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la noire -- one-hour review
games Posted 2011-06-24 17:18:57 by Jim Crawford
LA Noire is a police procedural adventure game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 by Team Bondi.

(Yes, I totally ripped this format off of Games For Lunch.)

0:00 Soulful piano/saxophone music on the title screen. Setting the mood already.
0:00 Wow. The main menu drives it home further: it's rendered as a shadow smokily cast by headlights on an alley wall.
0:01 “A city on the verge of greatness, based not on the man, but on the car.” Shades of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. (I'm embarrassingly unfamiliar with actual noir, but it seems unlikely that this was actually a movie-plot concern back in the 1940s.)
0:02 Poking around in the options menu, there's a “black and white” display setting. Sold.
0:02 I'm not sure if it's the black and white, or the depth of field, or the plastic appearance of the models, but the suburban neighborhood in the intro totally looks like a toy set.
0:03 “The city of dreams, where Hollywood will shape the thoughts and desires of the entire planet.” Yep. This is what I meant when I said “pop art is the most important kind of art.”
0:03 That line, spoken over a dude being filmed riding a fake horse in front of a projected backdrop. I hope there's more of this behind-the-scenes stuff in the game; there's something so deliciously perverse about a game rendering this sort of subject. Facades of facades. I adored Max Payne 2 in part because of this.
0:04 The face-rendering really is exceptional.
0:04 Title card: “Upon Reflection.” Do I smell a pun?
0:05 “You never know whether the guy you're talking to is on the pad.” Menstruating? This game needs subtitles. Actually it has subtitles; I turned them on at the same time I turned on black and white. What it needs, and doesn't have, is an additional set of subtitles to explain all the slang.
0:05 Oh oh, I get to drive now. This actually makes me want to turn black and white off. Given that the authentic simulacrum of Los Angeles is one of the game's selling points, I want to see it as it purportedly was, not as it would've been filmed at the time.
0:06 We arrive on the scene and a homicide detective gives us the lowdown, asking us to find “the gat.” I guess he's been listening to Straight Outta Compton. He drives off, not giving a fuck all over the pavement.
0:06 I start searching the alley. A hint pops up: “Music will fade to indicate that all clues have been recovered.” I guess I don't have to feel guilty for meta-gaming by paying attention to the music then?
0:07 The game vibrates the controller when you approach an interactable clue. I've picked up and examined three beer bottles now, and each time the protagonist has responded with a variation on “this object doesn't matter to the case.” So, er, can we skip this part of the gameplay?
0:08 My partner calls me over to see a huge bloodstain on a door. Yep, that's probably a clue.
0:09 I spot a gun on the rooftop, reflected in a window. Wait, what? The angles here don't work at all.
0:10 I spend this minute wandering around looking for a ladder.
0:11 Oh good, here's another irrelevant beer bottle that the game called my attention to then told me to ignore.
0:12 I find a drainpipe to climb up to the roof. Oh, that roof. I see how the reflection angle works now.
0:12 Jesus, I just picked up the gun with my bare hands. I guess they hadn't invented fingerprints in the 1940s?
0:13 The game asks me to open my notebook. I do so. Here I have an interface providing me with a list of people, clues, and locations relevant to the case.
0:14 Oh! It took me forever (i.e. about a minute) to realize this, presumably thanks to the poor alley lighting, but the additional per-item information I was looking for was on the opposite page of the notebook.
0:14 One of the “persons of interest” is Detective Floyd Rose, the dude who gave us the lowdown about the case and then left to go bowling or whatever. Given that there are only two people on the list who aren't dead, I give it 50/50 odds that he's the shooter.
0:15 I manage to set the alleyway -- the only location available -- as my current destination. I'm pretty sure I'm already at that destination.
0:16 My partner's reluctant to do anything proactive for fear of rocking the boat and/or losing his job, but I smooth-talk him into going to a local gun store to see if the owner sold one with that serial number. Okay, there's the destination I'm supposed to set.
0:17 I pass so many surely-irrelevant beer bottles that vibrate at me as I head back to the car. You should be proud of me for not picking them up to look at them.
0:17 Shit, I just realized, the music hasn't faded out. I guess I should've looked at the beer bottles.
0:18 I'm driving again. I guess that's part of the hazing process in this police force.
0:18 “Press L to use the siren.” Don't mind if I do!
0:18 “Press X to ask your partner for directions.” I try it. “Keep going on this road,” he says. For how long? Where do I turn? What's the button to bitch him out for not being clear?
0:19 I cut through an alleyway and ask for directions again. “Take this right.” I really shouldn't have to drag that information out of you, partner-whose-name-I-forget. Maybe that's part of the hazing process too.
0:19 “Gold-handled doors allow you to enter.” Okay, I'm turning black and white off now.
0:20 I show the gun store owner the revolver we found. “Same gun used by General Patton,” he says. There always was something fishy about that guy!
0:20 Oh, the game makes the same joke. “You're not suggesting he's the owner?”
0:21 He hands me his order ledger and I open it. There's an interface to hover my index finger over sale entries. I spend way too much time trying to get my finger to hover over the correct entry.
0:22 I insist to my partner that we talk to the gun's owner without telling the station what we're doing. “Lead the way, Gunga Din,” he says. Crazy noir talk!
0:23 “Two out of every three crimes are done on impulse,” I inform my partner as we drive. “Another fact from the Phelps encyclopedia of thin air,” he retorts. I'm curious how Phelps came across that tidbit too. Google didn't exist back then. Not even Altavista.
0:24 We arrive at the gun owner's apartment. “Inspect a mailbox to find your suspect's apartment number.” Any mailbox will do!
0:25 We find the gun owner in apartment two, just like the mailbox said. “Scooter Peyton was murdered tonight, with your gun.” “You're out of your mind. Scooter works for me, and I have that gun here in my drawer.” The plot thickens!
0:25 Surprise! There's no gun in his drawer. “You're under arrest, Schroeder!” “No way, you're not taking me down for this!” For losing his gun? And then, the brawling interface comes up. Sigh.
0:26 I beat on this guy for a while and eventually knock him unconscious. Solid police work, Phelps! We start searching his apartment.
0:27 Really, this issue of “Mystic Tales” with the spaceman on the cover isn't a relevant clue? It proves that Schroeder is a huge nerd!
0:28 I find a suspicious-looking book with a list of names and dates. Detective Floyd Rose is on the list. I knew it!
0:28 My partner is pretty freaked out about this. “Phelps, we can come out of this with a commendation, or stick our schlongs in a hornet's nest.” Poetry. “Call it in,” he says. “And leave the book where you found it.” I do so. Fin.
0:29 Weird streaky effect on this cutscene. Is it supposed to be a dream?
0:29 I guess I used to be in the army.
0:30 Loading time! Title card: “Armed and Dangerous.”
0:30 Narrator alludes that the story is going to have something to do with police corruption. I'd guessed that from the previous story beat, narrator.
0:31 Nasty artifacting in the reflections on the hood of the car. Dispatch directs us to the scene of a bank robbery.
0:31 We park. Yep, that looks like a robbery to me. Some dudes start shooting at us and I run around to grab a weapon from the trunk. Oh good, it's a cover-based shooter now.
0:32 I shoot the first two dudes with trivially perfect accuracy; Phelps must've been a sniper in the army. Did you know that “Phelps” and “herpes” transliterate to the same word in Japanese?
0:32 “We don't know how many are in there!” If previous Rockstar games are anything to go by, I'm going to guess the figure is in the dozens. Minimum. We go in anyway.
0:33 Holy Schildt, there were just three more dudes in there. Five people is a perfectly reasonable number to rob a bank with.
0:33 More flashbacks to the army.
0:34 I think I might be an asshole.
0:35 Title card: “Warrants Outstanding.”
0:35 Oh, I think my partner might be the guy in the cutscene who was giving me a hard time for being an asshole. I guess we were in the army together?
0:36 Here's an on-foot chase sequence. Great opportunity to show off the game's platforming mechanics, if any.
0:37 None so far. The protagonist automatically climbs nearby ladders. There's a frustrating moment on a fire escape where I'm supposed to continue holding up to transition from one ladder to the next, but instead I push towards the new ladder and the game interprets that as wanting to go back down the previous ladder again. But after I recover, I find that the guy I'm chasing did nothing with his advantage; he's no further from me than he was before.
0:37 I run right into the dude's fist and he knocks me flat. Then instead of running away like a sensible fugitive, he triggers another ridiculous brawling sequence.
0:38 I make short work of him. “Your parole officer's feeling lonely,” I say. “He's got a hole in his life for an asshole like you.” That doesn't make sense. You can't fill a hole with another hole. Unless back in the 40s an asshole was like a donut hole.
0:38 Flashback! “Being an officer in the Marine corps is about making the right decisions. The right decision isn't always the popular one. The right decision will get the men you care about killed.” A useful heuristic.
0:39 In this flashback I'm totally giving Kelso a hard time about his poor “esprit de corps” and “leadership,” and he's overacting in response. It doesn't look like I got anybody killed, though, so it can't have been the right decision.
0:40 Title card: “Buyer Beware.”
0:40 I'm out walking my beat when I hear gunshots nearby. I run up to the scene of the crime. “Has anyone called an ambulance?” “We've called an ambulance and the police, but I'm afraid he's dead.” I bet this actor practiced his one line for months.
0:41 Some more cops show up. “You're first reporting. You'd better see what you can find out before the homicide dicks show up.” If there's such a rivalry, why not hide some evidence to make their job even harder, while I'm at it?
0:41 Gah, to examine the body I just roll him over, again with my bare hands. I guess they hadn't invented chalk outlines back then, either.
0:42 I pull something out of his coat pocket. Did I just steal this guy's wallet? Oh, it's a bank note. That's probably a clue.
0:43 Talking to some bystanders, they mention a girl who ran into the storefront. The other cops remind me that the witness can wait. “We've got the perimiter.” Hopefully that includes the back door.
0:43 Found a gun in the garbage. Bah, that could be anybody's gun.
0:44 The gun's serial number is 1138. Oh good, that in-joke isn't played out at all.
0:45 Okay, time to talk to the witness. This is purportedly the meat of the game, right? Slow burn getting here.
0:46 I choose a line of questioning from the notebook. I can review the evidence between questions, too.
0:47 She gives me an account of the events of the shooting. “Press Y to accuse the witness of lying.” Uh? I can't choose not to? Oh, I can, it's just telling me It'd be dumb to pick anything else.
0:48 “I've done nothing wrong,” she says. “How can you prove different?” “Select the layaway voucher,” the game says. Thanks, game.
0:48 Wait, so the earrings were proof of what again? I might not be cut out for this game.
0:49 “Press X to call the statement into doubt.” Whatever you say, game.
0:50 “Mr. Gage hates Jews. A lot of people do. It's not my fault if he has nice things!” What do I press to call a statement into non-sequitir?
0:51 Well, she gave me the address of the jewelry store that the suspected shooter worked at, so I guess I'll check that out.
0:51 Oh hey, are these clues? Well, it says this book is unrelated, and there's already no music playing, so I guess I can walk away safely.
0:52 I knock over a parking meter while leaving, then drive in the wrong lane most of the way to the jewelry store. Partner doesn't say a thing. Ah, GTA.
0:53 The suspect, Edgar Kalou, pulls the ol' “Mr. Kalou is out back, he said he had to lie down” routine and I fall for it like a chump. Platforming-less foot-chase time again!
0:54 “Hold LT and use R to aim.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm just supposed to shoot this guy in the back? I guess that's what they had instead of arresting people back then.
0:54 “Case failed.” I guess I wasn't supposed to shoot him after all. This is what they call “asshole tutorial design.” Because the designers of the tutorial are assholes!
0:55 Loading time!
0:55 I try taking a different chase route this time and get autosteered into the correct doorway. Interactivity, ladies and gentlemen!
0:56 Okay, the mechanic turns out to be to fill up an “aimed at” gauge by aiming at the suspect's back. Then he just somehow knows he should stop running, even though he's facing away from the gauge.
0:56 We arrest Mr. Kalou and take him back to the station. This high-fidelity face technology really lets the terrible acting shine through. (Also the good acting, but that's not as noticeable -- or as fun to note.)
0:57 In the police station, an authority figure with a thick Irish accent walks up to me and speaks: “God's mill may grind slowly, but it grinds finely, son.” I like this guy already.
0:58 “How would you like a chance at smiting this man with the sword of justice?” Great, now I have to learn the fencing minigame too.
0:58 “You're asking me to conduct the interview, sir?” Oh.
0:59 Now he's telling me how to obtain a confession by beating the crap out of my suspect. “May the cat eat him and the cat be eaten by a devil.”
0:59 First thing, the guy asks to see his lawyer. Somebody get this man a lawyer! I'd make a terrible cop.
1:00 I'm reading over the evidence list. This is gonna be like Encyclopedia Brown, right, where any technically false statement means the suspect is a child molester?
1:00 It occurs to me during the interview that I should've checked out the serial number of this gun, too. The gun store was right there.
1:01 Yay, the game is letting me make the call as to whether the suspect is lying now. Also letting me select evidence to back up my assertions.
1:02 It's notably not letting me select the details of what I say, though. When I choose “lie” I don't get to choose what I accuse the suspect of lying about, and sometimes it's a surprise to me.
1:03 The interrogation goes poorly and the suspect clams up. I walk out of the room and the Irish guy -- I don't remember his name or rank, so I guess I'll call him Tater -- yells at me. “Get back in there and raise some lumps, boy!” Talk about a harsh incentive to do well at interrogation.
1:03 I go back in expecting the brawling minigame, but I'm actually redoing the entire interrogation word-for-word. Oh.
1:04 I'm definitely an asshole, by the way.
1:05 Tater is pleased at how I race-baited this guy into a confession. It's not physical violence, but I suppose it'll have to do.
1:06 Apparently that's the end of this chapter. “Your actions have earned you a promotion.” I know, I'm the best at taunting Jews!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yeah. The writing is very good and and I want to see where they're going to take this interrogation mechanic.

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