What’s the Story So Far?
This is part 2 of a 3-part critique of Rockstar Games’s LA Noire. Part 1 was about the story. Part 2 is about the gunplay.
What’s the Problem?
There’s a lot of shooting in LA Noire. Makes sense: it’s a Rockstar game. They made GTA and Red Dead Redemption: big open-world games with lots of shooting. And the shooting mechanics in Red Dead were very good (a bit weird that one cowboy can carry so very many guns, but apart from that…).
As opposed to previous Rockstar titles, you can’t get your gun out whenever you like in LA Noire. You may only use your gun at certain times, which shall be determined by the game and not by you. This is just one more example of Rockstar trying to fool us into thinking this is a sandbox game when really it’s linear; just with a big map.
As in previous Rockstar games, you need to hold the left trigger for Cole to aim. But unlike previous titles, you can only use your gun when Cole lets you, not whenever you want to. So why hold L? If you can only ever use your gun when the Game says you can, why do I also have to hold L for it to work? It’s not like I can put the gun away.
So you just hold L all the time. It’s pointless, but what’s the problem with that?
Because you can’t run while holding L. How do you run? By holding the right trigger. Yeah, the same button you use to shoot. So if you want to, say, shoot a couple of times and then run to cover, you have to hold L (aim), push R (fire), release L (stop aiming), then hold R (run).
Why not just have Cole aim along his sights all the time that his gun is out and use L for run? Or the A button? That’s what it is in every other open-world game and it worked fine in them.
And it gets even worse if you’re in cover. See, in most games you can dash out of cover and charge up to the enemies or another piece of cover or whatever by pushing the run button when you’re in cover. This has your player vault your cover and charge the enemy. You cannot do this in LA Noire because the controls don’t let you. Because if you push the run button (R), Cole will fire from cover without aiming (R).
So if you do ever want to leave cover, you have to push the right bumper, at which point Cole will slowly stand up and you may now push R and run for cover. But you can’t dash from cover to cover; you need to let them shoot you a bit first. And don’t push R too quick, or Cole will start firing again while very slowly ambling around.
Here’s a petty gripe for you: Rockstar games have this funny way of turning the player around whereby they walk in a little circle rather than strafing or backpedalling. Most of the time (say, walking through crime scenes or in police stations) that’s fine – awkward, but fine – but when you’re in the middle of a gunfight and Cole turns a long slow circle rather than darting, running, or leaping out of harm’s way, you die.
Which means that you have to plan every battle ahead and have no recourse if things surprise you. If you don’t know where the bad guys are, or pops up behind you, you die because – in the middle of battle – Cole meanders around at a slow walk instead of moving like he’s being shot at.
is too low on the screen, which makes me constantly think my shots are going to miss (and sometimes do). Also, it’s right in the centre of the screen. You know, where Cole is. This means that, whenever people are trying to kill you, you can’t see what’s directly in front of your face. You’re constantly shooting around yourself.
Which is downright perplexing, because Red Dead had a much better system. You used left or right on the D-Pad to dictate whether you wanted the camera to be over Marsten’s left or right shoulder, and could easily change mid-battle if an enemy popped up on the other side.
When you’re out driving, smaller missions come over the radio that you can either go and stop (they generally take about 5 minutes) or ignore.
Most of these seem to end in a hostage situation. Hit-and-run? Domestic violence? Bank robbery (my goodness a lot of banks get robbed in LA in 1947)? No matter the scenario, they end with the final baddie grabbing hold of an innocent person and Cole having to shoot around the hostage and kill the baddie.
It gets old. Especially since, if you miss, you have to restart the mission.
And occasionally the baddies survive bullets to the head, and shoot the hostage, and you have to restart the mission.
At one stage, I was chasing a man and rather than follow him up a drainpipe I just shot him because I genuinely expected by the time I climbed after him he’d have somehow found a hostage on the rooftop and I’d have to have a shoot-off and I couldn’t be bothered. It was just easier to murder him in cold blood.
You can tell a foot chase is about to start because Cole, rather than walking up and starting a conversation as usual (or, God forbid, letting the player control the game they’re playing), will stop fifteen feet away, initiate a cutscene, and yell “That’s him” or “Stop right there” or something similar. At which point the suspect legs it out the door with a fifteen-foot headstart. Good job, Cole. Way to announce your arrival with hostility. You couldn’t have just walked over and calmly puts the cuffs on him? You had to yell at him?
So they run. And it seems that fitness in 1947 was the order of the day, because every perp runs at the same speed as a fully-trained LAPD officer, so it takes ages for Cole to catch anyone. It’s easier to just shoot them, but since the game is so strict on when you can use your gun that’s not always on option.
On the offchance that the game allows you your gun, you may fire a warning shot. You don’t do this by firing near the perp. No. That would be silly. You do it by aiming at the perp for long enough, at which point the game allows you to watch a cutscene (you like cutscenes, right? Because you’ll be watching them for gorram everything) of Cole shooting into the air and the perp stopping.
It’s actually not such a bad system – it rewards players who can keep the target in their sights for long enough – but it doesn’t make sense why only shots fired up during a cutscene work. They could equally have made it that if you shoot close enough to the suspect without hitting them, the perp surrenders. Thus, if you want a peaceful solution, you have to take the risk that you could accidentally kill them.
Cole carries ammo for every gun in the universe. About his person (without ruining the lines of his suit, of course) are stashed machine gun and shotgun ammo, as well as an infinite supply for his pistol.
Which is just as well, because there’s no indication of how much ammo any gun has. There’s no ammo counter onscreen, so you don’t know when that machine gun you just picked up will run out of bullets. You have a couple of reloads, usually, but an exact count? No.
At best, Cole mutters, “Running low” but how low? Why leave us wondering whether that means (as it sometimes does) that you can take out all five baddies in the next room, or whether (as in other cases) you’ll run out after two bullets and eat a lead sandwich.
If you really wanted to keep the screen neat and clean, why not exclude an ammo counter as default, but let us put it back in if we want to? That way we wouldn’t have to scramble for cover because our guns ran out during our big charge. Not that we can scramble for cover, because of Cole’s enormous turning circle.
Next time: The Rest of what’s wrong with L.A. Noire, and What’s the Solution?