When she walked through the door, I wasn't sure what to think of her. Sure, I knew who she was, but who in this stinkin' city didn't? L.A. Noire, the sexy dame, with facial mo-cap software that would get her noticed across a smoke-filled room of schemers and dreamers; a plot torn from the leather-covered books that lined my shelf; the kind of development lifetime that would make any two-bit gamer wonder if she had the right stuff. But these were things that even Mickey the drunk would know I wanted to know the true story, so I gave her a chance, sitting down with her for a few nights, just to get the real story.
What she started with was pretty, that much was for certain. A simple tale of a man on the rise Cole Phelps, World War II veteran and beat cop. The tale she spun for me showed promise: Cole would rise through the ranks as the cases progressed, from patrolling the streets, to Traffic, then Homicide, then Vice, with cases that grew in complexity as the tale continued. The problem here, of course, was one of coherence, or the lack thereof. She spun a number of cases to get through, but there was little connecting them all. Sure, there was an occasional flashback to the war (and the training Cole went through to get to it), as well as a drug-runner plot told through a dozen newspapers that could be found throughout all of the cases, but there was little else driving me to see them all through to the end. Like a man hopped up on the latest craze on the street, the story was disjointed, lackluster each case was decent enough, but they sang their song too similarly. There just wasn't enough excitement to each of them, either.
She played cooly, first with a couple simple tutorial missions to ease me into what the rest of the game would offer, then blending them together in each case. Each of the cases were composed of a number of sections, laid out like flowers on a grave: crime scene investigation, chases, combat, and of the course the interviews, the parts of her that really made married men spin their heads just to get a glimpse.
Crime scene investigation was neat, but seemed lacking in ways I couldn't quite put my finger on. You walk around a crime, you gather clues, simple as a scotch on rocks. That was the problem, though: there's little challenge to finding the clues themselves, nothing more than going to where they are, waiting for a vibration in the controller and tone in the air, and pressing a button. Some things needed a more in-depth inspection, but this didn't really mean much when you already knew that you were looking for something.
There was never a feeling of worry, like I had left behind something important. Mostly, this was because of musical cues that would actually tell me when I'd done my job to the fullest and collected everything. She was smart, and let me turn off these cues, but what was the point? It would just mean running around repeatedly pressing a button, wasting time for no payoff, even if I had found all the clues minutes before.
The dame gave me chases and fights, too, tales of superman Cole Phelps, his ability to take bullets to the face and keep on swinging, and his marathon-runner prowess as he chases down suspects. I found myself laughing as he ran after men at least a hundred pounds heavier who were able to easily outpace him. You run up ladders, across gaps, and if necessary, pull out your piece to fire a few shots in the air to show the suspect you meant business. The gun fights were what you'd expect: shoot the bad guys, hide behind cover, shoot the rest. Fist fights were a little more my style, simpler, but with a little more skill as you duck and weave like a champ at in the ring.
The last part of her, interviews, are what everybody was talking about. Talking to people, getting their reactions, determining if they were giving you the straight and narrow or telling a tale as tall as a cheap apartment complex. To be specific, you could take their story at face value, doubt what they were saying, or show them a piece of evidence you had collected that outright broke their story in two. Truth, Doubt, Lie, the interviewer's arsenal.
The point is to watch the interviewee's expression like a hawk, try to see those little twitches and ticks that give them away, and make a decision based on that. On paper, it sounds good, but so did my last marriage, and all that left me with was a desk, a six-shooter, and a bottle of bourbon to go with both. Immediately I drew comparisons with the Phoenix Wright series, an ol' buddy of mine, but while that had you pick apart a person's testimony line by line, here I didn't find the same simplicity. Interviewing felt like a poor man's cup game, where I could simply close my eyes and choose with just as much luck, feeling like the game swindled me out of getting an answer.
One of the worst parts of this was the game actually telling me whether or not I had gotten a response correct. It's hard to feel like you're playing a mystery when you know the suspect is telling the truth or lying without having to actually prove it.
What she did do well, however, was give me the ability to do exactly that: fail. At least, fail the interviews without losing my mark. Sure, tearing apart a liar's testimony may get you the location of the man you're looking for, but if you don't get past the first question, well, at least you can simply follow the liar until he takes you where you need to go. For this, I was grateful, and was really where the game showed its chops. Never did I feel like I was being led down a path, things always were occuring based on what I did, not because the plot was simply leading me by the nose.
Here's the strangest part of this fine-looking thing that walked in: sandbox gameplay. Driving 'round the streets of the City of Angels will took me where I wanted to go, connecting cases and events, but it's just so pointless. There were 40 'street cases' to complete, pseudo-random events that popped up while driving, iranging from a suicidal fool to a store robbery to a hostage crisis, and each of these had their own distinct-enough flavour. But that was the only 'sandbox' element in the entire package (aside from some damn-near-impossible-to-find collectibles). Heck, when Phelps is on a mission, he doesn't even need to drive, opting to have his partner do it for him after pointing out a destination is as easy as pie.
This was something I actually preferred, due to the case rating at the end of each mission: based on the clues found, interview questions successfully deduced, and the damage done via driving, I got a rank from each case file, which really didn't matter much except for some experience points (which can net you some minor unlockables) and bragging rights. So, having your partner drive meant never hitting a thing. But where's the fun in that, right?
As L.A. Noire's story went on, I found myself leaning back further and further in my desk. Things just weren't going as well as I had hoped. Sure, she was a damn fine looker, with some facial motion capture tech to die for and voice work to envy, but beneath that there was little personality to grab my interest. She did a good job at weaving stories about a man, but without much else to connect them all, I found my interest in each successful one waining like a wino sobering up. The pieces of gameplay all fit together well enough, certainly producing a package greater than the sum, and all that, but the sum still wasn't high enough calibre.
One thing I need to say before I forget her: this was an adventure title through and through. On the outside one might get a glimpse and think "She's just like the girl down the street, Grand Theft Auto", but make no mistake: this here dame shares more in common with a point-and-click title more than any other genre. Keep that in mind when you look her up.
Once she had left, I pulled out my bourbon, poured a finger, and waited for the next pretty thing to waltz in through my door, hopefully one with less shine in the skirt and more substance beneath it.