LA Noire is a selfish little bastard of a game. It invites you over to its home and suggests that you play cops and robbers. For a while things are great and everyone is having fun but then wouldn’t you know it, LA Noire doesn’t like your ideas or the choices you make so it ignores them and suddenly you’re just a player in a very elaborate overwritten play. But man does it start out like the goddamn second coming (editor’s note: of Police Quest.)
Investigator Maya is on the case!
As Cole Phelps, the last good cop in a town full of jaded heels, you work your way up through the LAPD, first as a beat cop and later moving from desk to desk as your reputation builds and then crumbles. I had a ball on the traffic desk dragging in suspects and using the Truth, Doubt, Lie interrogation system to pin the crime on one of them. In these early cases it felt like I did the best job I could as Cole, and when I put away a criminal that I was justifiably lauded or derided for my outcomes. This feeling doesn’t fucking last.
The Homicide desk is a joke. What should be the most interesting and exciting part of the game devolves into an endless parade of dead lady mysteries and size eight shoes. The real crime here isn’t the repetitive nature of the cases, which I could easily have overlooked, it’s the fact that the game no longer wants me to play it. It wants to be watched and admired like a preening movie star.
Spoiler alert: None of these assholes are guilty of the dead lady crimes, and about 90% of the gameplaying audience will know this for a fact part way through the second such case. The fact that the game still forces you to hang the crime on a suspect is laughable and sad. More sad and more laughable? There are no repercussions to your hanging of ten innocent men. Instead the game gives Cole a contrived romance with an era appropriate paraiah in order to lead him to fall from grace (trust me he was doing fine on his own without this plot contrivance.)
Of course, they’re all guilty. They all run. They all fight. They all shoot at me despite the fact that they’ve done very little wrong. This is another failing of the game. That and the shoot mechanics blow. They aren’t FUN! Ditto for the driving mechanics.
Which leads me to disappointment number three. Truth, Doubt and Lie are incredibly misleading descriptors. They should be labeled as Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Gotcha!. Because if you doubt something a child says, be ready for Cole to lose his shit and hang the crime on little Mary Sue. He’s a real fucker… which I kind of admire… but man, is it frustrating when he pisses someone off because he couldn’t broach a subject in anything less than an apoplectic manner. Again, to delusional Cole Phelps, we’re all guilty, he just has to find the specific coke bottle that will prove it. Examining objects, by the way, was handled much better in the Tex Murphy series where you could examine an object’s total 3D space and those games SUCKED.
One case that the game never solves is the case of its own missing cases. There are times when the story seems to have skipped a page or two and as it turns out… it has! But fear not, these pieces are being sold back to us as DLC and although LA Noire isn’t as blatant about the missing parts as say, Assassin’s Creed 2’s missing memories, it’s still a nut punch. The best example of a missing case being necessary is the Vice case which really builds the relationship between Cole and his new partner and ends with the captain ordering the partner to take you out for drinks which makes way more sense than suddenly cutting to a night club the way the main game does when you don’t have the DLC. Also did I mention that the DLC fits into slots in the main game, almost as if… GASP… it was originally part of the package! This isn’t bonus material. It’s part of what you paid for!
This all leads me back to my main point. This game is awesome when it balances player agency with passive storytelling but the truth is the designers think you suck and they’re sick and fucking tired of you mucking up their awesome screenplay for LA Confidential 2 with your tired dreams of being a cop.