Retro Game Review: L.A. Noire (2011, Rockstar Games)


(This review is based on my experience replaying L.A. NoireBe sure to reread Leonard Wilson’s review, from when the game was originally released.)

I recently replayed L.A. Noire, a game that I enjoyed when it was first released in 2011.  I was curious to see if, after eight years, it still held up.  The first time I played L.A. Noire, it was on the Xbox 360.  For the replay, I used the version that was released for the PS4.  This version included extra rewards and cases that were not originally included in the game.

L.A. Noire takes place in Los Angeles in the years immediately following World War II.  For the majority of the game, you control the actions of Cole Phelps, a decorated USMC veteran who works his way up through the LAPD.  He starts as a uniformed policeman before being promoted to detective.  The game follows him through three different department until, as a result of a personal scandal, he ends up being demoted down to arson.  Along the way, Phelps learns the truth about the Black Dahlia murderer and gets involved in the deadly aftereffects of a morphine heist.  Through a series of flashbacks, we also discover that Phelps may not be the war hero that everyone thinks that he is.  Cole’s an interesting hero because he’s so openly ambitious and judgmental that he is sometimes easy to dislike.  Nearly everyone who works with Cole in the game either beings their partnership disliking him or grows to dislike him over time.  Cole can be abrasive but he also has a strong moral sense and, when he says that he’s a better detective than his partners, he has a point.  From the start, the games teases us about Cole’s inevitable downfall but, when it actually does happen, it catches both Cole and the player by surprise.

L.A. Noire is an open world game, meaning that Phelps can temporarily abandon a case and spend some time walking and driving around Los Angeles.  The game’s recreation of 1947 Hollywood is impressive but, when compared to other open world games, there’s not much to do when you’re not actually on a mission.  This isn’t like Grand Theft Auto, where you can spends weeks mugging people and stealing cars until deciding to return a phone call so that you can get your next task.  L.A. Noire is a story-centered game so be prepared to spend most of your time searching crime scenes for clues, going back to the police station to pick up lab reports, and interrogating suspects.

When L.A. Noire first came out, it was the interrogation scenes that received the most attention.  The game used MotionScan technology and 32 cameras to capture every possible facial expression of the actors appearing in the game.  When you ask someone a question, you can watch their expressions while they answer and make the determination whether they’re lying or telling the truth, as well as whether to be a good cop or a bad cop.  You can watch an liar refuses to make eye contact with you or as an innocent man sweats out an aggressive questioning.  It puts you right in the world of the game, though I was disappointed to discover that wrongly accusing someone of lying doesn’t actually have much of an effect on how each case ends.

The main flaw with L.A. Noire‘s stoy is that, during the final fourth of the game, a new character is introduced.  Jack Kelso served with Cole in the Marines and knows the truth about Cole’s wartime “heroism.”  For the final few cases, Jack replaces Cole as the playable character and Cole is reduced to supporting him.  Because Jack is written to be perfect and basically has none of Cole’s flaws, he’s also not a very interesting protagonist.  Switching from playing Cole to Kelso bothered me the first time that I played L.A. Noire and it bothered me even more when I replayed it.  A final cut scene, which revealed that Kelso knew more than he originally let on, did not help.

Fortunately, the rest of the game still held up very well.  The cases are all challenging without being impossible to solve and the game does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of classic California noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.  Cole, his partners, and all of the suspects are vividly written and voiced characters and the cases that Cole works for Homicide are just creepy enough to make this game appropriate for October playing.  Be careful chasing the Black Dahlia killer into the catacombs.  I didn’t bother to pay attention to where I was going and I spent an hour running around in circles before I finally found him and promptly got gunned down.

There are puzzles to be solved and suspects to be pursued.  This game may mostly be about interrogating people and analyzing clues but it does have its share of car chases.  Fortunately, if you fail to complete an action scene too many times in a row, the game will give you the option of just skipping it.  When you’re working with a partner and heading to a crime scene, that game also give you the option of telling your partner to drive to the location.  That’s something I, being among the directionally challenged, appreciated.

However, if you do enjoy driving through a video game, L.A. Noire‘s recreation of Los Angeles in the 40s has much to recommend it.  Driving through the game’s version of Los Angeles, you’ll find plenty of evidence of America’s post-World War II optimism.  New houses are being constructed.  Innocent young women are hanging out on every street corner, looking to become a star.  The theater marquees advertise movies like Odd Man Out.   All of the famous Hollywood landmarks are lovingly recreated.  An early case leads to you searching for clues behind the Hollywood sign.  Another case actually leads to a firefight at the old Intolerance set while yet another case tests how much attention you’ve been paying by requiring you to solve a series of riddles that will lead you from one landmark to another.  In the tradition of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, L.A. Noire challenges you to take a look at what’s happening underneath Los Angeles’s pleasing surface.

As a game, L.A. Noire holds up well.  I won’t hold my breath for that sequel that was promised seven years ago but I did enjoy replaying it.

Game Review: The Last Half of Darkness (1989, SoftLab Laboratories)


Today, I was planning to take a look back at L.A. Noire but, due to last night’s storms, I lost power right as I was about to start composing my thoughts.  The power has since come back but, rather than do a rush job on one of my favorite games, I’m going to hold off on posting about L.A. Noire until tomorrow or Wednesday.

Instead, for today, I’ll recommend The Last Half of Darkness, a haunted house game that can be played at the Internet Archive.  In The Last Half of Darkness, you are searching the home of your late aunt.  Your aunt was a voodoo witch and you stand to inherit her considerable estate if you can finish the potions that she was working on and also solve the mystery of her death.  To do that, you are going to have to go through and search her home.  The problem is that you are not alone.  Open the right door and you will find the secret to returning life to the dead.  Open the wrong closet or cabinet and prepare to meet your fate at the fangs of a snake or the hands of an angry ghost.

The Last Half of Darkness is a challenging game that is also a lot of fun, assuming that you can get the hang of the game’s point-and-click interface.  Instead of typing out your commands, you click on a list of options that are on the right side of the screen.  You then have to click on the picture of whatever object you want to pick up or direction you want to head.  It took me a while to get used to it but, once I did, it barely bothered me.

This is a good game, full of wit and atmosphere and puzzles that require some concentration but which are not impossible to solve.  For those of you like me who sometimes need to cheat to win a game, here’s a helpful walk-through.

The game itself can be played by clicking here.

Game Review: Eat Me (2017, Chandler Groover)


Copyright Chandler Groover

Eat Me is both one of the strangest and most delicious text adventures that I’ve ever played.

You are a very hungry child being held captive in a dungeon.  Fortunately, your manacles are very tasty.  For that matter, so is the door to your cell, probably because it’s made out of a cheesecake.  If you want to go for a more minimal meal, the skeleton of the prisoner who was in the cell before you is also available for snacking.  In fact, as the player soon discovers, everything in this dungeon can be eaten.  That includes the doors, the instruments of torture, the bodies of the other prisoners, and the guards.  If you’re going to escape you better start eating.

There are a few things that stand out about Eat Me.  One thing is that the solution to almost every problem is to eat.  Some things are easier to eat than others but eating is always the safest way to go.  The other is that it’s a very well-written game, with very tasty descriptions of each room, each object, each person, and, of course, each bite.  Some of the descriptions are downright tasty while others are not something you should read on a full stomach.  None of the NPCs in the game really want to be eaten but, in the end, it’s either you or them.

For those ready to start their meal, Eat Me can played online here.

Game Review: Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare (1983, Infocom)


Welcome to the future.  On the planet of Contra, an Earth colony is run by a self-maintaining system that is housed in a gigantic facility.  The system is responsible for everything from transportation to keeping the weather hospitable for the colonists.  You are at the center of the system.  You have been placed in suspended animation so that your mind can serve as the Central Mentality that keeps the entire system from falling apart.  It’s a job that’s meant to last for 500 years but the rewards are great.

Unfortunately, there’s been an earthquake and the complex has been damaged.  Though you are still in suspended animation, you know that you have to repair the complex before the angry colonists shut you down.  Since you’re in stasis, you have to direct five robots to do all the work.  Each robot has its own “personality” and unique way of describing each room in the complex.  You’ll have to figure out how to get the robots to work together before all of you get shut down permanently.

Suspended is one of the most difficult text adventures that I’ve ever played.  Since each robot can only tell you certain things about each room in the facility, the game often depends on getting the right robots in the right room at the right time.  If you can pull that off, the damage itself is often easy to fix but it’s not always easy to guess which robot will be useful in which situation.  In typical Infocom fashion, there’s also a time limit to the game and making too many mistakes can make it impossible to get things done before time expires.  For most players, winning this game will come down to trial-and-error and frequent saving.  The game is so complex, though, that you feel really damn good when you actually manage to figure it all out.

Suspended can be found at various archival and abandonware sites online, including here.

Silent Hill Memories


I was sixteen when Silent Hill first came out for the Playstation.

From the first minute I played it, I was hooked and Silent Hill would go on to become the first video game that I ever seriously got into.  I would study the game.  I would go online, in those early days of the world wide web, to read the theories of other players and visit the occasional Geocities-hosted fan page.  I actually got very upset when innocent nurse Lisa Garland was lost to the town’s curse.  I was also amazed to discover that the game’s storyline and ending could change depending on whether or not I saved Cybil Bennett.  A video game with multiple endings that went beyond just “good” and “bad?”  This was a big deal back in 1999!

Looking back after all these years, there are four main things that I remember about Silent Hill.

First off, and I know I’m not alone,I remembered the opening and especially the music that played during the scenes of Harry Mason driving down that foggy road:

Secondly, I remember the scenes that played after the game’s ending, which featured all of Silent Hill‘s characters blowing their lines, missing their cues, and laughing about it.  Today the animation may look primitive but back in 1999, seeing this at least provided some comfort if you got one of the bad endings, especially the “bad” ending where you defeated the monster but your daughter died (“Thank you, Daddy … goodbye.”) and then you ended up dead in your car.

I remember the nearly legendary fifth ending of the game, in which Harry Mason ended up getting abducted by aliens.  In the days before YouTube, when you had to trust word-of-mouth, there were some people who insisted that this ending was just an urban legend while there were others who couldn’t stop bragging about how they had gotten the alien ending while the rest of us just had to settle for the “saved the world and your daughter” ending.  When I finally managed to get the UFO ending, I was so happy that I felt like I was the one who had been abducted by aliens.

Finally, the main thing I remember about Silent Hill is that I was never very good at it.  I was the player who always ended up getting lost and walking around in a circle.  I can’t remember how many times I played before I managed to not die in the diner.  As soon as I heard the radio static that indicated that I was about to get attacked, I started to run because I know I wasn’t a good enough shot to fight off any of the game’s monsters.  Harry Mason was searching for his daughter and I was probably the worst possible person to lead him in that search because I somehow always managed to get Harry killed.  It didn’t matter how many times I played the game, I never really got good at it.  Even when I finally managed to get the best ending possible, it was only after saving and reloading the game a countless number of times.

I may have never been good at the game but I still enjoyed leading Harry to his death and occasionally to one of the good endings.  Silent Hill is what taught me that there was more to video games than just jumping and shooting and for that, I will be forever thankful.

Game Review: The Witness (1983, Infocom)


You are a detective, working in 1930s Los Angeles.  One night, you and your assistant, Sgt. Duffy (remember him from Deadline?) are called to the home of Freeman Linder.  Linder is a soldier of fortune whose wife has recently died under mysterious circumstances.  After you arrive and assuming that you are smart enough to follow Linder into his study, he tells you to have a seat while he explains why he needs to be protected from a man named Stiles.  If you don’t take a seat, you’ll end up getting a bullet that was originally meant for Linder.  If you do take your seat, you’ll witness Linder getting shot by an unseen assailant.  You now have 12 hours to explore the house, interrogate all of the suspects (there aren’t many of them), and figure out who murdered Freeman Linder!

The Witness was Infocom’s follow-up to its fabulously successful murder mystery, Deadline.  The Witness is a much simpler and much easier game, though it’s still a good deal of fun.  If Deadline seemed like a big budget MGM extravaganza, The Witness is an entertaining Warner Bros. B-movie.  The mystery at the heart of The Witness is not difficult to solve.  It’s mostly a case of making sure that you’re in the right place at the right time to witness certain events and also making sure that you do certain things in the right order.  The mystery may be easy to solve but getting all of the evidence necessary for a conviction can be tough.

As with most Infocom games, The Witness is well-written and full of memorable details.  The game is set on February 9th, 1938 and, if your detective turns on the radio, he’ll hear programs that actually aired on that date.  The game’s author, Stu Galley, even researched 1930s slang to give the game’s dialogue an authentic feel.  It’s a fun if not particularly difficult game.

The Witness can currently be played over at the Internet Archive.

Retro Game Review: Destroy All Humans! 2 (2006, THQ)


Yesterday, I wrote about how excited I am about the prospect of once again getting to play Destroy All Humans! when the remake of the game is rereleased in 2020.

But why stop with there?  Why not follow that up by remaking Destroy All Humans! 2?

Destroy All Humans! 2 picks up ten years after the end of Destroy All Humans!  It is now 1969 and the world is swinging.  The latest Crypto clone is still disguised as the President of the United States and he is having a ball.  Of course, then the KGB decides to ruin it all by launching a nuclear missile at the Furon mothership.

With the mothership destroyed and Pox reduced to being an ill-tempted hologram, Crypro must figure out not only what the KGB is planning but he must also get revenge for the destruction of the mothership and the death of his commander.  Destroy All Humans! 2 spans the globe, with Crypto going from San Francisco to London to Tokyo to Siberia with the game’s climax taking place on the moon.  Along the way, Destroy All Human! 2 parodies everything from hippies to Godzilla to James Bond.  This is a fun and humorous game that could be played all the way through in just a couple of sessions.  Along with having everything that the first game had, Destroy All Humans! 2 also has some new features.  My favorite was the ability to force hippies, schoolgirls, and other innocent bystanders to forget about me by making them suddenly hear acid rock.  Of course, it’s also a sandbox game so, if you don’t feel like concentrating on the plot, you can just focus your energies on destroying all humans!

Destroy All Humans! 2 is another game that I used to play nonstop on my Xbox.  My Xbox is still in working condition but my controller has seen better days so, whenever I play the game nowadays, I have to keep an eye on Crypto to make sure he doesn’t take off running towards the left side of the screen.

So, how about it?  If 2020 is going to be the year of the Destroy All Humans! remake, how about following up with a remake of Destroy All Humans! 2?

After all, we need Crypto now more than ever!