Okay... E3's over, PSN's back up (even if my free PSP games are lost to the void because of a programming error a high school freshman studying BASIC would have picked up on) and the Rapture didn't happen. Now unless Battlefield 3 devs announce something like having one less texture in the PS3 version or something of equal earth-shattering importance, I should be able to make a post stay up on the front page for a couple hours.
Let's start by saying I love this game, for much the same reason I loved Heavy Rain. Something daring and different, even if not everything was new and not everything was perfect. We're going to focus on those imperfections, rather than do a full review, since anything good I have to say about the game (and I have a LOT of good to say) has been very well covered by other reviews.
--- Too much of Homicide ---
C'mon, the plot twist is obvious (even to Cole) after the second case. We didn't need another three, followed by a shark-jumping final case to wrap it up. Plus, pretty much every other detective game focuses on murder. It was actually cooler working traffic and arson, because they didn't fall into the same patterns, but I guess they decided to save most of THOSE cases for DLC. Fortunately, you do spend your time on Homicide with my personal favorite partner, not because he's a womanizing alcoholic, but because he's a womanizing alcoholic with a sense of humor.
--- The facial animation shows its strengths, and its weaknesses ---
Yes, the faces move really well and I was in legitimate awe at times. The technology behind it is fascinating, but its limitations became glaringly obvious very quickly.
- All men have perfect faces and short hair (even the "horribly burnt" veteran?) Makes sense, it WAS the 40's and we were all cleaning up after the depression.
- All women wear a necklace or scarf to separate their necks from their torsos? Okay, I'll believe that.
- Not all pedophiles have mustaches? Bulls***.
What I'm saying is don't expect this technology to flood the market. It works well here, but in an action/fantasy setting, or any setting where people might grow beards, traditional mo-cap may be the best route.
Now, if this were any other game, I'd have rather seen better looking... well, everything else, but LA Noire actually USES its the technology for its interrogation gameplay. Which brings me to my next point...
--- "Truth, Doubt, Lie" aren't always appropriate reactions ---
So many "answers" you're given are very vague, you can't really call them answers. It helps to think of "doubting" as "putting pressure on" but even that isn't consistent. Here are some exchanges that you MIGHT consider spoilers, but I wouldn't worry about:
1. "Was your husband wearing glasses when he left?"
"Yes, these new ones he had just bought."
This is one of your first interrogations and you're ready to lay the law down, because you found an obviously old pair of glasses at the scene of the crime! If you were Phoenix Wright, you'd use that evidence to object this bitch a new one... but probably not accuse her of the crime, since that's hardly damning evidence in and of itself. Cole... Cole isn't so smart. The correct response is "Truth," otherwise Cole flips out and accuses her.
2. "You seem to owe [so-and-so] quite a sum of money"
"Everybody owes somebody"
This seems like a time to doubt, since the suspect's acting like he owes someone for dinner when he's caught up in a drug ring. But no, the correct answer is "Truth." Again, true, but if I should pressure anyone I think it's a drug dealer.
3. "Tell us about [this guy]"
"I don't know any [this guy]"
Okay, I have no solid evidence here. He has this guy's lottery tickets, but that doesn't mean he deals directly with this guy. He is obviously lying though, so let's hit "Doubt?"... nope. Turns out you were supposed to hit "Lie" and present the statement of a man who just happens to deal with both this guy and the suspect, but doesn't claim they're connected. The tickets are a much more direct link, but you can't use those.
4. (this was edited in about a day after this article was approved, but is another good example from the Nicholson Electroplating DLC)
"What do you know about [lady]."
"Oh, that was [guy's] assistant. She came highly recommended."
Now, according to the logic in example 1, this guy is telling the truth. You've found evidence she was a corporate spy, but he doesn't know that. But now, we ARE in Phoenix Wright mode, and we need to call it a "lie" and present her camera. There's a big difference between the objective truth and the subjective truth, and the game can't really decide what the player is supposed to react to.
--- No Cole, I think this DOES pertain to the case ---
You often find what could be valuable evidence and should be presented to suspects, but Cole doesn't feel the need to actually record them in his handy dandy notebook. The result: In conversation #2 above, I accused him of running a drug ring, and was unable to present a CRATE OF MORPHINE twenty feet behind him.
--- All the leaps of logic ---
I didn't think anything could top "This tangentially related creepy guy has the business card of someone from the "Blue Lagoon" club, he MUST be related to the killer!" moment from Heavy Rain, but hoo boy, did LA Noire try sometimes. The stand-out moment is when you find movie tickets on guy's dead girlfriend and realize that MUST be where that guy is hiding out. But there's another great moment in "The Naked City" case. When you ask who a dead woman's boyfriend was, the suspect tells you that guy doesn't exist. I had figured the name was an alibi at that point, so "truth" was the natural response. That didn't work. Neither did doubt. When I clicked "Lie:"
"Do you remember your first heist? Do I need to spell this out for you?!"
"Pft, I dunno, I don't keep a list of these things"
Where the f*** did THAT come from? At that point it's obvious that you had to present the guy's rap sheet, and then Cole somehow pieces together that their first target was the boyfriend who then ended up running the burglary ring... WHAT?! There is ZERO way anybody could have pieced that together, and whether you get it right or not, the suspect immediately fesses up to the identity of the man in the following cutscene. So what's the point?!
--- Whodunnit? It's not these guys, but you HAVE to answer ---
There are three moments in the game where you have to accuse the "right" suspect out of two that you brought in. Now, somehow your chief knows who the "right" guy is but doesn't bother to tell you until you've already made the choice. And then yells in your face if you disagree. I'm pretty sure that's called obstruction of justice, sir. The punchline to this joke? It's never any of those guys. It's obvious the homicides are committed by someone else, and later on there's evidence the one arson was probably done by another guy too.
To sum those points up, there should really be multiple right answers in this kind of game. I can't expect a game to have as much freedom as real life, but can I at least not get bitchslapped when I don't agree with the writers? I should be allowed to say "I'm sure you did nothing wrong, but I need you to explain this evidence" or "I honestly don't think it's either of these guys." Thanks. I still got a little more to say...
******** WE ARE GOING NECK-DEEP INTO SPOILER TERRITORY
******** THE FIRST PART DISCUSSES THE PLOT TWIST BETWEEN VICE AND ARSON DESKS
******** THE SECOND DISCUSSES THE REST OF THE MAIN PLOT AND ENDING
******** RED DEAD REDEMPTION'S ENDING IS ALSO DISCUSSED FOR COMPARISON
--- That damn plot twist ---
"Cole Phelps? Unfaithful? Cole "By the Book" Phelps? Cole "Jumped out of a Norman Rockwell painting" Phelps? Cole "Probably Mains as a Paladin" Phelps? Why, the very nerve! This is a conspiracy you bureaucrats threw together because I'm too close to the truth! I am... okay, not going to deny it to the police, but... ah! okay! I'll go tell my wife the truth about this filthy, filthy lie!... okay, she just kinda kicked me out, but you know what? You can't argue with women sometimes. It's probably her time of the month. I'll come back in a few days. Till then, I'll just chill out at this hotel... with...? OH JEBUS CRIPES, IT WAS TRUE?!!!"
There was absolutely no way for a player to see this coming. Cole cheated on his wife with a woman he shared, what, three scenes with? and didn't talk to her except for when he had to for a case. At least not that the player saw. The problem is we knew all about Cole the Detective, and quite a bit about Cole the Soldier, but knew next to nothing about Cole the Family Man or Cole the Lover. The detective and soldier seemed almost ridiculously straight-laced, probably not the happiest guy in the world, but seemed to get enough kicks out of dispensing justice and yelling at criminals. The player just feels confused and frustrated as if some dramatic, intelligent detective story ended with a jarring perspective shift and a flamethrower fight, not that they'd have to worry about
--- OH G**DAMMIT ---
And now we reach the last couple cases, and this is when the game kind of started to fall apart for me.
First mistake: Shifting away from Cole
The last three cases mostly focus on Jack Kelso, a fellow veteran that fought alongside, but rarely saw eye-to-eye, with Cole. At this point, the player has only seen him in war flashbacks and newspaper videos. What the game should have done was have us play as him at regular times in the story. There was definitely gameplay potential in the newspaper stories, and the player would have been dealing with the main plot a lot sooner and a lot more directly. The story began to feel like it was about Cole, and just as Cole started to get interesting, what with the infidelity and all, the story shifts away and becomes about the main plot and conspiracy. I accepted this new direction and was ready dish out some justice, regardless of who I played as.
Second mistake: Becoming an action game
There were, what, 2 interrogations between the last three cases? The plot finally got moving, I forced some bad guys to take justice in bullet-sized doses, and there were some terrific scenes. ("THAT'S my opening negotiation!") But up until that point LA Noire knew exactly what it was, a detective game with some action bits thrown in. The last few chapters, especially the finale, go vice versa and it really hurts it as a game and a story.
Third mistake: Killing Cole, and ending on a whimper
So like I said, didn't really care if I was Cole or not anymore, just wanted to introduce some jerks to my sweet lady justice. It looks like things are ready to wrap up. Yeah we had to kill a key witness, but that will just make it a little more challenging to... um... get all just up in here? (I'm running out of justice phrases) And it'll be more satisfying when I see all those bigwigs locked up and redeem my name! Now I just gotta help Elsa out of here... okay, now Kelso... okay, now to get out of this sewer... no? well I'm sure I can grab onto something instead of standing around like an idi - *get hit by wave* *die*
Okay, I know this is a plausible outcome of events, and, yes, it's a fact that you can die like that. But dammit, that doesn't make it a good ending. I didn't really care about Cole as a character point, because the game had told me pretty clearly that he wasn't the center of the story. We get some hints that they're cracking down on the people behind the conspiracy, but that's hardly satisfactory just to hear about it. Would Shawshank Redemption's ending had been better if it had cut from Tim Robbins' escape to Morgan Freeman catching up with him and being like "Oh, yeah, everything worked out fine." Hell no!
****** THIS IS WHEN I START TALKING ABOUT RED DEAD. SERIOUSLY, YOU SHOULD HAVE PLAYED THIS BY NOW
Is killing the main character going to be a "thing" for Rockstar now? Please, at least think it out. It worked great in Red Dead Redemption because it did the opposite of what LA Noire did near the end: made the story about the characters. Sure, we all wanted Marston to get out alive. But along the way we BECAME Marston, learned to love his family and share his values, and ultimately share his final sacrifice. His inevitable death was at the heart of Red Dead's message. Marston could change his life, maybe even change his nature, but he could never change his past and had to pay for it just like all the other criminals he had captured and killed. When Marston died I felt shocked, then pissed off, but I thought about the rest of the game and realized there was no better way it could have ended. (Though getting to pump about a dozen rounds of justice into that bad guy's brain as John's son helped too) When Phelps died, I felt shocked, pissed off, then I thought about the rest of the game, was kind of confused, and now I'm pissed off again. He didn't really die in a way that was key to the story or ideas of it. It just felt like it was their for shock value.
(Also for a second, I thought it was actually the funeral for Tex (the flamethrower guy) and that Cole was going to waltz right in there. THAT would have been epic.)
The point is nearly tying up all the loose ends, and then needlessly killing off the main character just to shock the audience isn't how you end a detective story. It's how you end HARVEY BIRDMAN. Thanks for reading.