Rockstar Games are best known for their immensely popular Grand Theft Auto series, the gaming franchise that introduced us to free-roaming ‘sandbox’ gameplay — a vast world in which one ‘freely roams’, visiting certain locations if they wish to do certain set missions. This meant that the world’s youth could sit mindlessly for hours, going on the killing sprees their disturbed subconsciouses have demanded for years without the consequences.
They’re now applying this to other boyish fantasies, with 2010’s cowboy adventure Red Dead Redemption and now L.A. Noire, a post-WW2 Los Angeles detective story. An exciting, free-roaming, gangster-busting romp, with the promise of ground-breaking facial recognition technology for immersive interrogation sequences. Unfortunately, the game far from lives up to these expectations.
While the technology is indeed impressive, with tiny details able to be detected and capitalized upon, the whole interrogation process on which the game prides itself is ultimately frustrating and pointless. When interrogating, after a suspect or witness says something you choose how to react. However, often you’ll doubt them, innocently enough, and your character slams his accusing hands down and flies off the handle. You’re left apologizing profusely to a pixelated suspect that you “didn’t mean it like that”.
Furthermore, it’s entirely futile. If you fail an interrogation, the game gets impatient and triggers an action sequence, a gunfight, a car-chase, a creepy stalking mission, etc. Then, if you fail that enough times, the game pities you and urges you to skip forward to the next interrogation. Essentially, it just wants to keep showing off its shiny new technology and doesn’t care whether you enjoy yourself or not.
In a similar regard, L.A. Noire can’t seem to make up its mind on what sort of game it is. It’s not a shooter. The rare shooting parts are patronisingly linear, you have infinite ammunition, and the game only lets you draw and put away your gun when it says so.
It can hardly be classed as a free-roamer either. While technically you can drive around aimlessly, you’re loathsome partner keeps mentioning the mission, like an annoying child whining “What about the mission?” Even if you mute your television, there’s nothing to do bar a few simple and repetitive tasks. The game even condemns you for going on the sadistic killing spree buyers of the game quietly want. I don’t want to play video games to be a productive and responsible citizen. You’re only option is to muscle on through the story missions which get very boring very quickly.
After all this, the only thing the game has to fall back on is an interest in the storyline, because that’s all this game is — a long story which, if you feel like it, you can slowly push through the narrative mud. Unfortunately, after several repetitive missions, you just stop caring.
In summary, L.A. Noire is stylish and atmospheric. But that statement can sum it up: all style and little substance. It’s a long-winded narrative with gameplay elements that ultimately hold no consequence. Unfortunately, the narrative isn’t that good either.