s own game, of course. This game is not Grand Theft Auto may as well have been published on the back of the box, they’ve said it so many times. That’s great, except for the fact that the game itself implores you to treat it the same way. You’re encouraged to do the driving from point to far-off point. Every mission sees the attentive player finding new ways to scale buildings and get a new perspective on this wonderful city. The attention to detail just screams explore me. Except, and this is a biggun’, there is absolutely no point to it. There is no reward. No usefulness to the freedom of the open world. Nothing. I am left with the sense that all of the work that went into building this incredible recreation of post-war L.A. is really just a giant waste of time.
The world is only part of it. Perhaps equally important is how limited the player truly is. You have a gun but you can’t pull it. When you can pull it, every shot is a kill shot — there’s no taking a suspect down with a quick pop to the leg. Or sometimes you can pull it and fire a warning shot to stop a fleeing POI. Except this too is independent of real freedom. In Red Dead Redemption, the player could fire shots into the air to make his point. In L.A. Noire, you hold your fun on a suspect’s back until a cutscene starts and the computer fires for you.
It’s not just gun play. You can drive on the sidewalk and pedestrians will simply float out of the way, cursing your ineptitude behind the wheel. You will have better luck wreaking havoc trying to knock a mailbox in the right direction rather than simply drive over someone. I’m a very bad person, aren’t I? That’s just it, though. This is a video game, not a movie, and not a T.V. show. If I want to step outside of the narrative and take advantage of the “freedom” the game purports to give, I should be able to do that. In L.A. Noire you are actively penalized for leaving the story. Every piece of damage you do counts against you. If you plan on raising a little hell, also plan on getting reamed out by your captain and failing your case report.
This is not an open world game. It’s an adventure game pretending to be one. And, to be fair, the adventure, interrogation, investigation parts of it are really good. The facial animations are fantastic (if eliciting the uncanny valley effect more often than I’d like). If Rockstar had focuses on delivering a narrative adventure without all of the open world posturing, the game would be better for it. There is a sense of delivering to expectation because of expectation, and that’s not a good thing.
Rockstar fans have long come to expect freedom from their virtual worlds. If they want to be bad, they can. If they want to play the good guy, they can do that too. They expect some semblance of realism. L.A. Noire simply doesn’t support that. That’s a shame because there is really a great game here. The investigations are top-notch police procedural. The acting, and animations, and settings are fantastic. L.A. Noire could be something truly great but it’s muddied with it’s emphasis on setting. Sometimes you want to be a character in a story. Sometimes you just want to play a video game. Let’s hope they give in with a good, alternate universe expansion pack. I don’t need zombies (Undead Nightmare), I just need freedom. Give me that and you’ll have one of the best video game worlds ever created.
Otherwise you have a gigantic cardboard set.