Sometimes, when a particularly interesting game comes out, one reviewer is not enough. As games journalists, we have opinions, many of them, and we like to get them across. With L.A. Noire sending the majority of the Dealspwn staff into sofa-bound nests from which to play for hours upon end, emerging online the following day with plenty to chat about and discuss, we figured we'd supplement our official review with a round-table discussion of Team Bondi's opus...and publish our critical conversation for you all to get involved in too!
Matt Gardner: L.A. Noire, then. Biggest new IP launch in a very long time. Lots of hype, lots of new technology. What were your first impressions when you fired it up?
Carl Phillips: What, other than the feeling my social life was going to be stolen? The tone it set from the very start was excellent I though, the digitised Los Angeles was quite the sight. Then again I've been looking forward to the game for a very, very long time, so I was quite excitable when I put it in.
Felix Kemp: Yeah, Rockstar are among the best at really embedding you in a specific place, be it Liberty City or the Old West. LA is no different. The MotionScan tech really grabs you from the start. Surprisingly, it's quite jarring and almost unnatural to see a videogame character emote so realistically. But once you settle into it, there really is no going back.
Matt Gardner: I think that was one of the highlights for me, being able to pick actors out by their faces, not just their voices. Playing the 'What Have I Seen You In?' game was brilliant.
Tom Silkstone: Yeah that was good, there are lots of appearances from actors that have had small parts in TV in the past, and you could actually recognise them!
Carl Phillips: Oh yes, the other half and I kept playing that game. "Ooo, look it's Matt Parkman!" and "Isn't that Carl from How I Met Your Mother?"
Matt Gardner: I think so often in video games, and indeed in animated films, there's sometimes something of a jarring discrepancy when the voice and the being it comes from don't quite line up in your mind. But there was absolutely no danger of that here.
Felix Kemp: They were right to use the original actors’ actual faces. It meshes well with the animation and voice, simply because they all happened at once, rather than recorded separately and then thrown together.
Tom Silkstone: I liked the fact it dropped you straight into a gritty noir style world right from the start, there was no messing about. You knew this was a game that was going to take hold of you and it'd be hard to tear yourself away until you reached the end. Then the characters started speaking and the MotionScan personally blew me away, it's great to see voice actors’ emotions as well as hearing it in their speech. Whilst the merging the faces and voices was a brilliant idea, it does highlight the difference in quality when it comes to the animation on the rest of the body. Even my Mum commented on how unnatural some of the hand and arm movements were!
Felix Kemp: Well, if I remember correctly, David Cage was critical of MotionScan. Simply because it didn't scan bodies. Which I thought was a bit picky, but I understand now. It's a huge divide.
Tom Silkstone: Once full body scans come into play, that'll really change things for the better, although the downside is that it'll probably take longer to produce the games.
Felix Kemp: You see, I was massively sceptical to begin with. I couldn't see them living up to their big promises of truly analyzing facial expressions. I was wrong! And Rockstar don't skimp on moral ambiguity either. It's actually pretty difficult to tell if someone is lying. Shifty eyes and a stutter don't instantly mean 'criminal'.
Carl Phillips: Yeah, I thought I had the expressions down with interrogations, and then learned the hard way I was actually going to have to pay attention.
Tom Silkstone: My thoughts exactly, on the interrogation front. You thought you had somebody, then it turned out their fidgeting was out of fear rather than because they were lying.
Carl Phillips: I think what impressed me the most initially was the hands-on approach when looking for evidence. I was picking up inconsequential items for the hell of it, just to inspect them.
Matt Gardner: Yeah, you had to turn off the hints though. The context-sensitive reminders to investigate further by pressing ‘A’ took the mystery away somewhat.
Felix Kemp: Very true. It's not like every object is relevant. It makes finding actual clues rewarding. Team Bondi did a fantastic job of making even the smallest clue significant. It's amazing narrative work, really.
Tom Silkstone: Yeah it was good to have a proper dig around the crime scenes. Especially later on when you can jump over the police barriers and interview neighbours and occasionally other people in the immediate vicinity.
Matt Gardner: The game really rewarded you for being pedantic in that respect. Meticulous sweeps of crime scenes were met with new conversation options, leading you further and deeper into the story the better a job you did. I found myself being extraordinarily OCD.
Tom Silkstone: Yeah, I preferred to be thorough rather than rushing into things Dirty Harry style, spending as much time as possible combing over things to make sure I hadn't missed anything! I just got so into it, I desperately wanted to catch the right perp every time! Having said that I did make a spectacular balls-up in one of the arson cases and got shouted at for charging the wrong person!
Carl Phillips: Yeah, there were some interesting moral choices when it came to charging suspects in quite a few cases. I actually spent a good five minutes trying to decide on one particular case.
Felix Kemp: My only real criticism is how Rockstar repeat the structure of cases. The crime scene, the scouring, the following up of leads. While they're all great features, I'd have loved for the structure to be thrown about a bit. And my god, how athletic is all of LA? Everyone is like Ezio from AC! Leaping off rooftops. I almost cried when I started chasing an old man who'd shot his wife and leaped off a roof.
Matt Gardner: I think that's partly why the game's done so very well. The procedural, episodic detective drama is a mainstay of contemporary culture now. You look at the popularity of shows like CSI, House, The Mentalist, Castle, Waking The Dead etc. even the new embodiment of Sherlock Holmes and classics like Morse, Frost and Poirot. Those shows are often filled with wrong turns and mysterious twists, and audiences love that. But they’re self-contained. My biggest peeve is when the season-long story arcs seem forced, but Team Bondi introduced things excellently.
Tom Silkstone: Let’s not forget Columbo! Phelps actually turns around and says "Just one more thing!" in one of the cases!
Matt Gardner: Hahaha. Indeed he does!
Felix Kemp: It was brilliant. Truly captivating stuff. MotionScan would be a useless tech demo if the writing and plotting wasn't up to scratch. But thankfully it is.
Tom Silkstone: The writing is nothing short of spectacular.
Matt Gardner: Agreed. I had some issues with L.A Noire all the way through, but I couldn't stop playing and it was the slowly unwinding, larger story arcs that did it.
Carl Phillips: Well it's like I said in the review, I felt my investment was similar to that of a television series instead of that of a computer game.
Felix Kemp: Completely right, Carl. It does what Alan Wake strived so hard for. The combat was awful, though; a throwaway feature I feel was added in late or simply glossed over. That said, I enjoyed the fisticuffs. It's simple but satisfying. Although when in pursuit of a criminal who hides behind a wall, don't keep running Phelps!
Tom Silkstone: The only issues I had were with the AI controlled cars, the siren, and the combat.
Matt Gardner: Oh the siren.
Carl Phillips: I found the normal horn was more useful if I'm honest.
Tom Silkstone: The siren only seems to work half the time, the other half of the time it's just an irritating noise that drowns out the awesome soundtrack. It seems like the other drivers in LA are sitting in their cars saying " Oh, here comes Detective Phelps again, shall we get out of his way?" "No, it'll be funnier to drive his vehicle expenses through the roof!"
Matt Gardner: I fell short of the $40000 achievement by five grand. I almost cried.
Carl Phillips: I'm pretty sure I lost a star in my end of case rating because of a stubborn driver who refused to get out of the way, and then had their car totalled as result. But hey, I'm a maverick cop who gets results.
Felix Kemp: LA is very understanding of car crashes, huh? They get out, inspect the damage then stand around for a while. Incidentally, how many civilians have you all run over? I've not hit one!
Matt Gardner: Oh the pedestrians are all ninjas. Or circus folk.
Tom Silkstone: I hit a couple; your heart jumps into your mouth when you see them fly off the hood, instead of causing you to break out in fits of laughter like it would in games such as GTA! I did find the warning that came up about LAPD Detectives being present to protect the people rather than harm them to be a little bit annoying the third or fourth time it popped up.
Matt Gardner: It does instil a sense of civic duty though. And you're right - I wanted to avoid them as much as possible rather than gleefully mowing them don as GTA encourages. The things a star-rating can do to change gameplay styles.
Felix Kemp: What did we think of Phelps? Because I thought he was pretty fantastic, although his Mad Men-style pacific war flashbacks became tiresome and a tad self-indulgent. Aaron Staton is great. Especially when you consider how forgettable he is in Mad Men.
Tom Silkstone: Yeah, Phelps seems like a pretty straight shooter with an interesting back story at first, then things start happening later on, and he becomes a fully fledged three dimensional character! He's a hero who has his flaws, just like a REAL person!
Matt Gardner: I felt it was a bit clunky sometimes in the interrogations jumping from the mild-manners of a bank clerk to 'WE'RE GONNA LOCK YOU THE F*CK UP!'
Felix Kemp: I loved clicking Lie! Phelps gets all badass. Lounging back in the chair, throwing out threats
Tom Silkstone: Yeah he does go from calm to cartoonish "steam shooting out of his ears" rage in a matter of seconds!
Matt Gardner: I think it's worth mentioning, particularly with regard to the character of Phelps, that L.A. Noire takes an age to get going. It sets it all up very slowly, making players comfortable with cases and then stepping it up about halfway through Homicide. At least, for me, that was where things got really interesting.
Carl Phillips: I personally loved the pacing though; we have enough "SHOOT EVERYTHING" games as it is.
Tom Silkstone: That's definitely a good thing though, the character progression isn't rushed, and you really feel like you're getting to know him.
Felix Kemp: Very true. But I like that Rockstar are in no rush to impress us. We know they're going to deliver. It makes hitting the big time feel well-deserved.
Tom Silkstone: Good point Carl. It's nice that you fail missions for gunning some people down, even if you're just trying to wing them. It did take me a while to work out exactly how the warning shot worked though.
Felix Kemp: That said, I hate how Homicide ended with a gunfight. After that absolutely brilliant paper chase across all of LA, they end it with a stilted, clumsy sewer exchange.
Carl Phillips: That actually brings me to a point I got annoyed about. When I was playing I was purposely trying to go for non-lethal shots, and then realised that as it was all scripted it didn't really matter, especially with the dispatch missions.
Matt Gardner: Yeah, the game completely failed to play to its strengths there.
Felix Kemp: Although, I did call it! I knew it was the temp!
Tom Silkstone: I quite enjoyed that, it was fairly creepy, especially when he's mocking you and his voice is echoing around and you're not quite sure where he is.
Carl Phillips: It was like, "I could have gotten that headshot achievement ages ago!"
Felix Kemp: I got lost.
Matt Gardner: So did I.
Felix Kemp: The maze was cool, though. Very Kubrickian
Tom Silkstone: The house outside the church is a proper killer's hide out though, you've got to have a blood stained bath complete with trophies from your victims!
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!