L.A. Noire is brilliant. It's an intoxicating, engrossing, and authentic trip into the post-war mentality of our soldiers trying to find peace on the homefront. It's experienced from the view of a detective, Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Stanton), digging into a wide-reaching conspiracy that breaks bonds between city leaders and the criminal underbelly.
It could have been the game that brings a mainstream, adult audience into the world of gaming. L.A. Noire has an odd familiarity to it, something that lets instinct take over on the scene of lurid murders. There's a human urge to find those responsible, deliver justice, and feel relief that certain people are off the streets.
Why else are the television airwaves filled with crime drama? They work, and so does L.A. Noire in that sense. In fact, the game probably couldn't have hit at a better time, released in the thick of a continuing TV trend, and producing an explosion of facial motion capture technology that produces a true human element.
But what does L.A. Noire do wrong? Why wouldn't the average Bejeweled and Farmville player pick up something like this and become a sleuth for a day? Why wouldn't a mystery-addicted novel reader pick up the controller? Because it's stupid.
No, not in a sense that the script is off-putting, or the occasional delivery doesn't ring true. L.A. Noire, as it stands, commits only a few of those fouls. Sadly, the game is stuck in contrivances, Cole Phelps running down his suspects almost every time they're approached. It's too predictable, desperate to insert action simply for action's sake. Shoot-outs occur regularly on these streets, and co-detectives see nothing wrong with opening fire on dense city streets to take out a suspect's vehicle tires. The city even ignores that you've squandered funds taking out light posts, benches, or pedestrian vehicles. It's all for a good cause, right?
L.A. Noire didn't need that, and it's a shame it doesn't become more accessible because of it. Seeing Cole draw his weapon becomes a cringe-worthy offense, because what follows surely strains all credibility. Most cops are fortunate enough to never have to draw their weapon in the line of duty; Cole does it daily. He even takes part in a 20-on-1 shoot-out on the set of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, and this despite the time period gaffe. L.A. Noire takes place in the late '40s; Intolerance's grand set was torn down in 1919.
This is a Rockstar-published affair, the same company responsible for that FOX News favorite, hooker-killing simulation Grand Theft Auto. It has those elements too, ramming citizens in an open world, almost gleefully playing by no rules as the somber, trumpet-focused score suddenly seems to belong somewhere else. L.A. Noire pushes boundaries with nudity and adult themes, things that suddenly seem childish and immature against a backdrop of open world mayhem or singular punches that send more blood flying than Mortal Kombat. As much as you can try to ignore them, the absurdities pile up over a 20-hour experience whether you want them to or not; Cole has to get his man.
It's an odd contradiction too, Noire letting natural investigation mistakes happen, cases filled with gaps and instilling a sense of doubt
that the criminal conviction is incorrect. There's no traditional game
over when you miss a clue; the story simply progresses on a new path. Killing that poor woman on 3rd Street during a winding street pursuit though? That's totally irrelevant to the plot.
Gamers flourish in this type of environment, stopping, popping, and shooting faceless, nameless thugs. It's admittedly what we do. There's a sense in the beginning that L.A. Noire will break a mold, push a new trend, or even usher in a new era beyond the publicized facial motion capture. It looked like an emotional, epic trek across three discs (at least on the Xbox 360), and it only diluted itself by staying true to its roots. It's a shame L.A. Noire wasn't the one to dig those roots up and shove them aside. The gaming industry would have been better for it.