It’s raining. It always rains in autumn. The sky is as grey as the cigarette smoke trailing out of the dimly lit doorways that line the street; tired-eyed workers desperate for one last fix before they head back inside. It’s almost lunchtime but the street lights still glow sickly under the grey clouds.
The post arrives - a bundle of tatty jiffy bags straining against red elastic restraints, but only one makes it as far as my desk, falling with an empty thump. It's a copy of LA Noire for PC - 'The Complete Edition'.
I sigh, suddenly weary. It’s taken six months to get here, and we’re not about to throw that away. Not to take a phone call from some dame we met last night, not to snatch the last doughnut from the tray before Harry gets in - I'm tired, but I'm going to give this my all.
I brew some tea and start looking for truth in a grey garden of empty promises. Here are the facts...
You start off as a uniformed beat cop, before graduating to a detective role
The Complete Edition of LA Noire has been tweaked over the past six months by Rockstar Leeds to offer a decent range of graphical options for the PC, but cranking everything to maximum and the jaggies and pixel-creep are horrific. LA Noire doesn't look much worse with the image quality settings all dialled down, although a PC with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E8220, 4GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 5770 1GB struggled to play it at even the lowest settings.
The Complete Edition also includes all the previous DLC for the console version released in May, including five missions, the Badge Pursuit Challenge and all the add-on weapons and outfits. The Complete Edition will also be coming to consoles, but we were mostly interested in whether the game played well on PC. It does, even if it doesn’t like Windows UAC (but then again, who does?)
Review done? Hardly. The release of LA Noire on PC also acts as an excellent opportunity to look back at the game as a whole and see if it's still worthy of the 89 per cent average that it was given by critics when it was originally released. Might it be worth more, or is the 73 per cent user average closer to the truth?
Left: lowest detail, Right: highest detail. Click for larger images
Team Bondi's ambition – to resuscitate the adventure game genre while blending in elements of film-making – is certainly laudable. Injecting games with the need to think, observe and not just frantically hammer Space or Escape to skip cutscenes and start shooting stuff is to the benefit of gaming at large. However, LA Noire pushes this idea too far: the first few hours feel more like a giant QuickTime Event, with the game prompting you to press a button or walk a clearly marked path from A to B every few minutes. That would be fine, but we’re sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard under our fingers – it would be nice to feel like we’re actually doing something. Or, alternatively, that we can sit back and watch what’s going on.
The character animation – especially the face animations and textures – are a tangible step forward from previous efforts, which often fell into the uncanny valley. However, there’s still too much of Red Dwarf's Kryten evoked in the head and motions to be truly convincing. The delivery of the dialogue is also jarring, and not just because the lip sync often falls apart.
Aside from often looking like it’s been dubbed from German, the dialogue itself also feels inconsistent, with protagonist Cole Phelps jumping from being calmly reasonable or an angry bully. It might be 1940s Los Angeles, but it’s hard to empathise with a character so prone to violent mood swings. It also makes it hard to gauge what Phelps will actually say when you choose a dialogue option – for God’s sake, Phelps, don’t call a character witness a nosey old hag!
Largely though, the presentation of LA Noire is rich, realistic and enjoyable. The city feels alive as you drive through it, with people going about their business and the streets full of iconic cars of the period. The cars even feel appropriately different as you drive them – trucks are leaden in both acceleration and steering; smaller cars feel more nippy and manoeuvrable. It’s not the presentation where LA Noire is lacking, however; it’s the gameplay.