The lights are on
Score: 8.75 / 10
Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Team Bondi/Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Rockstar Games has been on a hotstreak lately. With the success of Grand Theft Auto and the astonishing title that was Red Dead Redemption last year, their next project would have to be worth checking out. Enter L.A. Noire, a 50's crime drama on the streets of L.A. Offering a new visual style and a turn in typical gameplay, it was worth investigating....see what I did there?...sorry, I'll stop.
Nyah! See?! Nyah!
L.A. Noire follows the tale of rookie cop, Cole Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the L.A.P.D. Beginning at lowly street cop and rising through to homicide, you follow Phelps as he uncovers the truth, and corruption infesting L.A. All the while, you delve deeper into Phelps past and motivation for joining the force.
The cast for the game is impressive, and the slew of characters you come across never dilute in quality. Mad Men's Aaron Staton is a fantastic lead character, and the continual cameos of other television stars only boost the overall performance. There were a lot of, "Hey that's that dude from that thing!" moments. With the new mocap capturing facial expressions, the actors now not only had to lend their voice, but give an overall performance.
In tune with the actors, the visual style and atmosphere of the city combine together to give a sense of 1950s L.A. The smooth jazz music, the clothing, and the mannerisms used in conversation are all enough to send you back to that period in time.
We Put it in our Notebook, then what do we Do?
LA Noire is all about gathering clues and piecing together a crime. The game is split up into cases, acting like chapters. Each case is typically a little over an hour, and you work your way from simple hit and runs, to copycat serial killers, to arson. You do this through investigating the crime scene, tracking down leads, and questioning witnesses. While most cases are individual stories, interwoven elements slowly piece together for the game's conclusion.
Crime scene investigations are a high point of the game. You scour the scene looking at evidence and adding it to your notebook. Not everything is evidence, but it is worth looking around thoroughly to find things that may have acted as a catalyst for the crime. A chime plays if there is something to investigate, and music continues to play if there is still evidence present at the scene.
Once you have enough in your notebook you use the information to question any persons of interest. Missing points of evidence lead to inefficient questioning, so it is encouraged for you to come prepared. Accusing someone of lying without evidence will lead to loss of a potential lead on the case. It was interesting to watch my playthrough against that of my friend's playthrough. He unlocked useful bits of dialogue that I missed and I discovered evidence that he didn't. Either way you end up, it is incredibly satisfying to work through each case.
One of the most impressive features of the game is the new mocap, Motionscan. This new technology uses over 30 cameras to capture the voice actor's entire range of facial expressions. The result is a much more lifelike, realistic interaction with characters. Though the precision of the face is sometimes laughably more complex than the jerky body motions, it's enough to further the incredibly detailed look of the game.
This plays a huge part in the interrogation sequences of the game, in which you question suspects and witnesses. You can call out if a person is lying or if you doubt their answer when their facial expression suggests such. Shifty eyes, biting their lower lip, nervous glances; it all plays a part in piecing together information and became a segment unlike anything I had experienced. Though sometimes it is painfully obvious that they are lying (Which looks a lot like the face of having to go number two), it varies enough to warrant caution in your choices.
To assist in your investigation you "level up" as a detective and gain Intuition points. These can be used to eliminate an answer, poll the online community on which choice they chose, or phone a fr....wait that last part is something else. Still, having the points becomes quite useful in determining which choice to go with if you find yourself conflicted on the two options.
To Serve and Protect
At the end of each case you are given a detective rating. This rating is based on how well you handeled the case. If you questioned witnesses correctly, found all evidence, and did little to no city damage; your ranking will be high. This adds a reason to revisit some of the cases you experienced to get information you may have missed that could have helped the investigation come to a close sooner.
The game encourages you to act civil, a far cry from previous games Rockstar has produced. If you drive like a maniac and insist everyone is lying then your score will reflect it. You cannot even hit anyone in your car, as most just phase through you or clip around the edges. Guns can only be pulled in chases or shootouts, and nowhere in between. It is a nice shift from the bad guy of GTA to a good cop looking to right the wrongs in the city.
The general over-the-top chases and action sequences of other open world games is toned down all-together. The game ends up being less like Die-Hard, and more like Sherlock Holmes; where investigation and questioning remains the biggest element of gameplay. It even provides the option to skip action sequences completely if you fail them enough, opening the game up to the more casual player looking for a good story.
They Always Run!
Despite a solid look and presentation, the action left a lot to be desired. Outside of questioning witnesses and investigating crime scenes, you will be getting into shootouts and chasing down suspects....a lot. As the game wore on, so did my patience as little was done to mix these events up. It didn't help that the shooting mechanic in the game feels sluggish and bland. You paste yourself to cover and pop out to shoot, with your health reflected by on-screen color shifting to black and white, much like typical cover shooters.
Around the third act, you got how the game worked. Go here, investigate this, question them, go to a new place; you get the picture. There was too little done to truly mix these instances up. The writing and presentation is so well done that it will hardly hamper your desire to continue, but an improved combat and chase scenario would have been a nice break in questioning victims. Besides the main game there isn't a lot to do. In Free Roam you can find locations and complete a handful of side missions but that's about all there is to it.
For a game that drops you in the middle of a city it feels far more linear than it could have been. With the open world of downtown L.A. at my disposal, I expected much more in the range of side-content. Besides the reptitive nature of the game, smaller nuances would pop up. There were the occasional framerate drops and glitches, such as your partner being stuck on a fence, audio cues cutting out, etc. Nothing so big to detract from the experience, but enough to make you scratch your head.
While general combat and action were left unchecked, the game still remains a unique and interesting game. The investigations remained a high point of the game, and being the most prominant part, stood out among the few flaws. It's a game that's as fun to play as it is to watch, and has set the mark high for games this year.
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