Wednesday, September 9, 2015

L.A. Noire

Score Technician: Alex Pearlstein

L.A. Noire sat in the bargain bin at GameStop, wearing a torn cover and a smudged price sticker. “Pre-Owned,” it said. We knew how it felt. In fact, we’d met before, in a different incarnation, four years ago: the game, wrapped up in a shiny new package; us, naïve young PC owners. The game wouldn’t load, and when it did, the frame rate was excruciatingly slow. We couldn’t perform. It happens. We snapped out of our reverie and glanced around the store. “Yes,” we heard our wife saying to the clerk, “I will take this Xbox One and a copy of Witcher 3.” We knew then that she wouldn’t be needing us for a while. We looked back at the game. “We’ll take you,” we whispered. “We’ll meet back at our old Xbox 360. It’s not pretty, but it generates a lot of heat. This time, we’ll make it all the way through. This time will be different.”
  • Part One: Patrol/Traffic Desk, or The Game Walks In. The game simmered like a house squatter’s  can of Chef Boyardee on the hot plate of the city. We burned our fingers a few times rotating the can and feeling around its edges: learning to drive, trying to aim, and getting socked in the kisser. Yeah, we thought, lighting a cigarette on the city’s reddening coils, this metaphor is going nowhere. = -2pts
  • The map: probably the geekiest thrill of the game. Being able to explore L.A. as it was in ’47? Forget the gameplay – turn this map into a mobile app and let us use it in real life to roam the city for days on end. = +20pts
  • Being able to “requisition” any vintage auto you see and immediately wreck it. = +9pts
  • Scaring the shit out of your partner by crashing into things in the middle of his dialogue. = +9pts
  • Stout Scarab. What. The Hell. Is this thing. = -3pts
  • Could be called “Ellroy Noire.” Watching or reading about all the brutal racial/sexual discrimination of the ‘40s in L.A. Confidential is one thing, but when you’re forced to engage in it during gameplay, no amount of showering will cleanse your conscience. This gross feeling will manifest itself as soon as you begin the case where you badger a teenage sexual assault victim in her hospital bed. = -17pts
  • Part Two: Homicide Desk, or The Big Gulp of Murder. The game burned on from simmering to bubbling hot. It foamed over the sides of the city, like so much civic pasta. We got the hang of driving through the noodly streets, ladling out meatballs of justice.  ‘Damn,’ we thought, ‘that sentence was terrible.’ = -2pts
  • Cole’s reactions while you discover items like a baseball bat and a switch blade in almost every bush surrounding a murder scene: “This isn’t going to help much.”; “Seems irrelevant.” = +3pts
  • Hmmm, I could use these intuition points for clues, or I could Google “L.A. Noire walkthrough.” = -5pts
  • Not being able to save the crazy guy with a pan on his head. = - 2pts
  • Getting in and out of a car multiple times in a row, just to annoy your partner. = +7pts
  • Watching NPCs on the street randomly knock each other down and run away in a panic. = +3pts
  • “Whoo sister, I was so tight, I couldn’t even walk,” is either a ‘40s radio catch phrase we’re unfamiliar with, or you’re constantly walking by one woman in L.A. with a serious alcohol problem. = -5pts
  • Guy who answers the door, shouting gibberish, wearing a goblin mask, says, “Sorry, I was playing with my kids,” then leaves mask on during ENTIRE INTERVIEW. = +13pts
  • Creepy Taraldsen kids. Back. Away. Slowly. = +6pts
  • Seems to be a theme shaping up here about how it wasn’t good to be a drunk woman, alone at night, in ‘40s L.A. Or, well, a woman, basically. = -15pts
  • Is every street crime supposed to end with us shooting someone? Is this game supposed to have such disturbing contemporary relevance? = -3pts
  • Start car, wait till partner opens door to try to get in, drive away. Repeat, ad nauseum. = +7pts
  • Being able to drive down the L.A. River. = +5pts
  • Not being able to figure out how to get out of the L.A. River. = -5pts
  • Cole’s interrogation style: SHOUT EVERYTHING. = -2pts
  • Not being able to “requisition” a street car. = -4pts
  • As an officer of the peace, you scale the chandelier in the Hall of Records, send it crashing to the floor, then scram nonchalantly: “Let’s get out of here.” = +15pts
  • Getting the chance to drown in the La Brea tar pits. = +7pts
  • Getting to pull a Chinatown, as one of the perps you shoot in a street crime slumps forward on the horn of a car. = +8pts
  • Part Three: Vice Desk, or The Long Drool. Our promotion has been rapid, but we feel hollow inside, like a disappointing piñata. Surely the men we arrested were guilty? Are we being shunted off to the vice squad to avoid uncovering the truth? It’s very possible. We find ourselves seeking more street crimes that end in shoot-outs. Anything to avoid facing the hard facts, or the immediate need to relieve our bladders. Is there an empty soda bottle within reaching distance? = -6pts
  • “Morphine – it might not be filling, but I’m sure it’s satisfying.” = +5pts
  • Who enjoys the sequences where you have to tail a suspect on foot? Who? Perhaps you would also enjoy this DLC where you get to file paperwork? = -7pts
  • Getting to have a shoot-out in the Egyptian Theatre. = +6pts
  • Getting to interrogate Mickey Cohen. = +6pts
  • So far, driving off a cliff at the end of the “Paper Sack Robbery” and still catching the suspects wins the prize for most satisfying ending to a car chase. = +10pts
  • Part Four: Arson Desk, or, Another Big Hot Long Thing. Busted for adultery. Demoted. At some point, when we weren’t watching the pot, the game stopped boiling and became tepid. We scuffle through burned out husks of houses, wondering why someone would be put on Arson with no experience in the area of fire, other than being a flash in the pan. Again with the cookware imagery. We stop looking at every clue on the ground.  We even start playing a different character, an insurance investigator, lowest on the list of desired video game avatars. Are we played out, like an…outdoor piano?  **score technician shoots self** = -4pts
  • Ok, thanks for the verisimilitude, but phone calls in this video game don’t actually have to take as long to connect as they did in 1946. = -3pts
  • Chasing Chapman and his stolen streetcar: awesome. = +14pts
  • Jack Kelso: Insurance Investigator: the Video Game! = -2pts
  • Ok, the Ford H-Boy makes up for the Stout Scarab. = +8pts
  • Exploring old Keystone Film Studio/using movie camera. = +7pts
  • Constantly destroying the Hall of Records. = +12pts
  • Kelso, shooting Leland in the leg: “That’s my opening negotiating position!” = +9pts
  • Well game, we made it. It was touch and go there for a bit, but we pulled through, this time. You know, there's something about this that was like, well it was like you're expecting a letter that you're just crazy to get, and you're hanging around the front door for fear you might not hear him ring. You never realize that he always rings twice... = +47pts
Total Score: +149pts
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Often for free (Seriously, Rockstar REALLY wants you to play it.)

The major appeal of L.A. Noire is the environment. Getting to explore over eight miles of faithfully recreated post-war era L.A. is fantastic, and if you’re not familiar with L.A., then as long as you’re into 1940s style, the world is just as fulfilling. If that style is not your thing, then you might be happier playing Grand Theft Auto, and if solving mysteries is your bag, then you’ll probably enjoy any of the fine Nancy Drew titles more. Seriously. In the Nancy Drew games, you’re trying to work your way through a series of logic puzzles and clues, whereas in L.A. Noire, you’re clearly arresting the wrong people half the time, and the goals are more about driving/fighting missions and completing investigations using coercive interrogation techniques. So, yeah, if you like logic, then Nancy Drew; especially the one, where you go to an old hotel and try to get information from the innkeeper, but she’s all like, I’ll tell you, but first you have to help me serve fifty breakfasts, and you’re like, really? And then hours later you finally finish breakfast and you call Bess for a hint, and she…well, we digress. Despite our not at all embarrassing penchant for Nancy Drew, we found L.A. Noire to be quite entertaining.

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