Prior to its release, I fully expected L.A. Noire to be a smash hit with both reviewers and gamers. Though the game was far from a failure, it quickly became clear that the game wasn't the universally lauded title I expected it to be. The game starts promising enough, with an amazing sense of a style and unbelievably good voice-acting. After a while though, I began to simply endure L.A. Noire's convoluted narrative and questionable gamely mechanics in order to see the story come to a close.
If I had to settle on a singular adjective for the game, I'd have to call it "alright". And while games that are just "alright" can be fun, I think L.A Noire could've been so much more with just few simple – and ok, not so simple – changes. The game did fairly well, so we'll undoubtably see another, hopefully improved L.A. Noire sometime in the next few years. Here's my advice for Rockstar on how to turn this decent game into the experience it was meant to be:
1. Keep the story tight (potential spoilers)
A story, like many other important things in life, is best kept tight. While I was originally intrigued by the multiple storylines woven into L.A. Noire, the game quickly became bloated by a narrative that was trying to be too many things to too many people. It's a story about police corruption and the press. It's a story about WWII vets dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, there's a story in there about Cole Phelp's marriage that's supposed to be interesting because we empathize with Phelps. At least we would empathize with Phelps if Rockstar had spent more time developing his character. Yes, the actors did a phenomenal job voicing the plethora of characters in L.A. Noire's world. Sadly, great acting can't make up for bad writing. Rather than being a tightly-knit detective story, it became – well, a lot of things that were just ok.
2. Improve combat or get rid of it
I actually enjoyed the combat in L.A. Noire quite a bit. Not because it was good, but because it was a nice break from the long stretches of investigation and cinematics that seemed to – and in fact, did – go on for hours. The problem with my enjoyment, of course, is that the combat is terrible. Rockstar even managed to make rookie mistakes like using the same button for run and shoot, which is a cardinal sin in any game. Even worse, the game uses a cover system that seems to work against you at times, since your ability to quickly get in an out of cover seems to trip up whenever you're in a tight situation. Combined, these mechanics ultimately lead to many frustrating, unwarranted deaths.
It almost seems like Rockstar wasn't sure if they wanted combat in the game, but decided to add it since that's what everyone expected. Why allow you to draw your weapon during an on foot chase if you can't even shoot anyone? Why add clunky fist fights when a cinematic would suffice? I can almost hear an exec saying, "but people will be angry if they aren't allowed to hurt people!", which prompted the team to add lots of clunky, unnecessary combat.
3. Decide if it's an open world game or not
At times, L.A.Noire seemed to suffer from genre schizophrenia, vacillating from a Heavy Rain-esque linear experience to a poor man's Grand Theft Auto. If Rockstar wants us to feel like a detective who can truly do anything in old-timey LA, they need to give us actual things to do. Other than running over pedestrians (which, oddly enough, has no real consequences) and hot dog stands, there's literally nothing to do in L.A. Noire's world. Sure, you can explore the city and find landmarks, but who cares about doing that if you can't even interact with half of them?
The unfortunate truth is that as any game becomes more cinematic (in the strictest sense of this word, i.e., one ending, no branching paths, etc.), the actions of a player must become increasingly restricted to keep the story coherent. I think Rockstar wanted to have their cake and eat it too by somehow creating a game that was both open and cinematic. If our character isn't allowed to deviate from the predefined story, don't add perfunctory elements to a game simply because people expect them. Next time, stick to your guns and make a game that feels like a movie, or make a open world game in a world that isn't boring. You can't have both.
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