Some thoughts on L.A. Noire

Posted by Martijn on 05/30/2011 in Articles in English, Columns |

I’ve been playing L.A. Noire for a week now. Since nobody asked, I’ll give you something to muse about should you be considering buying this game.

This game, sadly, is not Grand Theft Auto: Los Angeles. Here’s a trailer:

We all wish it was GTA, even though it is clearly not. Sure, Rockstar had a hand in it and it has some similarities, but we were told it would not be GTA, it isn’t and still… we’re all kind of sad, aren’t we?

We would not have expected it to be GTA if it were, say, set in space. Or if we were part of some elite military fighting force. Or little mute people with green crystals over our heads. But here’s the thing: it’s GTA in so many respects, you can’t help wondering why they didn’t put some extra effort in to MAKE it GTA.

You have your enormous city, rendered in great and loving detail. That’s GTA. There are lots of different cars. Like in GTA. You can walk around, climb, punch, shoot, enter (some) shops, houses and other buildings. You take cover or hide, you chase cars, you find drugs. Remind you of something? You go on missions, make choices, run, fight or talk. You do well or you have to try again. You collect things, often well hidden, that give you points. Meanwhile, we’re not bouncing off of big mushrooms, nor are we generals overlooking a battlefield of Zergs. All signs, therefore, point to GTA.

Which this game is not.

There is a lot of to-do about the facial realism in the game. A lot of actors have apparently spent days sitting in a chair, trying to look shifty or honest as they did their lines, so the game can replicate it. Wow. Nice. Looks good. Too bad the audio is hardly ever exactly in sync with the lips. Plus, I didn’t really care about that. You draw a line and two dots on something, it’s a face to me. The VOICE, that tells me what I need to know. Don’t need facial recognition for that. But then, I am a radio guy. I’ll always pick audio over video.

I have a list. A long, boring, obvious list. You may want to gloss over it. It’s a very detailed list of things that make this game unlike and WORSE than GTA.

– You can’t really choose weapons. All you have is a pistol and whatever you pick up from dropped enemies. In fact, you can’t even choose WHEN to pull out your gun.
– You can’t collect cars. You can find all kinds of models, but as soon as a mission ends, somehow you lose them. No garages either.
– There is a radiostation that I’d really like to listen to. You can’t, really. Someone is always yapping away, be it your partner or the dispatcher.
– There IS free roam, but you have to earn it AND you always have a partner tagging along. You can’t cause (much) mayhem, since you’re a cop.
– I am perfectly well aware there were no GPS-devices in 1947. I would be able to get over that anachronism if it saved me from having to study a Goddamned MAP every five minutes like I’m on vacation with the wife or something. It’s an 8 x 8 mile city. It’s HUGE and it’s also very flat. And square. Gimme a break here! It’s not as if cars in 40’s America had tiny rotating minimaps, is it?
– A loving recreation of 1947 downtown L.A. is really nice. If you happened to live there at the time, I mean. If you didn’t, like, say, 99.9999% of the people playing this game, most of that charm is lost on you and all you think is: ‘Wow, this city is FLAT. And dull. And repetitive. It’s more grid-like than a waffle-iron. I like waffles. Waffles… mmmm… OOPS RED LIGHT!’ CRASH. Points deducted.
– Lots of people are out and about, which is nice. Most of them seem to have suffered head trauma and are now talking to themselves as if they are on the phone. Which they are not.
– You can’t do anything fun. No movies, shows, hot dogs, streetraces, vigilante missions, burglary (remember GTA San Andreas) or even dating. But hey, you can sit down on park benches. That’s something.
– Although some missions play in the daytime and others play at night, there is no feeling of time passing, of weather changing, of this being a world that gets along perfectly fine without you. Because it isn’t. This city is a movieset, that behaves the way the director wants it to behave. Every street you enter feels like, a few seconds before, someone has yelled ‘Action!’
– It’s a game ‘on rails’. In fact, the only game I can think of that is MORE on rails is Microsoft Train Simulator. Well okay, maybe it’s not EXACTLY on rails but it’s like a rope around your neck has been tied to a train (on rails, of course). The best example of this is when, after you’ve been killed a few times trying to chase someone, the game offers to ‘skip this action scene without consequences.’ Yes, by all means, let’s get back to the talky bits shall we! Meanwhile, you’re doing car chases where the car you’re following suddenly teleports 100 metres down the road because you weren’t meant to catch it yet. WTF?!

Here’s another list. This is what makes L.A. Noire BETTER than GTA.

– Lots of climbing and chasing, which is fun.
– You can sit down. Sometimes.
– You can interrogate people. The outcome (mildly) changes the progress you make. Very mildly. Well, not really. Okay a bit. Tiiiiiny bit.
– Looks amazing. There’s the odd pop-up but generally speaking I love this era. Cars looked cool, people were well-dressed, advertising was pleasing to look at and people were worried about morphine. MORPHINE! Kids in daycare these days get morphine just to get them to nap.
– Female pubic hair. Sure, it’s only ever seen on corpses but still. You gotta giggle. Well, I do. (Also: the word ‘nigger’ is used freely. I’d never call anyone that, but I hate how I’ve been FORBIDDEN to use it.)
– Hats. Really cool hats. Hats are classy, man. I wish I could wear a hat without being mocked. And have whitewall tyres.

So yeah, L.A. Noire is a nice game with some nice puzzles and some nice action sequences (on rails) but you know… it ain’t Grand Theft Auto.

Maybe they’ll do a mod one day. I’d love to listen to that radio station.

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