The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
L.A. Noire is ambitious. It throws the player headlong into a
complex, emotional detective saga set in 1947 Los Angeles. Team Bondi
doesn’t conceal the game’s literary and film influences; allusions to
classic noir abound, and the game succeeds in capturing the dark,
morally ambiguous atmosphere that is the hallmark of the genre. It’s a
game unlike anything else I’ve played, one that uses Rockstar’s familiar
open-world template as a jumping off point to deliver a deliberately
paced adventure game that stresses conversation over gunplay.
has been made of Team Bondi’s groundbreaking facial motion capture
technology, which allowed the developers to effectively “film” real
actors as 3D models and put their expression and dialogue straight into
the game. The results of this experiment are striking; never before have
digital characters conveyed so much real emotion in a video game. In
comparison to L.A. Noire, the characters in Heavy Rain and the Mass
Effect series appear wooden. In addition, the casting of real-life
actors like Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men) and John Noble (Walter Bishop from Fringe)
pays off; this game hasn’t conquered the uncanny valley, but at times I
began to accept these characters as real, breathing human beings.
in any good film noir, appearances can be deceiving. Players take the
role of detective Cole Phelps, a decorated war hero and new LAPD
detective who must navigate the tense underworld of Los Angeles,
negotiating the often-blurry line between cop and criminal. Cole Phelps
is an honest man, but he’s often impetuous, selfish, and haunted by the
events he experienced in WWII. While feted as a war hero, the truth of
what happened to him in the war is tragic and complicated, and the
echoes of those deeds reverberate throughout L.A. Noire. Investigating a
series of murders that tie into the real-life Black Dahlia killings,
Cole begins to understand that the appearance of justice is all that’s
desired by his superiors. While working vice, he also learns that the
difference between gangster and police officer is sometimes little more
than a uniform. Eventually, the web of deceit and corruption widens,
implicating those at the highest levels of society and government. I
don’t want to spoil any revelations, but the events of the last third
come to an explosive head, culminating in a sad, conflicted final scene
that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
as the storytelling is, games are meant to be played. In this regard,
I’m conflicted. Phelp’s career is divided into a series of cases that
spread across the beat patrol, traffic, homicide, vice, and arson desks
(the fact that arson is the last is not a misprint; it ties closely to
some surprising story events). The formula for most cases is uniform:
You and your partner roll up to the crime scene, gather clues, and
interview witnesses and people of interest. It’s best to gather as much
physical evidence as possible, as each clue you log in your notebook
opens up new lines of inquiry. At first, I relished the investigations.
Anything in the environment could give you a big break in the case, from
a ring to a prop shrunken head in a Hollywood production studio.
However, over the course of the game’s 20 hours the repetitive search
mechanic wears thin. Walking around waiting for a controller rumble to
alert you to an item of interest feels more like an Easter egg hunt than
an actual investigation. In a nod to old-school adventure games, many
items you are prompted to pick up are meaningless as well; I’m pretty
sure I examined every hairbrush in the greater L.A. area. The cases
occasionally challenge your deductive skills, but it’s mostly just a
case of walking around until you find all the relevant items.
Noire could have used more action sequences to break up the monotonous
investigating, but aside from a couple of frantic moments toward the end
of the Black Dahlia plotline, most of the action vignettes are simple
foot or car chases. That would be fine if they weren’t so predictable
and repetitive. Honestly, if one more suspect bolted right as I was
about to start my questioning, I was going to shoot him or her. The few
shootouts the game does have play out well enough, but suffer from
occasional problems coming in and out of cover.
interrogations, which showcase the amazing facial animations, are the
most compelling aspect of L.A. Noire. As you read your suspect’s face
for signs of subterfuge you can react by either believing their
statement, expressing doubt, or accusing them of lying. If you throw out
an accusation, be prepared to back it up with some hard evidence. If
you don’t have something convincing or incriminating you’ll likely cause
them to shut down entirely, which prevents you from extracting further
information. Thanks to the animations and superb acting, these scenes
are fraught with tension, especially when you’re juggling two suspects
at once, each accusing the other. In these moments, L.A. Noire shines,
providing a real sense of human drama. However, unlike in Heavy Rain or
the Mass Effect series, the outcome of the case has no bearing on the
larger plot. Sure, you might miss out on some dialogue or facts, but you
still proceed from point A to point B. In a game that supposedly tests
your decision-making, your determinations ultimately play no role in the
The open city itself is drop-dead gorgeous – L.A.
never looked so beautiful. Rockstar’s attention to detail is evident
everywhere; even shop windows are filled with fully rendered product
displays. However, there’s not much to do other than some unremarkable
street crime side missions. So much effort went into recreating this
historical Los Angeles, and I wish the city felt as alive and
interactive as GTA IV’s Liberty City. Mostly, it just serves as scenery
as you drive to the next cutscene.
At times, L.A. Noire is one of
the most vivid, gripping game experiences I’ve had. Other times, it can
be plain boring. As in much noir fiction, the truth lies in the gray
area between those two extremes. It’s an adventure I won’t soon forget,
filled with characters as fascinating as they are flawed – a bit like
the game itself.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.