L.A. Noire Review
By Karl D - Sun May 22, 3:43 pm
From Sherlock Holmes to Dick Tracy and that old hag from Murder She Wrote, we’ve all wanted to experience the life of a detective. Taking a break from proving to the world how good we all are with an AK-47 and instead try our luck at bringing the criminals to justice with hard evidence and questioning. Have Team Bondi wrapped this case up for good or are they sleeping with the fishes?
L.A. Noire is not the kind of game you would expect to play, you’ve been given a fully realised 1940’s Los Angeles to freely explore as you please…Just don’t expect to be shooting the kneecaps of an innocent pedestrian for whatever money they’re carrying, don’t expect to be competing in street races or team deathmatches either. This is a game about a story, a story of a cop.
You play as Cole Phelps, a former member of the US Marine Corps who, after a hard few years fighting in World War 2, has come back to his suburban home with his loving wife and children. Starting out as a regular patrol cop and moving your way up the ranks, you’ll deal with several varieties of cases such as serial killers (Homicide), hit-and-runs (Traffic), illegal gambling/drugs (Vice) and “accidental” home explosions (Arson), each of these divisions gives Cole a different partner who accompanies you on missions, giving the opportunity for Cole’s character to come to life through conversations as you drive to your next location. The partners are masterfully executed stereotypes of the kind you would expect to see in a cop movie, from your friendly buddy cop to the old-timer to the “plays by his own rules” wise guy with a cold stare.
There is an overarching story through the entire game, providing you with a flashback of Phelps and his squad serving their time in Japan during the war as well as narrations of other people in Cole’s life as portrayed in short cutscenes which are triggered by picking up newspapers at certain locations through the game. There is a deep tale of conspiracy, corruption and greed hidden in this game and it’s up to you as the player to uncover the truth and set things straight.
There’s not much to complain about with this story, there is the occasional “wait, which one is he?” moment which is only made worse by the lack of a proper biography of each character but the writing does a nice job of subtly reminding you before anything major happens in the plot.
Gameplay is what makes L.A. Noire unique; each case takes you to the scene of the crime where your job is to search the area for possible leads to go on such as finding a name in a phone book or questioning the witness about events prior to the incident.
The facial capture technology never ceases to amaze especially in heated arguments where every pulsing muscle in the actors face can be seen. It’s up to you as a detective to read theses faces and pick up on anything that might indicate they’re not telling the whole story such as twitching eyes, scratching heads or a swallowing of built-up saliva, the most obvious negative thing to say about this game is that the walking can be problematic at times, especially during a crime scene investigation where you’re forced to constantly rotate the character so that you can pick up that tiny cigarette on the ground. It’s an annoyance but doesn’t take too much fun away from the rest of the game.
Of course, where would a classic open world game be without some action? Throughout the game you’ll be given opportunities such as a shootout with bank robbers, on-foot criminal pursuits, tense car chase sequences and street brawls. The cars handle amazingly well on the road with turns that are only as good as your judgement for acceleration and hitting the brakes.
You’re given the very basic weapons, a standard pistol with unlimited ammo is at your disposal and you can pick up shotguns and automatics from downed enemies. There is one final (less than basic) weapon that you take control at one point in the game but you can find out what that is for yourself. You can only fire your gun at people who are firing back at you, being an enforcer of the law it’s understandable that your boss wouldn’t want you to end the life of EVERY suspect unless your own life was on the line.
The chases can feel very scripted at times which can hinder the immersion, especially when you’ve just crashed your car only to see the suspect has started to slow down so that you can catch up. We can see that the developers want us to play through the game as they directed it to be played but it’d be nice to loosen their grip on our hand just a little bit.
While the facial capture could be argued as a benchmark in videogame evolution, it’s such a shame that the rest of the world doesn’t meet the same standards. the textures are as basic as you can get from an open-world game and they don’t break much ground, it’s lucky then that the art direction of the 1940’s has been done so well from the smooth jazz music to peoples attitude towards the minorities of the time, Los Angeles is a character in itself and a great one at that.
Last year, Heavy Rain showed the world that a game can be a cinematic experience, making a statement that story can be just as big a slice of the gaming pie as graphics and gameplay . Team Bondi have done a great job of backing this newfound genre up, giving an immersive experience unlike any other. It has its flaws and some may get turned off by the repetitiveness of some cases, the rest won’t be able to get enough of the investigations, chases and interrogating. After finishing the story you’re able to select each case and tackle it differently or you can freely explore the city to find all the hidden cars, golden film reels or taking on the minor crimes. all giving at least an extra ten hours to a 30 hour game. If you’d like to try something new this year, look no further than L.A. Noire.