L.A. Noire or the fine balance between story and gameplay

First of all: It has been said a million times, and Rabidgames will say it again: L.A. Noire is not GTA V, it is not a sandbox game, you cannot shoot civilians on a killing spree, and causing havoc by ramming other cars or pedestrians is only fun for 5 minutes (or more if you decide to hunt a certain achievement respectively trophy).

And yet, it is fun.

However, it is only fun in context. The single aspects of the game are mediocre (driving, chasing thugs on foot) or just good (shooting, searching for clues, interrogating suspects) if you take them out of the bigger picture. It is the overlapping story which succeeds to put all the pieces together. The story starts off really, really slow with seemingly unrelated sequences – but at the end of the game, it all perfectly fits. Once again, Rockstar proves its real strength is story telling. There is plenty of noir in the game as well; the mood is pretty dark (especially if you play the game with the black and white filter – a great option), many serious topics are covered (racism, segregation, treatment of war veterans, drug addiction, corruption) and Mr Phelps hides a dark secret in his soul…

A distinctive trademark, which could be a game breaker for some, is the slow pace of L.A. Noire – one single case usually consists of maybe 1 chase and 1 melee fight or shoot-out; most of the time will be spent by carefully searching crime scenes, connecting evidence by yourself and exposing lies with all those pieces of evidence and carefully observing facial motions. You are forced to relax and think instead of mindlessly pulling the trigger again and again. While Rabidgames hails this change of pace, many people spoilt by video clips and movies with 24757 camera changes in one scene might get turned off a bit. Here’s the thing – if you still like watching Columbo or Dirty Harry, you’ll like L.A. Noire. If you prefer Crank or Daniel Craig’s James Bond however, well, let’s say it might not be your kind of game.

Unfortunately, the experiment, albeit a success, is not a perfect experience. Rockstar’s well known clunkiness in pedestrian movement is still present (or maybe doors should be wider), chases are always completely scripted (up to the point where you cannot hurt perps until a magical checkpoint), and even in a core department of L.A. Noire, there are issues: When interrogating perps, some connections are incredibly far-fetched. And in order to expose an obvious lie, you mostly have to accuse the suspect of lying. You can back out, yes, but that part seems a bit unfinished. And while the facial motion system is stunning, yes, it surely is – after 3 cases, almost all people you interrogate react the same way so it becomes easy to see if they lie. Honestly, there would be no unsolved crimes if lies could be detected that damn easily!

Rabidgames says: Rockstar dares to go an unbeaten path in mainstream games by mixing adventure, interrogations and classic gaming. The real art is making all those fragments work together: Rockstar – and Team Bondi, of course – do this by means of a compelling story glue. While the single elements of the game are not as great as they should have been after such a long time in development, L.A. Noire is still a satisfying experience.

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