Despite its Rockstar Games heritage – and tacked-on combat scenes – LA Noire is very much a Team Bondi game. In fact if you’re waiting for GTA 1940s rather than an experience more akin to Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective then you’d better look elsewhere.
Set in Los Angeles in 1947, the game uses a repetitive but reasonably satisfying “Find clues, go to locations, interrogate suspects” mechanic to tell a long and ultimately unsatisfying story. The story itself involves murder, corruption, tragedy, post-traumatic stress disorder and lies. Its ‘hardboiled’ or ‘Noir’ style draws on the works of James Elroy, James M Caine and Jim Thompson – or at least it appears to.
Without giving plot away, I’d also recommend that you chase down a copy of Charles Stoker’s Thicker’n Theives
if you want to get a handle on the bigger picture.
Briefly then, as this is not a play guide, the investigative plot initially has ex-Marine and current cop Cole Phelps behaving as ‘by the book’ as any character you’ve ever come across. Phelps begins life – as you, the gamer make your way through the tutorial elements of the game – in uniform rather than plain-clothes. He’s soon in a snappy suit and tie and on the Homicide Squad though.
He’s also got flashbacks to WWII and his time as a Lieutenant – his murky and apparently “Jap lovin’” time. The flashbacks appear to have been pieced together by one of Team Bondi’s juniors. I say this given the sheer detail that the main game environments and, of course, characters have been designed with since the concept was initially green lit in 2004.
As is only right with a Noir-genre plot, the one provided here for LA Noire
by Brendan McNamara has twists and turns. This bodes well for a classically Rockstar sandbox. It worked, for a recent example, extremely well with Heavy Rain
, which was able to present the gamer with multiple endings and therefore provide a sense that you could miss something or even screw-up entirely.
The mechanics underpinning LA Noire
, however, put the gameplay so entirely on rails in terms of the main plot that what drives you through some of the tacked-on gun fights and fist fights, car and foot chases is simply a sense that getting to the end will justify the expenditure.
In my case, that’s obviously untrue, as I was sent the game for free to review. However, having played it out in front of other people who will be forking out cash for it, the general consensus when faced with yet another gunfight using the poor cover system was, “Skip it, get back to the plot” (although Mark disagreed - see his second opinion at the end).
And skip it you can. There are in fact several ‘action scenes’ that can be skipped straight through if you’ve grown bored of them or simply can’t get the car to – in classic Rockstar style – move in a manner that wouldn’t make a whale out of water appear Zonda-like.
Sure, it’s 1947 and automobiles were big, lunking beasts. I get the idea. My point is that action scenes – unlike cutscenes – are skippable.
If you decide not to skip them, then they feel tacked-on to appeal to the “gamer demographic”. Compared to the admittedly tremendous face-work and voice acting, the actual ‘game’ elements of LA Noire
provide little in the way of gaming. This is also true of the set-piece ‘escape from location (A)’ by jumping from platform to platform (skippable) to the run away from the impending doom in a trench (skippable).
is about plot. Even more so than Red Dead Redemption
which had a deeply compelling story with the addition of excellent game-play elements. Even more so than the, for me, tedious and boorish GTA IV
. Everything is there to serve the writer.