By: Armaan Khan
I’ve been waiting for someone to make a modern adventure game for a long time. Yes, I know there are lots of developers who work within the genre, but the majority seem content to rehash the same tired old-school gameplay and aesthetics without actually pushing the concept of what an “adventure game” could be. And forget about the big publishing houses. They won’t even touch the genre with a ten-foot pole. That’s why I’m happy to see L.A. Noire make it onto the PC, because it is a AAA production that lifts the genre to new levels, and a game that any adventure gamer owes him-or-her-self to play.
L.A. Noire takes place shortly after World War 2 and sticks you into the gumshoes of Cole Phelps, a Pacific Campaign vet who joins the Los Angeles Police Department and rockets up the ranks over the course of the game’s two dozen cases. Each case plays out in roughly the same way: you drive to the initial crime scene, look for clues, question suspects, then follow the trail of evidence until the mystery is solved and somebody is placed behind bars. Who that somebody is doesn’t really matter. As long as someone is charged with the crime, the case will be considered closed and you’ll move on to the next one.
The interviewing process has been hyped as the game’s main draw because it requires you to pay attention to an interviewee’s body language and facial expressions and figure out if they’re telling the truth, lying, or hiding something. It’s an interesting trick at first, but I found it became more and more irrelevant as the game wore on. After a while, you’ll be able to intuitively tell when a suspect is lying or holding something back, without having to take the time to read the body language. And in the few instances where you do get it wrong, it won’t matter because, as I said before, making mistakes is okay as long as you get results. I found this emphasis on loose ethics to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual “try it again and again until you get it right” rigmarole that most adventure games put you through and is definitely a high point of the game.
The other major aspect of the gameplay is the search for clues, which boils down to walking up to an interesting-looking object and pressing the left mouse button to check it out. Some objects can be investigated further by turning them about, and things like books can be opened and read if they’re relevant to the case. As with the interviews, this process is fun at first, but scenes are littered with irrelevant objects and it starts to feel like the 3D equivalent of a pixel hunt after a while. Fortunately, you can acquire intuition points as you play to use to highlight relevant clues and make your investigative life much easier. Unlike the interviews, it’s possible to get stuck in the search for clues, since you sometimes need to find the right ones in order to open up more locations to visit and persons to question.
Of course, it’s a AAA console game, so you’ll be expected to regularly participate in the usual crime-fighting action shenanigans. There are shootouts and fisticuffs and chases and “follow that person without them seeing you!” antics thrown in to keep the kiddies awake while they play daddy’s crime drama. Don’t take that last sentence to mean I didn’t enjoy the action bits though. They aren’t too bad and some are actually fun, but many of them feel forced, like they were added to make the game appealing to a more action-oriented crowd. It’s a feeling that’s enforced by the fact that you can skip an action sequence if you fail it three times in a row. I’m glad they included that option, though, because it means you can bypass a potentially aggravating situation and get back to the real meat of the game: solving crime.
Each case you investigate is self-contained, and while some do interrelate, they all exist independently of each other. At first, I thought this made the game unfocused and I was ready to lambast it for the lack of a proper story, but once I got to the end I realized that L.A. Noire does have an over-arching story. It’s the story of Cole Phelps, the human being. It’s an exploration of who he is and why he acts the way he does. It is the man himself that is the connective tissue binding the entire experience together and not some arbitrary plot point.
It’s important to keep this in mind because otherwise the game won’t make any sense. The first time you play through L.A.Noire, you’ll watch cutscenes that don’t seem relevant to anything going on at the time. You’ll roll your eyes and shake your head at Cole’s inconsistent, borderline psychotic behavior. You’ll actually start to hate Cole, the very person whose role you’re meant to inhabit, and be ready to dismiss the writers as mere hacks who had no idea what they’re doing. Then you’ll play the final case and see how it all fits together, and you’ll walk away from the game stroking your chin, feeling sorry for the way you misjudged Cole as a person, and the game as a whole. Well, that was my experience at least. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
On a technological level, L.A. Noire is a mess. My initial few hours were plagued with crash bugs and blue screens of death, all related to the graphics engine. I managed to resolve those by adding “-str” to the command line, which forced the game to use a single-thread renderer, but doing so also caused the frame rate to drop significantly, so I had to bump the graphics and resolution down to make it run smoothly again. The game still kept crashing on random occasions, however, which was quite annoying because you can’t manually save at all. This meant I spent a lot of time replaying small sections of cases over and over again, all the while hoping I got to a checkpoint before another crash occurred.
Those of you with monster rigs are not going to be happy with the graphics. It’s an Xbox 360 port and it shows, because it definitely looks like a game built for six-year-old hardware. The framerate is apparently capped at 30 FPS as well, which is sure to irk some. Turning off vsync doesn’t help that, by the way, and in fact you can’t even turn vsync off from within the game. The interface is a bit wonky too, requiring you to use the keyboard in places where clicking with a mouse would have been much better. That said, the keyboard controls felt great, and you can re-map them however you like. You can also play with the Xbox controller if you have one attached, but using the keyboard and mouse actually provides a better control experience overall.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
If you’re an adventure game fan with a computer good enough to run the game then, yes, even with its flaws, L.A. Noire is worth the money. It’s the most modern and progressive adventure I’ve ever played, and it really needs to be experienced by anyone who considers themselves to be a connoisseur the genre. There are a few action sequences that can get annoying, but those are skippable and don’t pose much of a problem in the long run. Non-adventure gamers may want to think twice before purchasing, though. I just don’t think it’s suited for anyone who doesn’t like the genre.
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