Now that I've finally completed (and gotten every trophy on) L.A. Noire, I can give my review on it. (Funny how actually working drains away the amount of time in the day that you'd prefer playing video games with.) Its story and characters are well thought out, the context is brilliantly researched, the atmosphere is vivid, the controls are very good, all the mechanics gel together excellently and the acting is superb. The critics weren't lying when they said that if you respect gaming as any sort of art form or story-telling medium, L.A. Noire is a must-buy.
...No...that's not all I have to say about it. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I write about something I'm truly passionate about. You see, L.A. Noire is a great game. But I'm not a fan. It's a bizarre statement, I know, but even a game as acclaimed as this has its weaknesses and drawbacks.
First of all, as much as this game's touted for being the most realistic game ever, I couldn't help notice all the unrealistic elements in the game. None of the children act like children, the characters are strangely silent during case-end cutscenes (meaning their bosses are just given a glorified monologue), the NPCs on the street never act like people (making comments to invisible friends, never noticing speeding vehicles coming towards them), the way that trousers hitch up revealing the ankles despite the trousers never actually moving on the legs, not to mention Cole Phelps' face never changing when he's clotheslined. But as if none of that is enough, my suspension of disbelief was completely shattered when a character got shot in the arm, never sought medical attention for at least 24 hours, entered a massive shoot-out and SURVIVED WITHOUT ANY PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER! That's not realistic, not in the slightest, especially in the year 1947. (There are other unrealistic elements that I've noticed but I don't really feel like listing every one of them.)
A big problem is L.A. Noire's contribution to video game history. What I mean by that is, the singular quote used on all the posters for this game is "A geniune revolution in gaming". No, no it's not. The only new element L.A. Noire has is its use of Motion Scanning to produce computer-generated organic faces, integral to the interrogation scenes because you need to read their faces, body posture, and tone of voice to figure out how true they're being. Everything else are elements already done and developed in other games, sometimes in other forms I'll admit (like the use of the notebook as your inventory system) but most of what L.A. Noire uses is nothing new. The thing is, I know the real reason why I'm not so fanatical about this game. The same reason I'm not fanatical about the Assassin's Creed franchise: I'm not truly invested in the characters. Now unlike the aforementioned franchise, L.A. Noire builds up the various characters through banter and gossip, meaning they are properly developed. It's just that the emotion isn't there.
In order to explain the lack of emotional investment in the characters (or Cole Phelps in particular, since he's the one you play as) I'll have to compare this game to a game that I am fanatical about and is a revolution in gaming: Heavy Rain. Yes, really. You see, despite the piles upon piles of pitfalls and problems that the game is well-reported to have (as well as a whole ton of subjective complaints), Heavy Rain made sure that you knew as much about the characters as possible. Its unique control system means you can read their thoughts in many situations, control them in a very personal and reactive way, and you even play as them in their private spaces. Their homes usually. As a result, I felt threatened by the various life-threatening situations they find themselves in, and I experienced their emotional turmoil. In the case of the amiable Cole Phelps in L.A. Noire, there is a point in the game when something comes to light and he suffers a great loss as a result. But I never empathised with his loss. You see, it's not until that moment that you finally meet his wife and see the outside of his house. Hell, you don't even see his children until the end of the game! As a result, the player doesn't know what he's actually losing, because we never see how Cole acts in his private surroundings and we don't have the chance to compare how he acts in different surrounds and situations. There's an easy solution to this: when Cole gets his first promotion, there should have been a cutscene of him celebrating with his family (or just his wife even), after which the player should have been given the option to send Cole to his house every so often, or even the choice to telephone Marie for the very typical 'working late tonight' schtick.
It really is a shame that this particular aspect (or lack of it) makes me choose Heavy Rain as the superior game, considering that L.A. Noire is far superior in its writing and pacing.