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L.A. Noire Disappoints [I’ll Be That Guy]

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.


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  1. Tramell

    Indeed it does feel more closed off than previous Rockstar games. Unfortunately the design choice was to tell a specific story leaving out most of the freedoms you get in a more open environment be a bad guy, play it differently or just opening the game and causing mayhem. They could be saving that aspect for the GTA series and be trying something different with LA Noire series since they are already talking about the next one. Disappointing as it may be it took them long enough with the initial LA Noire they may incorporate some of what you want in the next who knows.
    Tramell recently posted..Eve Online- Character Creation

  2. Anjin

    I am somewhat bemused by comments like these. When GTA IV came out, Rockstar got reamed for allowing Nico to go on horrific crime sprees between missions that weren’t supported by the story. When Team Bondi takes that out, they get reamed for not allowing enough freedom. (The freedom, mind you, to take a war hero police officer out into the city to perpetrate a completely out of character rampage.) Game designers can’t win.

    You are definitely not the only one saying this so I’m not singling you out. I just like your blog so you’re the one who gets the comment.
    Anjin recently posted..Unexplored Worlds- Ritual Of Connection ritual magic

    1. Chris

      No, I totally see that. I think what it comes down to is how well you handle cognitive dissonance. I can accept doing something totally OOC between missions because during that time I’m more “Chris” than the character I’m playing; he becomes a vessel for silly sandbox fun. When I take missions, it’s like getting back on the rails. I can certainly see how that might be difficult or seem inappropriate to some people.

      The game itself, removed from all expectations and previous experience, stands incredibly well on it’s own as a sleuthing game. When you stack it up against games like GTA IV, it seems limited. As a R* fan, it’s that removal that’s difficult for me.

      Judging based on the reviews, I’m in the minority. I’m cool with that, I just wanted to add voice to the people who are on that opposite side. 🙂

      To each their own 🙂

  3. Mark

    Personally I have having a blast in the game other than some oddities that exist like only being able to shoot to kill and hitting people almost not mattering. But the not open world design I actually find refreshing from them considering the games they usually make.

    Outside of the issues I find the investigations a lot of fun and a really nice addition to the game that keeps me wanting more.

  4. Tao

    I looked forward to this game for a long while and am really, really disappointed. One of the biggest selling points of this game is a big, detailed and ultimately useless open city that you cannot interact with at all. You wouldn’t have to go on a crime spree, if they had used their brains a bit I’m sure they could find something for an honest cop to do in this open world. It makes the game seem empty and unfinished, similarly to the first Assassin’s Creed (huge, detailed, populated cities that you can’t do anything in). The ‘cinematic’ or ‘investigative’ portions of the game – done so much better in Heavy Rain or either of the Uncharted games – and, yes, these are different games than L.A. Noire = they are more complete, entertaining, innovative games than L.A. Noire. Hate if you want, this game plays like a cross between Braindead 13 and one of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels. I’m impressed with the facial expressions and lip synching – but, since the game is so geared toward getting you just to look at it as opposed to actually playing it, the facial animations just drew my attention to how much work needs to be done on body animations. I wasn’t looking for GTA or RDR or anything like that, just a different gaming experience with some innovation: this isn’t it. This game is a sedative, makes me feel like I have narcolepsy.

  5. Sam

    I agree entirely. A huge disappointment. I was looking forward to this game for so long, thinking it would be a true open world experience. In the cutscenes you see Jazz clubs, Bowling alleys, Boxing stadiums and other cool stuff…Why can’t I visit these places between missions? And correct me if I’m wrong, but this can’t possibly represent the whole of Los Angeles, where’s the beach, and the Pacific ocean? I’ve played through the whole game, and have only seen the inland side of LA. Or have I missed something?

    Something I half hoped for would be a morallity level, like in Red Dead Redemption. That way you could choose whether to be Detective Textbook or Dirty Harry. I know who I’d rather be…punk!

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  7. Sona

    Unfortunately the design choice was to tell a specific story leaving out most of the freedoms you get in a more open environment be a bad guy, play it differently or just opening the game and causing mayhem. download anonymoux

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