L.A. Noire Review

By on May 29, 2011

1940s L.A. gets the Rockstar treatment.


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First Impressions
My reaction is
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Since it was announced some years ago, L.A. Noire seemed a very intriguing concept. Solving crimes against a 1940s Los Angeles backdrop – Grand Theft Auto meets L.A. Confidential with an investigatory game mechanic to ensure the setting is more than just a thematic ‘skin’ to a Rockstar open-world convention. It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally here, having braved its way through the perils of development and past the watchful eye of the local media council. So is L.A. Noire the real deal or just repackaged novelty?

L.A.Noire lets you rise through the law enforcement ranks as Cole Phelps, a war-hero with a past looking to make a name for himself as a detective. The game starts you off as a street cop though, after a few cases, you’ll find yourself promoted to detective as you make your way through the precinct divisions. What starts off as a series of isolated cases becomes part of a greater mystery as Phelps and his various partners continue to clean the notoriously dangerous streets of the City of Angels.

What really differentiates Team Bondi’s thriller from the other rides in the Rockstar theme park is the investigation mechanic. As Phelps you’ll need to probe various crimes scenes and locations, searching for clues that may be relevant to building a case or finding significant leads. It is due to these segments of the game that L.A. Noire often gets likened to Heavy Rain but in reality the two games differ greatly. While the latter relies solely on QTEs (quick time events) and features dramatic plot branching, L.A. Noire employes a more conventional open world set-up, much like the ones we’ve gotten accustomed to with past Rockstar titles. The manner in which cases are solved can vary from player to player but not drastically so as the possibilities available are limited.

An integral part of investigations is the interrogation of witnesses and suspects. These people of interest will be asked various questions and you’ll have to decide if they are being truthful or not. When accusing a suspect of lying, you’ll have to provide evidence from the list of clues you’ve obtained, so naturally the better investigation work you’ve done, the more prepared you’ll be for questioning. Failing to provide the adequate evidence will see your suspect or witness get hostile and less cooperative. If you know the person is hiding something but you don’t have evidence to back an accusation, you can opt for the doubt option which will see Phelps re-question a suspect’s response without flat out accusing them. So the key to good detective is work is uncovering all the clues and faring well in the interrogation room but that may prove more arduous than it seems. Obtaining clues is made easy because it is not up to you to decide which clues are relevant to the case and which are not…that distinction is made automatically by the game. In the interrogation room however, things get fuzzy. While there appears to be a clear cut method of distinguishing an honest statement from a deceiving one, its never quite so easy…and thankfully so. However interrogation dialogue often strays off the line of questioning which makes it hard to determine what Phelps is trying to get at. While someone may be telling the truth, Phelps will doubt them no matter what you select and so the whole interrogation takes a turn to the absurd and it becomes clear how little control you have over proceedings. The mechanic doesn’t outright fail but experiencing these little jarring moments stirs up the feeling that the game is not quite there yet.

As mentioned, L.A. Noire is an open-world game, so you can take a break from detective work to drive around and see the sights. Team Bondi has done a great job in re-creating 1940s Los Angeles and, if you are familiar with the city, you’re bound to recognize some sites and landmarks. The scale of the city is quite remarkable, but most of it is very look-but-don’t-touch. With the exception of random street crime side missions, L.A. Noire doesn’t have the plethora of mini-games and side quests usually associated with Rockstar games like GTA and Red Dead Redemption. In fact, if you just proceed from case to case, letting your partner drive you to locations, you can be forgiven for not realizing L.A. Noire is ‘open world’ at all. This may come as a disappointment to sandbox fans but I must admit that it does help pacing the cases. It would seem odd to stop for a game of darts while on the way to the coroners office so it was likely a conscious decision to keep gamers focused on solving cases rather than enjoying a night on the town.

There is no doubt that L.A. Noire is a good looking game all around but it is the emphasis on facial animations that is particularly stunning. Seeing as reading facial cues is integral to determining wether a suspect is lying or not, this aspect of the game was clearly worked on immensely…and it shows. This, complemented by terrific voice acting, makes for stand-out character performances…a feat not easily achieved. The city looks great and there is even an option to play the game in black and white…to make that film noir feel all the more apparent. The game’s musical soundtrack consists of much jazz and various tunes of the time to help keep the mood authentically 40s and relevant to the overall theme.

L.A. Noire has all the elements of game destined for mass popularity. It has a compelling theme, an original approach, fantastic visuals and a heavily financed marketing push. And while the game has a lot going for it, the thrill is not quite there. There is effort but too many discordant moments leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. L.A. Noire is a very good game but, ultimately, not quite the game it wants to be.


The Scorecard
GAMEPLAY
8
The investigator mechanics are interesting and, for the most part, well executed. However the interrogation system is inconsistent. The ‘sandbox’ element in underplayed.
GRAPHICS
9.5
Phenomenal facial animations really raise the bar. The characters, costumes and locations look fantastic.
SOUND
9.5
Jazzy tunes complement the mood and setting very well. Voice acting is impeccable throughout.
VALUE
7.5
A game of adequate length, but with no reason to return...especially with the ‘sandbox’ element stripped down.
FUN FACTOR
8
Cracking the case does not leave the satisfactory mark you’d expect but its all in the process. Does not feature the plethora of things to do normally associated with Rockstar games which may disappoint some.
OVERALL
8.5
It’s always great when an ambitious effort succeeds and the people behind L.A. Noire should be properly commended for their efforts. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they narrowly missed the lofty mark they’ve set for themselves. A great game? Sure. An instant classic? Not quite.

About

As an opinionated young gamer many years ago, I made three predictions: 1- Sega would dominate the console wars for 50 years. 2- Simon's Quest would be remembered as the definitive NES game. 3- I would be gaming even more as an adult. I suppose one out of three isn't bad.

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