Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Release Date: June 21st, 2011
Price: 320 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live/$6.90AUD on PSN ($7.95NZD or $3.99USD)/Free with Rockstar Pass
L.A. Noire has seen its fair share of great cases throughout the game. From the simple, yet interesting crimes of the patrol and traffic desks to the nightmarishly perplexing cases of homicide and arson, Rockstar has ensured its players that there is plenty of content to get through again, and again, and again. However, if you’re getting sick of the same old cases then the new Nicholson Electroplating DLC is a new arson case released by Rockstar to try and re-fuel the fire for L.A. Noire players.
The case begins when an explosion rocks downtown Los Angeles. Phelps and Biggs rush immediately to the scene and find out that there has been an accident at the Nicholson Electroplating plant. However, when clues begin to reveal themselves and the mysterious chief chemist and his assistant disappear, it’s very evident that there is more than meets the eye with this case.
As many cases in L.A. Noire are, the Nicholson Electroplating arson case is inspired by the real life explosion of the O’Connor electroplating plant. From the get-go (if you know the story behind the O’Connor electroplating plant) the case is very clearly influenced by the real story. The mystery of the case is an intriguing one and is quite gripping from start to finish, but in the frame of the overarching narrative it really does leave something to be desired.
In the game, the Nicholson Electroplating case is meant to present itself smack-bang in the middle of the other arson cases. In the opening, Phelps and Biggs quickly make a nod to the storyline by dropping in a few lines about the doctor and Jack, but because the case is also designed to be stand-alone it really seems like more of an interjection in the main narrative: a distraction rather than a cog in the L.A. Noire machine.
However, if you play it without the narrative the case really doesn’t seem grand. Instead, as a single case the Nicholson Electroplating disaster is interesting at best, but really doesn’t have the magic of the L.A. Noire story as a support system – and what really made L.A. Noire absolutely wonderful was the story. Actually, this case is most like one of those meals you wouldn’t order at the restaurant, but if you had it put in front of you, you would eat it and be content.
Normally though, if the narrative isn’t that good some of the characters can redeem it. In this case, it’s the chief chemist, Harold McLellan, and his assistant, Tomoko Okamoto, who sold the entire crime to me and intrigued me from the moment I heard about the story. Although the case took a different route than the original 1947 crime and McLellan and Okamoto’s involvement was not nearly to the same degree (this is all I can say without spoiling the case), they were what pulled me in to the narrative in the first place. In fact, if Rockstar and Team Bondi had stuck to the original story of the O’Connor Electroplating Plant, I think the case would have been far more compelling; instead, the attempt to mould the case in with the overarching story caused the case to be far less exciting than I would have liked.
What was really a letdown, though, was that even my favourite aspect of the game seemed a little watered down: questioning and interrogation has long been the part about L.A. Noire that challenged me the most, but in the Nicholson Electroplating case I really felt like I had a walkthrough straight on the screen. Straight off the bat, questioning Fred Nicholson was a job of pressing buttons rather than about reading his facial expressions or accurately deciphering the situation at hand. It was more of a case of “I know to doubt you because the other two options are too ludicrous” and, while it improved as the case progressed, I found harder witnesses and suspects to grill in traffic than I did in the Nicholson Electroplating Disaster.
It’s not all disappointing though: finding clues and evidence was by far the best part. From thoroughly inspecting the explosion crater to finding microfilms, all of the clues contributed to a wonderful unfolding of the story – it’s a bonus that you get achievements for finding them all too. There’s even a cipher that you have to decode in order to progress, which should appeal to all those puzzle-solving fans out there.
The Nicholson Electroplating arson case is a solid case to play and will provide you with another hour or two of investigation, interrogation, and accusation. However, Rockstar really fell short here – not because the case is bad, but because the rest of the game is too good. By trying to insert a piece of DLC into the game instead of marketing it as stand-alone content, the Nicholson Electroplating case had to live up to the expectations of the rest of the game, and it really missed the mark. Rockstar should have created the Nicholson Electroplating case as one that can only be played on its own: that way, instead of playing it in-game and wondering why it stuck out like a sore thumb, players can just finish the entire series and go back to the DLC to return to the elements we loved most about L.A. Noire.
At best, this piece of DLC is perplexing and fun; at worst, it’s a story that doesn’t quite fit. Given all the trials and tribulations that we have been through with Cole Phelps and Herschel Biggs, it feels almost like injustice has been done to the story with this additional piece of content. If you are planning to play this piece of DLC, play it on its own and disregard the attempt to fit it in with the story – you’ll get much more out of it that way. Alternatively, save your Microsoft Points or credit cards for something else, and cross your fingers that Cole Phelps will be appearing in some more mind-blowing cases soon.
I give L.A. Noire Nicholson Electroplating DLC