L. A. Noire

LA Noire just oozes atmosphere. It's got a frame story (soldiers returning to the US from WWII and adjusting to civilian life) that I found interesting, especially where it tightly integrates into the gameplay, namely in the Vice and Arson desks.

The expanded Black Dahlia plotline of the Homicide desk I found less satisfying, in no small part due to the fact that you're nearly always dealing with wrongly-accused suspects. Your character knows this, since the serial killer theory is one he supports, even when his boss and partner don't.

It's also where the wrinkles in the interrogation system are the worst. Picking out Truth is usually the easiest, but Doubt and Lie are problematic. Sometimes Doubt means "I know you're lying, but can't prove it"-- and you might not be able to prove it because it can't be proven, or because you didn't find the one correct piece of evidence (or did find it, but didn't identify it properly).

Non-hostile witnesses will lie about immaterial questions. Sometimes they have clear motive for doing so, other times, not so much. Most of the time, picking incorrectly between doubt or lie, or improperly choosing a piece of evidence, has little to do with catching the killer-- sometimes because all the suspects are the wrong guy anyway, and other times because even though you, as the player, may have figured out the case from only one or two pieces of evidence, protagonist Cole Phelps is a stubborn bastard who goes off on his own with little provocation. A doubt choice can lead to an explosive accusation, and a lie choice can lead to polite cajoling-- or vice-versa.

You aren't allowed to make an evidence chain to support a lie accusation-- only a single piece of evidence. Often you have to ignore the content of an individual's statement, and focus only on keywords and facial expressions. Sometimes it feels like interrogation tree branches were written out in advance, using keywords, and the actual sentences written out later, sometimes in a way that makes no sense.

In one interrogation, a question that was labeled "about missing jewelry" lead to a short question and answer about jewelry (revealing nothing) and then an unprompted follow-up question about what time a person left a location, and this was the response I had to guess Truth, Doubt, or Lie about. Why was this labelled "missing jewelry"? Why were two unrelated subjects conflated into a single question?

The game's feedback is also multilayered and confusing. Audio cues tell you immediately if you've picked a right choice, but if you're wrong, there's nothing you can do about it-- and, for the successful completion of the case, there's nothing you need to do about it. The game simply won't let you fail a case meaningfully, which makes successes feel hollow. I'd much rather have gone without the cues, and without the per-question feedback, if there was a better way to choose and accuse suspects, based on evidence collected and your actual suppositions. As it is, all you get is a star rating.

What killed any chance of replay value on this title for me is what happened when I tried to replay a case. I had one case where I did very poorly on interrogations, and worse than usual on evidence. I'd been usually doing between just better than 60% and 90% on questions, and usually finding every piece of evidence but one or two out of every twenty or so, but on this one case I did much, much worse, an ended up with a star rating of two out of five. I figured I'd pick that case first for replay and see if I could get it to four or five stars-- there are also achievements for getting full star ratings on all cases, so I figured I'd start with my worst-rated case and bump them all up. Furthermore, my original playthrough of this case had resulted in a verbal dressing-down from my boss, which honestly stung a lot worse than the ratings. The case had two suspects (both of them which turn out to be wrong anyway) but I could only amass enough evidence to charge one. (You can only charge one in any case, not both, but I figured I'd just gotten the wrong one-- or, at least, the wrong wrong one. He was especially upset about the lack of evidence in the case.

This is where LA Noire gets too nuanced for its own good. One of the two suspects is a known pedophile. He admits it. Your partner is all for charging that guy, whether he committed the crime or not, to get him off the streets. Of course, he's also a big fan of accusing husbands and boyfriends, and the husband is the other suspect. The thing is, while it's clear while playing the game that neither of them did it, the evidence just seemed to me to line up better against the husband. I didn't want to give in to the attitude of the captain and the partner that it didn't matter what you accuse somebody of, as long as you put away a suspected pedophile. So on my second playthrough, after collecting all the evidence and getting every question right, was to accuse the husband.

I got the same case-ending cutscene again. The captain was livid about the lack of evidence-- which meant that the original accusation had nothing to do with a lack of evidence-- there again was no connection between the feedback the game gives you in its ratings, and the feedback the game's characters give you in the story. I've no idea if the reaction was just to picking the "wrong" suspect, or if perhaps that cutscene is always the same no matter what you do-- in which case, why bother?