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Solo Gamer Review: L.A. Noire - Page 2



GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

Screenshot
The car chases can get pretty intense
When your partner drives, you'll miss out on the game's extras, which include short side missions, finding landmarks, and looking for the game's collectables. Thankfully, at the end of each of the game's chapters, you are given the opportunity to play a "free roam" case to go after those extras at your leisure. At the end of the day, though, these activities aren't really fun the same way the extras in a game like Grand Theft Auto are. This game is very streamlined in comparison, and there's little enjoyment to be squeezed out of driving the streets of L.A. and climbing on buildings. The side missions can be entertaining, but there aren't that many of them and none of them will take you longer than five minutes to complete.

There is also action to be had on foot. Suspects will often run when you confront them (probably because Phelps has an annoying habit of barging in with gun drawn while shouting, "You're under arrest!"), which forces you to chase them. These chases are challenging because you are rarely faster than your target. If the suspect runs in a straight line and you have your gun out, you have a chance to stop your quarry with a warning shot, or if you manage to catch up, you can tackle the suspect as well. Sometimes, though, these chases will only end when the suspect gets the better of you (which usually leads to a fist fight, where the odds are always in your favor) or when the suspect takes a hostage. Players will dread the latter, because you have to shoot the suspect in real time while he or she ducks and weaves behind the hostage, something that is definitely not easy to do.

Every once in a while, you will also have to covertly tail a suspect from a distance. These challenges are few and far between, but they give you a chance to engage in some light stealth gameplay, like going incognito with a newspaper or ducking behind a fence when the suspect suddenly turns around. If you fail this--or any other action sequence--a certain number of times, the game will allow you to skip the sequence without affecting the outcome of your case. This is nice for players who aren't interested in (or aren't very good at) the action-heavy stuff, but veteran Rockstar players shouldn't have any trouble with them.

[Gameplay: 8.5 - The action is solid, the controls are intuitive, and the interrogations are awesome, but there are some bad design choices and the extras outside of the main storyline aren't deep or interesting]



PRESENTATION & SOLO GAMER SCORE

Greg Grunberg in L.A. Noire
Hey, look! It's that guy from that show!
As already mentioned, the main draw of the game--the facial capture technology--is so successful that it needs to start appearing in more games in the future. Though this is the bulk of the graphical intensity, Rockstar didn't skimp on its scenery, atmosphere, or draw distance. If you want it to feel even more noir-ish, you have the option to play the game in black-and-white. The graphics, in short, are up to Rockstar's extremely high standard. The only flaw I could see was when characters appear at a distance, because their movements are extremely choppy.

As for the music and sound, it perfectly sets the mood. The ambient music is amorphous, organic, and pensive and the soundtrack music is full of jazz and only slightly obscure 1947 classics by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. In a word, all of this music is perfect. The only complaint I can come up with is that I wish there were more of it. The sound design is subtle, but gunfire is satisfyingly loud, engine noises change based on what car you're in or how damaged that car is, and voices are crisp and clear.

The acting is also exceptional for a video game. Though there are no A-list actors lending their talents, you will probably recognize at least a dozen character actors from television or movies. You might not know the names of the actors, but they will be familiar enough to be distinctive and memorable. It is important that these actors took their roles seriously, because with the new technology, it is much easier to spot ham-fisted performances, of which there are at least a couple. Games like this one remind us that the day when actors cut their teeth in video games as much as they do in film or theater is fast approaching.

Screenshot
Rockstar knows how to set the mood
Though there are some cool little touches, like a script log in the pause menu that allows you to review every line of dialogue of the case so far, there are also some drawbacks to the game's overall presentation. You have no control over the game's save system, which is especially problematic if you want to start replaying cases. Every time you replay an individual case, it designates a new save slot for it and never deletes that slot, even if you finish the case. Eventually, once the save slots are all used up, the game does prompt you to choose which save you'd like to write over, but this seems uncharacteristically sloppy. On top of that, there are achievements for things like driving every car or killing a bad guy with each gun (poor guy), but the in-game statistics--usually so detailed in other Rockstar titles--don't tell you which guns you have used or which cars you still have to drive. You can find these statistics in Rockstar's online gimmick, the Rockstar Social Club, but those statistics aren't updated in real time and are dependent on Xbox Live and a dependable Internet connection. The achievements for which these statistics would be helpful, though, are the most tedious and obnoxious ones, so only the most dedicated completionist will run into the problem.

However, it would be nice to know what gun you are using at any given time. Throughout the game, you unlock different outfits, much like in Rockstar's last big game, Red Dead Redemption. Some of these outfits increase your accuracy with certain guns, but the average gamer probably isn't going to be able to tell the difference between a Thompson M1 and a Browning Automatic Rifle. There is also no way, in context, to figure out which gun is which within the game. This would not be a difficult thing to fix, and is reflective of many of the game's odd omissions.

On the positive side, though, Solo Gamers need not worry about multiplayer or multiplayer achievement points, because L.A. Noire is a strictly one-player experience! The Rockstar Social Club stuff is annoying, but it doesn't present any problems significant enough to take away from the solo gamer score.

[Presentation: 9 - The game is up to Rockstar's standards in terms of graphics and sound, but there are some unforgiving omissions of features that are practically standard in other games]
[Solo Gamer Score: 10 - There is absolutely no multiplayer, and missing out on the Social Club nonsense won't negatively affect your experience]



CONCLUSIONS

Cole Phelps in shadow
There's plenty of noir in L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire is, as advertized, a new type of gaming experience. Though it is not the first game to blaze this particular trail, it brings a new level of sophistication and detail to a gaming genre that has been largely neglected for twenty years. Rockstar fans would be well-served to forget what they know from Rockstar's other games, because this one is a significant departure from the Rockstar formula that chooses, for better and for worse, to remove a lot of familiarity. Some things deserve to be left behind here, like the irreverant satire, the ability to carry your gun around everywhere and shoot everything, the constant explosions, and the freedom to completely abandon the main storyline whenever you want. Other cuts, though, go too far, like the loss of map routes, car radio variety, statistical detail, etc.

It's nice that the game has such a single-minded focus on story, especially since the story, as a whole, is incredibly good. Still, that focus also goes too far, because every mission starts to feel the same and the novelty of each individual case wears off quickly when every case starts to follow a pattern. There are cool stand-alone missions that are being released as DLC, but those missions were obviously created at the same time as the rest of the game, which means they were deliberately left out of the full game in order to squeeze a little extra money out of the gaming community. Without rehashing how annoying this is, I will say that, because of this, the DLC should be reviewed on its own merits and should be left out of consideration of the full game. If the DLC cases had been left in, the game might deserve a better final score.

Despite these criticisms, L.A. Noire is deserving of your time, especially if you are a fan of the genre. It delivers on its promises, offers a unique, ground-breaking experience, and does it without wasting time on multiplayer. The game doesn't insult your intelligence, offers a wide variety of gameplay, contains some of the most detailed and excellent acting of any video game, and makes a convincing argument that investigative procedurals deserve more attention in the current generation.




FINAL TALLY
STORY: 8.5
GAMEPLAY: 8.5
PRESENTATION: 9
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10

TOTAL SCORE: 9.0

Though it could have been better, L.A. Noire is a landmark achievement that lives up to the hype



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-e. magill 6/8/2011










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