L.A. Noire was first released halfway through last year – and reviewed quite averagely. Though not stellar, we thought the game was worth a second look when it was announced that it would be ported to PC. After first checking that no, the sky was not falling in and a Rockstar game was actually coming to PC after all, we grabbed a retail copy of the game from Rockstar and fired it up to see what had changed, and what hadn’t.
Most notable about the installation process is that the game requires two discs, which isn’t really saying too much in this day and age. We did have to opt out of creating a Rockstar Social Club profile numerous times, with many a warning that we’d be missing out on super-fun and super-special super-features, but eventually could create a default profile that did not require use of the service. As is the case with practically all modern games we were forced to wait at initial startup for a patch to be applied, and finally got to jump into the fedora of the not-quite-detective-yet Cole Phelps.
At first impressions, L.A. Noire could be mistaken for a GTA clone. Certainly the world feels very similar, as the game makes use of the same technologies used in GTA IV, and the HUD elements are practically identical – even down to the GPS minimap (how they got this functioning in 1947 is unknown, but amusing). Control scheme on the PC is quite simple, using WASD for movement and the mouse for aiming, with shift for a faster paced jog.
Unfortunately, the initial moments of the game were rather spoiled by horrendous performance – many times chugging like a PowerPoint presentation – and a queer fog that kicked in after 20 in-game metres that obscured detail beyond that distance. This was mostly fixed by updating graphics drivers to the latest version, but performance was still slow and prone to dips whenever action occurred.
Adding insult to injury was a slew of new bugs that cropped up during gameplay, where traffic would disappear at random instances – we’d be driving along, and suddenly the cars ahead of us would not be there. Texture pop-in is distracting; model pop-out is just as much so. There were also serious problems with mirrored surfaces reflecting a static image of the room behind us, which tore into blue-grey when we attempted to move around the room. Add in weird animations to open doors, with hands passing through solid metal, and our immersion was broken quite often.
Immersion breakage was not limited to graphics; NPCs on the street would spout a handful moronic phrases every time we walked past – apparently half the male population thinks nothing but “She wants a five-star wedding”, and if we ever hear someone complaining about the length of the word ‘abbreviation’ again, we’ll jump off a cliff.
But you’re a detective, right?
Well sure, sort-of. Once we’d gotten L.A. Noire to a just-functional state, we drove the clunky police car and wrestled with the horrendous camera to the first destination, the first case of the game. There had been a murder, and it was up to Phelps and his partner at the time to find clues (his name isn’t important as none of the partners actually do that much). Though we were told that we’d hear musical prompts whenever we approached these useful clues, we noticed nothing of the sort, and just resorted to left-clicking on anything vaguely interesting to find them. Eventually, after looking at every empty beer bottle in the alleyway, we wandered around and were told to climb up a drainpipe, the minimap proudly declaring that there was a clue up there. We did so, and wandered around the completely barren roof for a while, before climbing down and being told to get up again. Huh?
Eventually we got bored of that and climbed back down to have a wander through the alleyway, and somehow stumbled on a clue that was above – an open window, in which could be seen the reflection of a revolver. Lo and behold, climbing up the drainpipe revealed the revolver that had materialised out of nowhere, and we were allowed to progress. To say this is linear is an understatement; you have to complete each case in an arbitrary order to get anywhere in the game.
Get some face in your face
What follows is a mostly-boring process of driving to the next point in the story, ultimately leading to the interesting part of the game – the interview process. Using the gathered evidence (in the form of clues), questions are asked to witnesses and suspects, who then respond and must be judged on the authenticity of their answer. The facial animation system is astounding in its accuracy; when people talk, it’s not just that their mouths are flapping while you hear audio, but as if they are actually pronouncing each syllable. Of course when it comes to telling if someone is guilty this is inherently useful; L.A. Noire makes it into somewhat of a mockery when the suspect stops talking and pulls a face that screams “I’M GUILTY DAMNIT”.
Deciding that you think they’re guilty is the easy part, but knowing how to respond is the bit that feels like Russian Roulette. The three responses to each suspect’s answer are Truth, where you take what they said at face value nicely, Doubt, where you accuse them of being a woman-beating double Hitler and threaten all kinds of horrendous jail sentences, and Lie, where you accuse them of lying and must choose a piece of evidence to prove them wrong.
This sounds like it could have depth, but there is only ever one ‘right’ answer, and reaching that is a linear affair that takes much of the cerebral nature out of detective work. We played with a friend, taking turns, and found it more fun to attempt to guess what would happen next than to actually discover it for ourselves. Of course you can still get through the game making wrong choices and responses, and ultimately wind up at the end – you just won’t have as much fun.
Fun is thin on the ground at the best of times, however, and most of the game boils down to being a chore to travel between locations to progress in the storyline. There are 40 ‘street crime’ events to complete that present themselves at random times as you move around L.A., but these usually amount to chasing a suspect and shooting them (sometimes to incapacitate, othertimes to just blow their head off), or finding a gang and shooting them. Yup, Phelps is a crim-murdering machine.
L.A. Noire isn’t terrible, but its only redeeming feature is the facial animation and relatively accurate game world – and we don’t think it’s worth the hassle to get it running properly unless you’ve a personal interest in the concept.