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Hype means nothing.....
on 11 June 2011
It seems like telling people you are disappointed with a Rockstar game is much like John McClane's sandwich board experience in Die Hard 3. Someone is going to get upset, very upset and you are going to experience a fair degree of hostility. Which begs the question, how would this game have fared had it been produced by Reality Pump or Remedy? Fanboys get your flaming kit out, I fear I'm in for a hammering.
L.A. Noire seems to have been talked about for eons, a big build up, fawning previews and intriguing set up had interest piqued for a long long time. Postwar LA is as attractive a setting for a game as you can imagine and Team Bondi have done exceptionally well in capturing the feeling of the era. The clothes, dialogue, cars, venues et al are superb it is as good an environment as any, as cliched as it may be you are certainly drawn in almost immediately.
Looks good, feels good, then you engage in conversation with an NPC and you realise something, something epic. Games in which you interact with NPCs can never be the same again, it is incredible. Never before have I felt so much for those people I'm engaging with, the mannerisms, the eyes, the voice acting, the fear, the cockiness, the anger. It's a major leap forward, nay a quantum leap forward. These are as close to real people as you have seen so far.
However, excitement and awe quickly gave way to another realisation, after about 6 cases it dawned on me that I had invested in a one trick pony. Get given a case, go to the scene, have a look around for clues, interview some suspects, maybe chase them, maybe have a shoot out then back to the station for more interviews. This is undeniably enjoyable at first and the homicide desk is without doubt the better period of the game but it's here you realise that that huge immersion you initially felt has fallen away. You're not playing this game, you're being led through it. You can't fail the cases, if you get stuck in an action sequence you can choose to skip it and you have no power to affect the direction of the protagonists career or personal life. You are playing a big cutscene, or perhaps more accurately a big tech demonstration. It's hard to elaborate without giving away spoilers, but you feel cheated at the direction the game goes toward the end, for all the steps forward in character performance, we should be demanding a degree of control and story arcs in the vein of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, not to be thrust in one linear direction to an inevitable conclusion.
L.A. Noire is a huge step forward in one sense, for a while it is an undeniably sublime experience, but as a game it falls short, from the sandbox kings you expect some degree of freedom, you have barely any, in the end whatever you do makes no difference and in a character driven experience, that is unforgiveable.