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This is my first video game review for Thumb Bandits, a site I have looked to for many a year for my video gaming news and reviews. The first game I am reviewing is none other than Rockstar Games “L.A. Noire” which released just last week. I have spent many – MANY – an hour with “L.A. Noire” and I have also read many a review. You may wonder why read reviews of a game I have already purchased, why not, reviews are generally a goldmine of information, even for those games that adorn my gaming cabinet. I am flabbergasted by the reviews I have read for “L.A. Noire” and believe many reviewers are blinded by how very pretty the game is and by the name Rockstar, after all, they generally make great games.
Let us begin with a brief rundown of “L.A. Noire”. You play as Cole Phelps, a Los Angeles detective back in the 1940′s. This is a sandbox game that sees the player go from quest to quest in linear fashion as the story opens up. There are also some side missions the player can do if they want. There is little doubt Phelps is a wonderful character, but he sits within a game that relies too heavily on aimless driving, pointless exposition, sloppy investigative runs and confusing script. Harsh? Not really, I’m just choosing to look at the game via a medium other than rose tinted glasses, or what I thought it would be as opposed to what it actually is.
At the start of the game, you may well be blown away by the ‘noire’ feel and all those actors / characters that you’ve seen on TV, but after a few hours it felt – at least to me – that this was just a repetitive, slow, confused muddle of something fantastic floundering in something fairly mediocre. This is Rockstar rehashed, there’s driving, hopping in and out of cars (to ‘collect’ them), more driving, almost getting to your actual main story destination, only to get a call to the opposite side of town for another mundane chase (in car or on foot) that leads to a shoot out. Mixed in with this Rockstar norm is the addition of gathering evidence, sounds awesome right? Not so much. Turn up at a crime scene or place of interest to your investigation, take a look around. The controller vibrates when you’re near evidence, so you’ll know to pick it up, only problem is other stuff that isn’t evidence also vibrates. By the time you’ve picked up that 5th hairbrush, wondering if this time, it is actually evidence, you’ll surely to God start wondering what the frack all these 10 out of 10 review ratings are about. Add to this the ‘truth’, ‘doubt’, ‘lie’ choices when you’re questioning someone and how frustrating this can be and you should be scratching your head wondering if those gaming magazines lied to you.
Good stuff? Sure “L.A. Noire” has a fair amount of good stuff, that’s why this is a good game and not a bad game. As I mentioned, the graphics are almost faultless, at least with regards to character animation. Touches also exist within the actual framework of the game mechanic that are clever, but they somehow feel an ill thought out addition, as opposed to something that flows. Herein lay the problem. “L.A. Noire” is a pastiche of the great and the mundane, and somehow, beyond all of the fervor, all of the anticipation, the mundane kicks the greats ass nine times out of ten.
As briefly mentioned, the presentation is sublime in “L.A. Noire”, but remember that bitch in school who all the boys (and some of the girls) thought was “soooo hot”, but when they got to know her they realized looks aren’t everything, she’s “L.A. Noire” in human form.
Repetition is something most modern day video games suffer from, but it needs to be pinned together with a story that is captivating and intriguing, but not so much that it’s confusing. Again “L.A. Noire” fails, with its staggered three tier story narrative and a lead character we can’t ever truly know or become emotionally attached to. Cole Phelps back-story and what he does in the ‘present’ are completely at odds with one another, leading to this sort of dissonance of thought from the player.
Don’t even get me started about his actual ‘family’ or lack thereof. This is somewhat saved later in the game and more specifically in the last half hour of the story, but by then, all that picking up hairbrushes and wooden spoons, along with driving from one end of a fairly dead sandbox is so ingrained in your memory, you’re kind of glad it’s over, or at least I was.
I’ve been told to cover the female component of the game, because ThumbBandits specialize in highlighting this area, though there really isn’t much on the positive here. As with most Rockstar titles, it’s almost as if the developer has no idea how to slot in good female characters. They’re all props or tools to push the story forth. Needless to say given the setting, there are no cool female detectives.
So why are all the gaming sites giving this title 9 or 10 out of 10? I don’t know, perhaps I’m wrong, games are subjective. Seriously, if you have played the game yourself and enjoyed it, when you truly start to dissect the title, what conclusion do you reach? Do you honestly feel “L.A. Noire” is an almost perfect video game and that it brings something new that takes it to that top tier? Is it so good at everything it does…. the environment, sound, story and gameplay, that you would rate it higher than say “Uncharted” or “Mass Effect”? If the graphics were poor and it didn’t feature recognizable actors from TV shows, would the gameplay in “L.A. Noire” truly stand up as being so amazing, so refreshed that it would warrant 9 or 10 out of 10? As a gamer and reviewer, my personal answer is no, which is why I’ve given the game a *7, with 5 being average and 7 good solid game that is above average, but nowhere near perfection.
*Note we review out of 5 here at ThumbBandits, but we’ve left this original score in the body of the text as originally written.