The hype surrounding this release was monumental if only for the fact that it featured the use of MotionScan technology, developed by Australian dev house Team Bondi, that was said to be light years ahead of what is available traditionally to development houses. We all saw the TV commercials for it touting that the Tribeca Film Festival selected it and that it was to be, perhaps, the crown jewel of the Rockstar stable.
I'm going to be honest in what I think here. This is my favorite release of the year so far, though I doubt it will drop from the top spot anytime soon. I was sucked in from the opening cinematic and twenty five hours later I emerged from it knowing I had just experienced something special.
The brief primer I'll give is this: You're Cole Phelps, war hero and rising star detective in the Los Angeles Police Department in 1947. Murder is afoot and it is up to you to solve a number of cases that, as you go along, appear interconnected You'll investigate crime scenes, drive around, stop street crimes and even visit famous landmarks along the way!
You'll notice right away that this is, essentially, a game much like the Lucasarts adventure games of the "glory" days of PC gaming that many remember so fondly. I'm one of those people and because of that I found the investigation sequences to be so absorbing. The crime scene investigation transitions, eventually, into making an arrest and interrogating suspects. All questioning in this game boils down to three options, Truth, Doubt and Lie. Doubting will get you a lot of places, but if you really feel you've got the evidence accuse them of lying. This leads me to one of the few criticisms I will toss at the title, though. You can, essentially, blunder your way through investigations and still make an arrest. You really can't fail out of a case perse which I felt was a bit much but it didn't really deter from my enjoyment.
The open world elements of the game felt, at times, just tacked on. You could, as a general rule, destroy propetry, run citizens over and just be a psychopath supreme and the most you'd hear is a "What are you doing, Phelps?!" from your partner. All of this can be done and then as soon as you get to a crime scene or follow up on a lead it as though none of that matters. Self-repairing cars, infinite citizens to run over and street crimes that more often than not end up in the perp being gunned down, mean little. They have no affect on the story at all which is something that titles like Grand Theft Auto did by using the star system to indicate the heat was on if you did too many crazy things. No such thing exists here and, frankly, it can be a little disturbing. I drove around to nearly every lead at first, but eventually I started making my partner drive places because frankly I got tired of it. The level of engagement that games like the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto series had with the open world segments made the game, but here it just seems to be more of an option not a necessity.
There were rumblings ever since the game was close to release that Rockstar studios decided that the game, without the open world sandbox style we've come to expect, was added late in the game development cycle for fears that a game featuring only investigation/interrogation/cut scenes would not be received as well. I have to wonder what the game would have been like and I honestly think I would have loved it anyway.
All that complaining makes one think I didn't enjoy the game, but honestly I did. I enjoyed it more than any game I have played in the last five years. That is a fact.
The investigation and interrogation mechanics were so well handled that it drove me almost as much as the story to get throughthe game.
This isn't just a story that's good for a video game, but a story that manages to achieve heights that few in the history of this medium have, I feel. This isn't just another detective story, no sir. It isn't perfect by any means, and there were some parts that were a bit uneven but damn if it didn't keep me enthralled for 25+ hours of time. I'd say that, in itself, is a major triumph that few writers in the television/film industry can say they've done. This is quality and you should do yourself a favor and experience it just to see just how damn good it is.
The plot is brilliant and things are enhanced further by the fact that performances in the game, captured by the MotionScan technology mentioned prior, are phenomenal. Cole Phelps is a nuanced character that clearly has a lot going on underneath the Golden Boy exterior. Jack Kelso, an insurance investigator and also a former Marine who served with Phelps in Okinawa, is just as great. My only complaint as that we didn't see more of him honestly. There are scores of character actors and tons of people you know as "That guy/gal" from movies and TV scattered throughout. There are few performances that I can actually say were poor, but the delivery of dialogue and the fact that there is an entirely new level of detail given to facial animation due to the tech was just all the more immersive for me.
This game clawed its way into my heart faster than I would care to admit. I have really enjoyed games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption but this was another beast entirely. It got me to thinking, though, and honestly I could ruminate on how video games are a great medium for fantastic storytelling and how they can be art and so forth. I could do that, but this fellow has said it so much better than I. Read through this and you'll get where I'm coming from.
All things considered this was a fantastic game that I will play through again at some point just to experience the highs and lows of the story yet again. I enjoyed it immensely and would reccommend it to anyone. All the flaws aside, which I felt were so minor that the rest outshined it, didn't deter at all from my enjoyment of this A+ title.