Games: LA Noire

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”
Peggy Lee

I’ve just done playing LA Noire, Rockstar’s latest all-embracing trip into the world of Los Angeles in the golden years between WWII and Elvis. I’ve solved crimes, caught and killed the kind of serial killers who only exist in books. I’ve brought down the evil, the ugly and the corrupt. I have done the whole town and when I was done, I got up and did it again and all I can think is, ‘Is that all that there is to a firefight?’

'The name's Head, Dick Head' - LA Noire's Cole Phelps plays it for yucks and falls down flat. Not even his partner thinks he's funny.

LA Noire has a hell of a lot to live up to. Not least Rockstar’s previous high points of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, but also a plethora of books and movies, from James Ellroy’s LA Confidential trilogy to every bloody movie that Bogey was Bogey in. It has to match the expansive, open world gameplay of Red Dead’s wild west, the sexy criminality of GTA and the moody, nefarious atmosphere of the whole post-war era. Ideally you feel it should be in a vague monochrome, with every moment punctuated with cigarette smoke and lipstick clad dames giving you the come on.

And sure LA Noire is a visual treat. But honey, this ain’t no Bogey flick, this ain’t no rollercoaster ride, this ain’t the dark heart of LA triple filtered through the dark, dark prose of Marlowe. This ain’t even Grand Theft Auto knocked back a few years with a different set of immigrants and a few less mean streets. And even if it were, the vision and sounds of this game ain’t going to save it. Because sugar, this games is savagely underwhelming.

And ultimately, when all’s said and done, I’m just bored by it in a way that I was never bored by Red Dead or GTA or Assassins Creed. It may be beautiful, it may have a lovely soundtrack, it may have possibly the most enticing setting you can imagine, I mean who wouldn’t want to be a classic gumshoe, but it is essentially a soulless, dull, little game.

For starters, it’s not nearly as open a game as you’d like. The plot is as linear and unforgiving as that of James Bond: Blood Stone and, at times, every bit as tedious. LA might be massive, but there’s little point in exploring it. There seems to be no benefit to finding the 100 or so different cars, all of which look staggeringly similar to my untuned eye, or locating the myriad of landmarks, which don’t reward you in the way those in Assassins Creed do. As for the film canisters, they were never even on my radar.

[pullshow]So you’re essentially forced into a tight, linear game where each segment is broadly similar. You visit the scene of a crime, search the area looking for clues (which is kind of fun) and ultimately latch on to one or two bad guys and the occasional bad girl. Once you’ve tracked them down it’s time for an interrogation. And it’s here that LA Noire falls down big time. Because, despite using revolutionary face melding techniques, you’re still left confused by the options available – you basically have to read your interviewee’s face and decide whether they are telling the truth, being a bit misleading, or lying through their teeth. And despite the looks on people’s faces, they were either too easy or impossible to read.

Your lead guy, Cole Phelps, doesn’t help. Not least because he is a total grade A arsehole. He is thoroughly unlikeable, a total tightwad, and a pretty shitty detective. Hardly the character you want to be playing as. [pullthis]It’s as if you were playing some kind of a Role Playing Game and had lucked out by scoring 1s in every category and thus created the most completely stupid, untalented midget warrior that had ever rolled his sorry arse out of Narnia[/pullthis]. The kind of character you’d only play to see how badly they’d do in the rest of the game. Take it from me, there are corrupt, venal, idiotboy policemen who would be more fun to play that Phelps. Even his name stinks.

And he’s no detective. His questioning, which is essentially your questioning, is unbelievably random. You’ll interview some bartender, who’ll tell you that your suspect came in all depressed and said they were going to kill someone, then when you’re questioning them this information will be completely unavailable. Phelps will often veer off at completely bizarre tangents, leaping from topic to topic like a monkey swinging through a particularly dense forest. Master of the interrogation he is not. And therefore neither are you.

In between interrogations Phelps has some driving to do and some shooting sequences, but these are strangely tedious and irritating rather than any kind of enjoyable. Like GTA, the driving is somewhat flawed, your control of the car is a bit crap and it really isn’t much fun driving round LA. Certainly in comparison with galloping around the Western Border States of Red Dead or the Rome of Assassins Creed it is just plain dull. Thankfully you can get your partner to do most of the driving, and after about the second case you’ll be doing that pretty much all of the time as there just isn’t any benefit in you doing it yourself.

Finally, the story is underwhelming to say the least. You’re thinking a true noir story would have lots of twists to it, a couple of dead ends and a trick ending. This doesn’t so much end as wimp out. You end up feeling like Miles Archer in the Maltese Falcon, as if you’d been killed in the first reel and the movie had just carried on without you. Bang, bang, you’re dead. And that’s all that there is to this firefight.

[review pros="Some vaguely interesting cases. Faces and expressions are great" cons="Bored. Bored, bored bored. Terrifyingly dull, very linear storyline with no satisfying payoff. Oh and bored." score=55]