L.A. Noire

A fantastic modern adventure game in a noir setting. Bogged down by a persistently chugging framerate and some VERY weak writing in the Homicide desk/arc, but easily redeemed by the quality of the writing both before and after that portion of the game.

It’s seriously baffling, actually, just how bad the Homicide desk really is. It’s particularly bad when compared to the rest of the game, but it’s just bad on its own, too. It actually took me three tries to get past it, as I kept giving up 3 or 4 cases in out of boredom and frustration. Where other desks have varying cases that are able to stand alone even as they weave interconnected narratives, Homicide does the same thing over and over again. You’re asked to convict an innocent (if despicable) man deliberately, and the game punishes you for following the evidence even as it presents that evidence as a neat framejob (the aforementioned despicable man is not implicated in the framing). Clear framejobs are presented over and over, but you’re punished for pursuing that angle before the game wants you to. Then about halfway through, suddenly you’re the resident expert on serial killers being consulted on a mysterious note that the department knew about all along, and it’s a confusing turn of events. When you’re finally let off the leash to catch the killer, the conclusion lacks all punch and is highly unsatisfying and lacking in mystery (following breadcrumbs is neat for the first few, but a straight shootout is all that awaits at the end, with a suspect I had pegged for the murders within 2 or 3 cases but that the game plays up like a grand reveal). The fact that all the cases on this desk play out the same way makes for extremely repetitive gameplay as well. It’s all thinly justified by a politically-motivated captain and a partner who takes everything at face value out of jaded laziness (up until he suddenly decides not to anymore), but even Cole only seems half committed to his serial killer theory up until he’s suddenly the resident expert.

The reason I’m spoiling all that for you is that I want to urge you to give the game a chance and push past Homicide to the other desks that await. Traffic has some weird bogus facial reads and typical adventure game logical problems tarnishing its otherwise-interesting cases (with The Consul’s Car being a particularly weird standout – how the hell are you supposed to know anything the game wants you to know?), but Vice and Arson make the entire experience worth it.

I’ll reiterate: buy this game for the second half, and get there as fast as you can. It is totally worth it just for that.

Apart from Homicide, the framerate, and some of the janky logic in Traffic, I only have 2 other less-significant complaints. One is with the game’s brand of justice, which seems to revolve heavily around just shooting all the criminals in the face to the degree that it becomes comical watching Cole stand around staring at corpses being wheeled into coroner’s vehicles after a while. He’s a goddamn executioner; don’t these people need to go to trial? There is also an over-reliance on the game’s action minigames. Many cases end with big shootouts, even when it doesn’t seem like they need to, and nearly every suspect in the game runs from you even when they have no reason to from a narrative perspective. There are also some frustrating tailing sequences that seem overly finicky. However, the meat of the writing in Vice and Arson, and the accompanying investigations and interrogations, are so good that I still very strongly recommend it.

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