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Mass Effect vs L.A. Noire

Feature; Sep. 2, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Robert F. Ludwick
Subtypes: Opinion
I sank tons of time into Mass Effect 1 & 2 - why not L.A. Noire?

We all have games and game franchises that resonate with us more than others. When I was younger, Sonic the Hedgehog was my favorite intellectual property to play. I moved on to the NFL 2K series before Electronic Arts killed it by acquiring the NFL video games license exclusively. These days, however, my top-rated video game franchise is Mass Effect.

Mass Effect

Interestingly, I didn't play the first Mass Effect until March 2011. It had been out for more than three years by that point! Hell, even Mass Effect 2 had been out for more than a year. I ended up buying 1 and 2 off Amazon when it had a sale on ME2.

When I finally played the games, I was thunderstruck. They were just so ... good. I hadn't been that hooked by a game for quite some time. I would reluctantly go to bed, later than I should, and look forward to getting home from work just so I could continue my FemShep's progress in the series (yes, folks, I think the female experience in the game is even better than the male). When I wrapped up ME1, I immediately launched into ME2. I suppose that was one of the upsides to waiting so long to play the Mass Effect series — I got to play two games in a row without the multi-year wait that most people had to contend with.

One of my gamer friends, whose opinion I value when it comes to game quality, had a differing opinion of the shift from ME1 and ME2. He disliked the movement away from RPG elements in ME2. I actually enjoyed it, although there were some aspects of ME1 that I appreciated and would have wanted retained. But ME2 was an even better experience for me. I put even more time into ME2 than I did ME1. When I got to the end of the game, having finished off everything on the side, I went and bought all of the DLC available just to chew through all of that as well.

Mass Effect 2

But it didn't end there. Once I wrapped up those two, I ended up getting all of the Mass Effect books on audio so I could listen to them in the car on my then-lengthy commute to work. I still need to get all of the comics. And I'll get the new book in either print or digital form when it releases. I was even excited to get to meet — and be an extra on The Guild with — Holly Conrad, who everybody ought to know is the best FemShep cosplayer there is.

Now that I've firmly established just how much of an ME fan I've come to be, let's contrast this with a recent release — L.A. Noire. Conversely to playing ME1 over three years after it came out, I got to boot up L.A. Noire the night it came out because I pre-ordered it on Amazon. I mean, it had to be stupendous, right? GTA IV nearly climbed into the pantheon of games that I, as illustrated before, play too long and anticipate coming back to at the end of the day. Let's see what L.A. Noire had going for it:

  • Rockstar game
  • Open world
  • 3 discs on Xbox 360 (I'm getting my money's worth!)
  • 180-degree difference from GTA — police perspective!
  • Set in the city I just moved to
  • Did I already mention an open-world game from Rockstar?

I played a lot of L.A. Noire after I got it. It actually superseded Heavy Rain, another game to which I came late. And I had the same issue in Heavy Rain as I ended up having with L.A. Noire. See, I got through the first disc pretty quickly and got a little way through the second disc. But then E3 2011 rolled up, and I had to step away to deal with the video game industry's biggest annual event. After a week of E3 prep, a week of E3 itself, and a week of post-E3 wraps and coverage, I actually needed a break from games.

L.A. Noire

This break lasted quite some time. I didn't pick up any of my games for a while — at least a month. Call me a bad gamer if you want, but I had just seriously immersed myself in video games and needed a breather to experience other things in life — like getting back into my groove at Job No. 1, maybe catching a couple movies, and making friends at said Job No. 1, which I just started in March. So when I thought about coming back and playing games again...

L.A. Noire just didn't strike my fancy. It's as simple as that. When I started to think about ending my break from gaming, L.A. Noire didn't draw me in. When I thought about playing it, I would come up with other things to do instead. I ended up playing the first chapter of Alan Wake, a game I've had in my library for some time but hadn't loaded up yet. I also bought Trenched and have played some of that, as well as the new Mortal Kombat.

I know why L.A. Noire didn't draw me back in. The game wasn't engaging enough. Once you get past the initial wow factor for the facial movements and the uniqueness of playing the part of an investigative police officer, it becomes repetitive. The main character, Cole Phelps, didn't connect with me. There wasn't enough character development with Phelps like there is with most other characters in Rockstar's open-world games.

This is about all the character development L.A. Noire has...
This is about all the character development L.A. Noire has...

The game play was highly repetitive. It was the same thing time and time again. Get a case, go to the scene, log evidence. Then follow a chain of people and locations, gathering evidence the whole time, until you have an action sequence in which you bring one or more suspects in. Interrogate them all, then charge one. Rinse and repeat.

This got to be old hat very quickly. The story didn't come alive. It felt like a backdrop to each individual case. I'm sure that the case-by-case nature of L.A. Noire appeals to some (as it did to Jenner in his official review for OMGN — he liked the story far more than I did), but it doesn't strike a chord ultimately. The characters seemed underdeveloped, and the broken nature of the flashbacks did not endear me to the game's flow.

Now contrast this with Mass Effect. It's very story driven, and the character development in the game is deep. Granted, Mass Effect is an RPG franchise, and RPGs are highly dependent on story and character development. RPGs can also suffer from repetitiveness, much like L.A. Noire. The first Mass Effect definitely had a repetitive feel for many of the side missions, but this was corrected somewhat in the sequel.

Are these seriously the guards for ME3? Child's play.
Are these seriously the guards for ME3? Child's play.

The whole Mass Effect package is what drew me in. The story is well-written and deep. The character development is strong nearly across the board. The game play itself is fun and engrossing. While playing, I felt I was immersing myself in the game and, in a sense, becoming Commander Shepard. However, in L.A. Noire, I never became immersed. I was playing a game from a distance, rather than really getting in touch with what it had to offer.

The two are of different genres and play totally differently to boot. L.A. Noire compares to Mass Effect 2 in the length of play required to complete the game, so it's not a value issue. The former just wasn't able to make me care about the characters or how I performed in the game. Mass Effect did.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some patient waiting ahead of me for Mass Effect 3.

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