dkirschner's L.A. Noire (PC)
| [November 14, 2012 08:29:24 AM]
| I *really* loved this game. Seems it's quite polarizing. People either love it or hate it. I can understand why people didn't enjoy it - the 'old timey' feel of driving, the slow-paced crime scene investigations, the initially confusing WWII flashbacks, the open-but-not-really-open city of LA, the I-thought-this-would-be-like-GTA, etc. I actually liked all these aspects, and the WWII flashbacks start to make sense as the story unfolds. Some other reasons I liked the game:
(1) Episodic format - I usually played 1-2 hour sessions. Each case is roughly an hour long, so the game is very easy to pick up, play a case, and put down. Actually in the beginning this was much easier when the cases didn't seem to be linked by any overall narrative. But as the overarching narrative comes together, it was a little harder to just play one at a time. Still, this format I think is brilliant. It's almost like a TV series. I recently played Alan Wake and it's presented similarly, in 6 episodes. Except I played that game in one sitting.
(2) Audio - The music in the game is fantastic. There aren't many pieces, but the ones present are very effective in conveying mood. I will be looking for a soundtrack. It's got lots of bluesy/jazz-y mid-century crime film type stuff. An odd classification, but it fits. The voice acting matches the facial animations in excellence. This part today floored me when Cole is screaming at Roy to leave the crime scene alone. That voice actor was really into it. The quality of these facial animations is mind-blowing enough. Adding great voice moves the characters past the uncanny valley. They didn't seem very strange to me. They appeared very human. The crime scene piano alerts were also awesome. Basically when you're in a crime scene, the 'crime scene investigation' music plays. If you exit the bounds of the crime scene, it stops, so you know where to be looking around. When you come near a clue, this little string of piano notes plays. That's your cue to stop and look around there. Very effective.
(3) Realism - Some of these crimes are sick. When you're on the homicide desk (you begin in traffic, then homicide, vice, and arson), which is where the game's events first begin to tie together, the cases are a string of brutal perverse female murders. There are nude corpses abused every which way, quite disturbing. Whenever there is a dead body, which is most of the cases, you have to examine it. Cole squats over it and you have to like move the head side to side, pick up each arm, examine wounds. It can be intense. And remember how good the facial animations are. These people look like corpses. The historicity is neat too. It's post-war LA. There's racism and sexism. I went in one woman's apartment and there were books about racial mixing, DW Griffiths movie posters, and other stuff. My vice squad partner hit the crap out of a woman in the face then screamed at a black guy for touching him and daring to tell him what to do. My homicide partner also consistently made misogynistic remarks. One time we were at a murder scene and the female victim had a black eye. Her apartment was a mess, so he scoffs and says that she probably deserved her black eye because she didn't clean the apartment. Yikes. So the race stuff wasn't that bad, but I wonder if they overdid the mistreatment of women. I don't know how "real" that actually was, or how common those attitudes were, or how extreme they were. It definitely stood out as something worth commenting on though.
On the other hand, there were little graphical mishaps that undermined the realism and were quite amusing. Sometimes Cole would get stuck in a corner, which was more annoying than funny. The funny bits usually had to do with cars. Like I mentioned before, if you hold down E, your partner will drive for you to your destination (an amazing feature), and if there's any dialogue, it will play that while he drives and before it fast-travels you. But since I'm not driving, I just listen and watch the road (oddly, I pay less attention to the road when driving [in the game, not in real life!]) and it's hilarious how terrible at driving the other cars are. They regularly slam their brakes right in front of us. My partners all tail-gated terribly and almost rear-ended other cars. They'd swerve. Other cars would swerve and cross the median. Amusing. The best car time ever though was when I was driving up to a house to question a murdered woman's husband. Very serious. I drove up onto his lawn and all of a sudden, for no reason whatsoever, the car does this crazy hydroplane spin through across the lawn and I slam into a telephone pole. My partner, exasperated, yells at me: "PHELPS!" Then I park and we get out. It's just very funny the juxtaposition of serious crime investigations and spontaneous hydroplaning cars.
(4) Skippable action sequences - Like holding E to skip driving, you can also skip action sequences! If you fail a few times, it will ask "Do you want to skip this action sequence?" These can be chase scenes, fist fights, stuff like that. I loved this option because more than once the fist fighting bugged out and I couldn't throw punches for some reason. Lose, lose, lose...Skip? Yes please. No problem!
(5) Layered story - I think the story in this game was b-r-i-l-l-i-a-n-t. There are several layers presented on top of one another. First, each individual case is a standalone story with its own characters and whatnot. Second and third, these cases are linked together by Cole's narrative and by the Crime narrative. Cole's narrative involves him rising through the ranks of the LAPD, falling from grace, and eventually redeeming himself. Solving the cases is how he progresses along his career. Where the Cole narrative is the story of Cole, the man, the Crime narrative is the story of LA, the city, the larger social context in which the other cases end up being embedded, and with which Cole's narrative becomes entwined. This ties the crimes together. Fourth, there is the Marines narrative, which is presented primarily through WWII flashbacks in between cases. This is Cole and some of the other characters' pasts, and has shaped who they are and what they are doing in the present stories.
At first, these all seemed rather disjointed, and I was initially disappointed in the game because I didn't have much sense of coherence. But I was still more than plenty intrigued enough by Cole and the Crime narrative in isolation to keep going. As the game progresses, the stories begin to relate to one another and there are all these moments of illumination. Like, the homicide desk is when some of the crimes are first tied by a common thread. This is also when you get a sense that there's a dirty cop somewhere and that something larger is going on. In the vice desk, you really start to feel like something's not right at the LAPD. Someone is into some bad stuff. The Marine narrative starts to make sense and you start to realize that people in the present stories were in the same company in WWII and what their various relationships were and are. The Crime story is coming together. Oh man, and there's also a 5th narrative, which I'll call the Newspaper narrative. This tells the story of a psychiatrist and his patient. Their roles in the other stories become clearer as you find more newspapers. I suppose this one is optional since the player doesn't ever have to read a newspaper. But I can't imagine not having read them. So by the time you're into the arson desk, every mission is like OH MAN and that last desk, the last 1/4 of the game is just action action action. Every case is like the most important case of your life, you get to play another integral character, and everything is coming together. Cue dramatic final mission, ending I did not see coming and almost shed a tear at, and voila, roll credits.
So obviously the game did a lot right by me, but it was far from perfect:
(1) Useless items - When you're investigating, that nice piano run is marred by useless items. These are beer bottles, cigarette packages, pots and pans, and other junk that the game will play cue noises to 'throw you off.' But it doesn't throw me off. It just wastes my time. I see that is a cigarette package and I realize that all the cigarette packages up until now have been useless junk. However, since I'm working *arson* maybe a cigarette package might be useful. Nope? Sigh. Or, hey there are like 12 shotguns in this guy's house who is a murder suspect. I realize that, for some odd reason, guns cue the piano run but are almost always junk. Since this guy is wanted for murder, I will check the guns. All junk? Great. Wasting my time with these useless items! Remove them!
(2) Side quests/"open" world - More pointless things. If you drive around the city, you'll get radio alerts that there's a bank robbery or someone's been stabbed or whatever, and you can go and subdue the bad guy. I read there are 40 of these. I did 6? There's no story behind them, just random street crimes. Their only purpose is to give you experience toward your rank. The only purpose of rank is to unlock achievements/outfits and to get those interrogation points that you can use to eliminate an answer. Also pointless. The open world, too, is pointless. There's no reason to drive around except to look for collectibles. I found literally one collectible on accident the entire game. You don't need to go anywhere except where you're supposed to and there was no incentive for me to do so whatsoever. So yeah, there's a bit of an open world, but who cares? It's not GTA where I can go drive tanks and rob pedestrians. I'm a renowned LAPD detective. Maybe I can go help old people cross the street or rescue cats from trees.
(3) Interrogations - Okay, I both liked these and hated them. I generally liked them because it revealed story, and they were tense moments. I hated them because, like I said in the previous entry, oftentimes I just don't understand why I the response I chose was "incorrect." Most of the time I think it was correct, or one of 2 acceptable answers. This continued to occur throughout the game. Sometimes it was me misreading their facial expressions or their voices, sometimes it was me using the wrong evidence to accuse them, sometimes the "wrong" evidence I swear was legitimate, sometimes the options don't make any sense in context. Like, you ask a suspect a question, and he says he doesn't know, looks like he doesn't know, sounds like he doesn't know, and you've got no reason to think of why he wouldn't know. Like, "Ok Sir, are unicorns pink or purple?" "I don't know." What to choose? Truth, doubt or lie? Sometimes questions did make this little sense to me relative to what I should choose. If I have no idea, why wouldn't I just agree with him that he doesn't know? I don't know whether or not he knows. I just met the guy. He looks legit and says he doesn't know. If I doubt, then Cole will say something like "Come on! You better give me something or I'm going to lock you up for a long time!" Whoa, Cole, calm down, the man doesn't know what color the unicorns are, okay? Anyway, these could be very frustrating. And if you royally screw up, you can imprison the wrong suspect and your boss yells at you and I, the player, feel like a dumb failure who is frustrated at the system.
And that's about it. Oh one more thing is that I bought this with all the DLC. Each DLC case was pre-loaded in its desk, and the game just incorporates them naturally into the game. These all worked fine and I didn't even know I was playing DLC too until I recognized one of the names. That's how well-integrated they were. Except for one - Nicholson Electroplating. That one sucked. There's a really cool explosion in the beginning. If you have bought it already, just load it, watch the cool explosion, and then skip the rest. They stuck Nicholson Electroplating just before the final mission. Terrible terrible terrible spot to put it that really ruins the momentum of the final cases. And a crappy case to boot. I'm pissed it was there!
And that really is about it. I suppose the game isn't for everyone. Read about it, watch some reviews. If you think it might be your thing, definitely go for it. Highly recommend.
add a comment
| [September 30, 2012 09:51:43 AM]
| After quitting Aion today, I moved to LA Noire, which I've had installed for a couple weeks. LA Noire is a very neat game so far, about 2.5 hours in. You play as a detective named Cole in the LAPD and you go around solving crimes. I dare say I've never played anything quite like it. I find even the similarities to GTA are not that deep. It's definitely its own game. For example, you have the same type of open world city, but it's more linear here. There's much less reason to go cruising. Part of that is the cars obviously aren't made for stunts and mayhem like in GTA. While I enjoy the craziness of GTA's streets, I really like driving in LA Noire because it feels tight, and I have to follow traffic rules. Other drivers are less crazy than GTA drivers, so it's not that difficult. But even though I like the driving, LA Noire has this awesome option to let your partner drive for you. I use that because it gets me to my case quickly and in a thoughtful twist, the game won't skip over conversations with your partner if you insta-travel. It'll show him driving long enough to get through the conversation so you don't miss any story. It's so convenient.
The gun fights are not as fun as GTA, though I've only done one. My mouse might be set too sensitive. Also the cover system is a little wonky. But again that's only from a couple times using it. Fist-fighting I like though. But anyway on the whole, the game is broken up into cases. As you solve them, you gain rank, "intuition points" which you can spend to uncover clues at a crime scene (which I did once and it was very helpful) or eliminate incorrect interrogation options (which I should probably use because I've gotten several bits wrong). The cases so far are unrelated to one another. I thought before playing that there would be some overarching characters or story or something, but so far I can't tell if that's the case. There is Cole's backstory from his days in the Marines in WW2, and that's pretty interesting. You reveal more of it as you solve cases. I wonder what it has to do with his life as a detective?
The facial motion capture is blowing my mind. It's extremely detailed. I can see doubt, I can see confidence, I can see avoidance...sometimes interrogation suspects (everyone is a suspect!) hold your eyes, sometimes their eyes falter. Sometimes they blink too much. Sometimes they bite their lips, or stick their chin out or give a fake smile, and on and on. I did not expect to be this impressed with it.
The problem is that they are still "human" faces that the player has to interpret. Although people generally interpret facial expressions mostly the same as anyone else, I'm not sure the designers quite took into account (how would they?) that deciding whether the character is lying or not is way way more than just facial features. Obviously they know it's evidence too, and they design for that. If you call out a suspect for lying, you have to back up your accusation with proof from evidence you've gathered. But even then it's far from easy to agree between the characters' facial expressions, the evidence you've collected, what the evidence MEANS, the players' own interpretation of events, what the interrogation suspects are telling you, and then the gaps in the evidence that aren't filled in.
What I mean is that there's so much interpretation that needs to be done on the player's part that the "hard" evidence and the taken-for-granted expressions simply don't account for. Thus it is very easy to be wrong. I totally understand it's got to be hard as hell to justify in designing the interrogations sometimes why this or that answer is right or wrong. You can always imagine some player going "But wait..." and providing a reasonable answer from their perspective. Maybe this game about truth and lies is a critique of our judicial system. Who knows. This has happened a couple times to me where I felt like I had a valid reason, and evidence to back it up, to accuse a suspect, or where I felt I should believe the suspect, but the game sees it differently. It's kind of irritating.
Another time the problem was in the interrogation design. This is the only real issue I've seen so far. You have to talk to an Argentinian diplomat whose car was stolen. Before that, you go talk to the car salesman. The car salesman claims he never spoke to the diplomat before. But during the crime scene investigation, I found the diplomat's planner with the car salesman's phone number. I pressed the salesman and he confessed that in fact he and the diplomat had met personally at a bar to cut a deal for the car. So when I went to interrogate the diplomat after this, he denied any involvement in purchasing the car. I accused him of lying! I had just spoken to the salesman who told me that he met the diplomat and sold him the car. But that piece of information wasn't available as evidence! Several times earlier in the game, I had used statements from witnesses as evidence. But for some reason that option wasn't available to me here. So I thought okay, I still had hard evidence, the salesman's name and number in the diplomat's planner. So I used that, and it failed! Why? I don't understand how I was wrong here.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to checking out some more cases. I don't think this is a game I can sit and play for a long time at a stretch. Maybe a couple cases a day.
add a comment
dkirschner's L.A. Noire (PC)
Current Status: Finished playing
GameLog started on: Sunday 30 September, 2012
GameLog closed on: Wednesday 14 November, 2012