For the first half of the game where you progress from rookie cop then through to traffic and eventually homicide. Well these cases for the most part – or entire part – actually don’t appear to have much if anything to do the actual story. Even if they could have very well of been made to. FYI: some spoilers, if indirect, ahead…
The main-plot seems to lack a thread tying it all together beyond some off putting flashback sequences to Phelp’s war experience. These seem to have no originator, they just play in between missions. There are also newspaper articles involving stolen army morphine that you can find and read that also play a cut-scene minus the crap blurry memory effect and tacky Japanese flute music. These have more or less to do with what the story leads up to be, however, the first half of the game has nothing to do with them until you get to vice and onwards. So, for half the game you are playing missions that aren’t actually building the story. They are however building your career to the point where it does. Structurally, this is a really weak premise to create a series of missions (cases) linear or otherwise, from.
Basically, though I find the quality of the dialogue quite good – though, I don’t think people said “hump” as often as depicted – the direction of the actors as well, I find the story to be structurally poor and this also translates into mission / level design being poor. As these end up feeling disjointed and repetitive. There are other elements as well, like the narrator at the beginning of each mission suddenly disappearing after the first couple or how you control one character through most of the game only to suddenly have to control another (Kelso) for most of the remainder of the game.
This in particular seems to be something left over from what I suspect was the original concept of the game, you playing the part of a private investigator, not, a cop. It’s also the most Film Noir aspect to the game because of it. Regardless, it’s a bit sudden to suddenly have the player have to invest in another character entirely when they have been playing most of the game as another. Even if we have interacted with this character as Phelps.
Not saying don’t do it but you would be better off doing this from the start, you may be even better off for it. To explain, there are a number of plots here that for the most part are actually part of the main plot of the game. Or at least, all the content in the game could have been shaped to be part of it . The Black Dahlia murderer, and the series of copycat homicides, could have been made to be part of it as well.
On a side note, though I don’t find the killer to be anywhere near as bad as Heavy Rain’s serial killer, as it is kinda logical with hindsight, it is still kinda absurd in the way the killer is depicted – a very popculture take on the modern bogeyman – that I feel could have at least been made to serve the greater purpose of the main plot to the story. Personally, I always like the theory that Orsen Welles was the “Werewolf” killer, even if highly unlikely – kinda fitting when you think of the Hollywood backdrop to the case.
These “plots” could have just as easily been experienced by two characters working from two different points of view – one a cop, the other a private-eye – on what seemed like cases that have nothing to do with the other’s work only to find that they keep on crossing paths and that these cases are actually inter-related and part of a much greater plot. A conspiracy. Actually, you could have just as easily made it 3 characters, each with their own investigations and extra curricular activity to help flesh out the world of 1940s L.A. Noire. The storytelling (and missions) would have been stronger for it.
Elsa, the classic film noir femme fatal, could have easily been this third character, providing another dynamic to the story and take upon the underlying mechanics of the game. A character that can’t rely so much on brawling, gunplay, intimidation and a badge to get her way. But rather, needs to use her charms as a woman and her street smarts. Her along with Phelps (cop and gunfighter) and Kelso (private-eye and brawler) would have made for a more varied and dynamic interactive story experience based on three separate concurrent stories that end up being intertwined with each other. Forming a more rich film noir story, one, with possible a take on the classic film noir love triangle.
However, this was not the case and structurally the game paid the price for it.
Usually, with a good story you will learn something personal about the protagonist. They’ll “grow” as well. Phelps does do so abruptly in the end in a somewhat selfless fashion, however, any growth seems rather stunted as you do not see much of his personal life and how his work life is affecting it – beyond the odd short cut-scene. And you can extend this to pretty much every character in L.A. Noire, in that you don’t seem to really get to know any of them beyond the surface, beyond the case at hand. You finish the game feeling like you didn’t get to learn anything from these characters past their day jobs. They imply a richness of character yet you never get to uncover it in anyway or make any kind of strong emotional connection that you would in a well crafted story. This failing is something that could have been taken care of with the side quests of the game.
Side quests are basic to say the least. Seems to be a few formulas that get repeated, specifically, chase gunman, gunman takes hostage, line up head-shot, kill gunman and free hostage. The only difficulty with any of that is the chase parts as the player controls can be kinda clunky. Beyond the standard calls you can take there are some more unique ones. However, these only highlight just how lacking the gameplay can be.
For instance, take the one where there is a jumper. All you need to do to solve this is head around back, climb up the fire escape, head on over to where the guy is to trigger the cut-scene where they guy has apparently decided that they want to live after all. That’s it. There is no use of the dialogue / interrogation system in order to convince them not to, or if that fails, any kind of mechanic in place (like the chase tackle) for you take him into custody. That is, if you really want to save him or watch him take a dive instead. And though perhaps contrived, this would actually give the protagonist the chance to show a more personal side as they relate to this jumper and draw upon their own experience form the war – maybe the guy is a vet – so as to talk him down. A chance to add some character depth, not taken.
Another example of these unique quests involved a crazy guy with a tin-hat. You chase him and if you fail to get him he jumps off a building. Beyond it being very basic, I also found it to be far too GTA tongue-in-cheek. As when you had to catch up to him, he’d be dancing around like a fool in the middle of the road. The whole thing seemed out of place, not to mention, utterly boring.
Out of the 40 side quests, I only bothered to complete 5. That’s how crap they are. I’m puzzled as to why both Team Bondi (and especially) Rockstar, thought that these were worth wasting resources to develop. They could have just as easily done 20 (or even 10), that would have been more than enough especially if these were “randomly” scripted based on past decisions so as to vary how the linear storyline progressed. These side quests represent an opportunity for the developers to provide content that isn’t simply your standard solve this homicide case fair.
To elaborate, one of the areas lacking in the game is a sense of actually being in a living “open” world. It also, fails to get away from the strictly “crime” based nature of the missions. So these side quests could have opened things up so that the player could then see something more than the traffic, homicide, vice and arson cases of the game. Which all really have to do with deaths, so effectively, are ALL homicide cases. It could have opened things up more so that you could experience something more of that period, like the LA night-life and Hollywood glamour – and the seedy underbellies of both, as each has it’s share of vice and moths to a flame.
Basically having the player use the game’s interrogation system within another environment beyond a homicide case, like in a popular dive bar where you’re doing some leg work on an unsolved case or a case whose resolution doesn’t entirely sit well with you. You know, not straight out interrogation but rather you having to use your skills of charm and developed skills in reading people in order to get them to open up – along with other tools like cigarettes, booze, drugs, blackmail and physical intimidation. The kind of thing that you also find in film noir, the kind of thing that can lead to a human and flawed character becoming corrupted by a femme fatal.
This would add far more depth, more dimension to the game, to an open world that desperately needs more ways to make use of it’s open world environment beyond allowing the player to drive around in it.
Side missions are the tertiary missions of the game that add depth to the game world by not being entirely related to the main or secondary plot(s) – in this case, they also provide the chance to show that there is more to the game and world other than homicide crime scenes. That’s what they’re there for, not, so as to simply try and make up for the lack of action based gameplay in the rest of the game by simply providing more of the same less. These missions if done correctly, would probably make the “replay” value of the game greater as well. Which isn’t that high, as the game by nature and necessity, has to be fairly linear even if taking place in what is an open world environment. Once you’ve solved a linear case, been through the odd 1-2 minute clunky and straightforward action sequence usually completed in the first sitting. Well, why play again, especially, as there isn’t that much to do in the rest of the city other than drive around?
This is a major disappointment in my opinion, especially as there is only one save for the game. So I can’t even drive around so as to enjoy the city as the only save that I can load up to hopefully do this, starts off at night in the pouring rain in the middle of a car chase. Basically, I really can’t unless I fire up the game again. Which is something I like to do in any open-world / GTA type game, drive around the city taking it in instead of focusing on trying to find my way via the minimap so as to get to my next objective. Something the developers could have done in this respects, is modifying the partner drives mechanic so that it doesn’t immediately skip to the next location, but rather, also allows the player simply to be a passenger in the car so as to not worry about navigating – take in the sights and sounds instead.
And also if there is any mission I want to have another crack at, it means I have to play all the way through until I get to it again. I doubt that I am going to do that, at least not any time soon.
The whole game to me is a wasted opportunity. Even simple things like the partner drives mechanic, which could have helped address an area of the game that’s lacking, allowing for the player to simply enjoy the 1940s LA interactive time-capsule that Team Bondi (and Rockstar) have created. Just haven’t been handled all that well – I don’t know, maybe they had DLC content in mind, or, a sequel. The result is formulaic. Most of the game mechanics are simply the obvious – the notepad, the partner cop you can ask for directions whilst driving, the minimap, the basic action gameplay, etc. The only thing that really stands out as different is the interrogation system based on the underlying Depth Analysis technology. And even that is largely hype, as it was used for what is effectively a series of interactive cutscenes with detailed heads sitting mismatched on lower-detailed rigid Thunderbird bodies.
It seems to me to be a wasted opportunity to actually do something far more original and complete in way of gameplay. To truly create something that is often described as a breakaway title. Though I am sure that even with only being a critic success, it can be considered one and a positive thing for the local Australian industry – I don’t recollect any game project as large and ambitious as this one, especially, one that is an original concept. Even if it ends up not a commercial success – hard to believe based on the first week’s performance (1.6+ million copies) and analyst projections (at least 4+ million copies sold). And even, if much of the gameplay has actually been largely dictated by Rockstar – why it is often referred to simply as a being a Rockstar title, not, a Team Bondi one. I don’t think this game warranted a collective 8 years of development – development started in 2003 not 2004 as is claimed.
As for the reported $50 million budget, well, yes and no. A game like this was striving to be, can easily use that all up and then some. In this case I think it could have been better utilised to make a stronger game overall, one, with far more of it’s design originating from within Australia. But that’s all in the past now, unless, someone decides to make a period open-world game about it 60 years or so later ;).
Make sure to read: Part 1!