A Retrospective on L.A. Noire

I’ve just completed L.A. Noire. And it’s by far one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had to date. Having said that, I do believe this is merely the groundwork for an even better game in the future. The production value and quality here pushes gaming into a more mature area. In an industry that’s over-saturated with cookie-cutter FPS, this is a welcome and much needed breath of fresh air.

For all the praise I can heap on this game, there are just as many glaring hitches. For example, when characters use stairs, it actually appears as if they’re going over each individual step. While this isn’t a new development, this is the first time I’ve seen it done so seamlessly without a break in animation or just sliding over the surface. On the flip side, the animation / movement for all the characters is the same. Let’s just say, I find it hard to believe a weathered, old booze hound like Rusty Galloway to run and trot up a set of stairs exactly the same as the fit and much younger Cole Phelps. Likewise, there are minor animation quibbles: interacting with elevators producing this weird sliding movement which is jarring, there is some minor pop-in when entering / exiting vehicles, etc. Minor details, I know but still a tad distracting when compared to how everything else in the game works so gracefully.

However, my main criticisms are two-fold. One is the game’s heavy repetition and stilted linearity. Once you get a handle on gathering clues and interviews, it just becomes a routine set of motions. The last case in the game incorporates this somewhat, just a shame the majority of the other cases are so mired by such streamlined “detective work”. And the Mickey Mouse logic behind some of the cases doesn’t help either. The resolution to some of the cases files are based on some flimsy and / or faulty procedure or barely pass beyond a reasonable doubt, even for law of the 1940’s. This is especially true of the Homicide cases.

As for the linearity, this is where Rockstar (and other developers in general) should take a page from school of David Page (a la Heavy Rain). I’ve said it once and I’ll keep saying it again: if games had just a quarter of the passion and style of David Cage’s work, video games would be in a much better place overall. I’d expect a game of this caliber to have more grey areas, branching storyline with cases that can either go flat out go cold or produce multiple endings. Given the technical limitations, limited lines of dialogue, need for lots of motion capturing, etc. The production costs would be astronomically massive and the production would probably require more time than what’s expected for a budding franchise.

Despite all nagging issues, L.A. Noire is easily one of the best highlights of the year, if not this generation. The soundtrack is captivating, character interaction / dialogue is top-notch, and most importantly it’s just an extremely fun game. I’d highly recommend gamers of all types try it out, not just for its detailed production values, but for the experience overall. L.A. Noire only scratches the surface of what’s capable and moves gaming into a better place. And I for one, can’t wait for what’s to come.

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