Before I put in my two cents on “L.A. Noire”, allow me to tell an anecdote. The year was 1999, I finally had my own gaming computer. It was a piece of junk even back then but one of the first games I was able to put on it was “Outlaws”. The essential premise of the game was to copy, mercilessly, every single aspect from Clint Eastwood movies and put it into a playable experience. Yes, the graphics made everything look like they were made of jelly beans and Legos, but all the music, enemies, plot, and even the backstory were taken straight from The Man With No Name himself. And you know what? It was superbly executed. The game has everything anyone could want from a FPS in the old west. The reason I bring up that ancient game from yesteryear is to say that merciless thievery can actually be a good thing.
When I first got “L.A. Noire”, I had been intending to play it for a long time. This wasn’t something that I scraped from the bottom of the barrel. A game like this intrigued me mostly because it simply stole everything it could from “LA Confidential”. Again, not a bad thing. When I was watching Guy Pierce in those interrogation sequences, I kept thinking how awesome it would be to really stick it to those thieves and murderers. So when I turned on the game, I expected to be throwing the book at a serial killer. Instead the game took the alternate route of starting me as a foot patrol man.
You know what? Okay, I can roll with this. I’ll climb my way up this morally grey city until I’m a grey grizzled detective myse—why are we still sitting in traffic? Yes, along with taking bits and pieces from Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, the game also goes to excruciating effort to be “realistic” as well. What that entails is driving from one side of Los Angeles to the other—sometimes more than once on a case. Yes, they added an ability to skip it all by having your partner take the drive, but then it throws a tantrum for not looking at all the nifty stuff it put in the game. There’s famous landmarks that pause the game as you pass so you can oogle every recreated detail and there’s random street crimes that you have to pursue. So yes, you can skip the drive but the game will hate you for it. And so that means sitting through some of the most asinine traffic I have ever seen.
I know it’s a bit nit picky to complain about in game traffic but the whole game is trying to recreate a feeling and a mood. Throwing in a five minute traffic stop isn’t doing anything for the momentum. This is a game that entirely depends on players wanting to be in black and white, being embroiled in corruption. If they insist on having the drives, they could have put in a good voice over, a cynical monologue of how the city is a putrid puddle and crime is pushing everyone’s face in the muck. That’s not even the biggest problem with the game either. The problem is I don’t even want to play it.
True, I said this is a good game and it very much is. However, I would much rather watch someone else play out the story—or better yet, I’d love for the whole thing to play on its own and be just a great miniseries. This isn’t isolated just to me either. Friends that I’ve talked to about the game have all said the same thing; it is far more entertaining to watch than to play. Sure, every once in a while it feels great to catch a dirt bag in a straight lie, put a vice to him until he sings like a canary. But that edge of my seat excited feeling is just as present when I don’t have to worry about pressing the buttons.
Don’t get me wrong; I still recommend this game. But try and get it for cheap. This was a decent venture into game noir and I’m sure they’ll improve from here. In fact I hear a sequel is in the works and that seems very promising. A chance to fix all the untidy bits from the first one? Add some great new gameplay? If this were to become its own serial, I would be very supportive. I think the best mark this game has going for it is nobody is saying it was a bad execution. It makes me think that in this crazy, Triple A game environment of “realistic” war shooters, there’s some spark of unique ideas hiding in the back.