L.A. Noire – Review

Platform | Release Date
PS3 | May 17, 2011
X360 | May 17, 2011
Developed by Team Bondi
Published by Rockstar Games

The Pitch:

L.A. Noire is a violent crime thriller that blends breathtaking action with true detective work to deliver an unprecedented interactive experience. Following the story of a young detective’s rise to prominence in the LAPD, L.A. Noire lets players solve complex, historically-inspired crimes in a beautifully-recreated and fully-interactive rendition of 1947 Los Angeles. Interrogate witnesses, search for clues, and chase down suspects as you struggle to find the truth in a city where everyone has something to hide.

Fade in: 1940s Los Angeles, post WWII, a society in the process of rebuilding as young war veterans start coming home, back to their families and jobs, readjusting to a life free of war.  Enter the protagonist, Cole Phelps; a war hero turned police officer, who always follows the rules and is loaded with promise.  You, the player, follow Cole through his rise and fall in the L.A.P.D., from simple patrolman to top dog at the homicide desk.  Your personal connection to the character is established not through his day to day life, but rather through dark flashbacks of Cole’s recent past while serving in the military. These flashbacks, along with your present day career activities and another seemingly unrelated plotline told by found newspaper articles, twist a complex story line in a style that is truly Film Noire.  For those of you who expect this to be a standard Rockstar game a la Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption, you are in for a surprise.  Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to the individual player, but for me the surprise was nothing short of awesome.  In an industry saturated with no originality and poorly made clones of whatever is popular, L.A. Noire is a breath of fresh air.

As Detective Phelps, the player is led through a series of cases where skillful detective work is key.  Each case starts with a location in which the player must drive, navigating the streets of a beautifully rendered city of L.A., making use of the same mechanics as GTA.   Rockstar succeeds once again by creating a living, breathing city in a true to era style,  however the similarities between this and other Rockstar titles stop here.  By the end of the first assignment, I could see that this was a whole different creature than any GTA game, starting with the linear movement of the main cases.

The bulk of the game is played within the main story line with a spattering of 40 street cases, which are called over the radio while driving between locations.  The street cases gave me an excuse to explore the city; however they lacked diversity or depth.  As a result, I was pulled out of the immersive plot.  I started ignoring street case distress calls and sped directly to the next stop in my case.  Luckily there are plenty of main story line assignments to spend your time with, 21 in all, some taking more than an hour to complete, consisting of searching for clues, solving puzzles, and speaking to persons of interest.  This is where L.A. Noire shines with a truly new and original gameplay mechanic, realistic interrogation.

Using new MotionScan Technology, interrogations come to life, requiring the player to watch and listen to a suspect’s reaction to questioning like a gambler would read his opponent for a “poker tell”.  A mouth twitch, a wandering gaze, a stutter, all can be used to assess if your suspect is telling the truth. Often in early cases people were easy to read, but the difficulty increases as you progress in the game, where I found women and one particular grieving husband to be the most difficult reads.  Combined with the use of your clues, interrogation becomes much more than the usual cut scene dialogue of the past.

While L.A. Noire does have its action; car chases and shootouts, the game is slower paced than past Rockstar titles.  The plot was immersive and I was not often reminded I was playing a video game, as the gameplay and storytelling blended smoothly. A linear plot eliminated a true sandbox experience, which in this type of game is not a negative but rather a useful tool in keeping a player absorbed in the investigative narrative.  Thirty hours of game play with rich characters, breathtaking graphics and compelling plot made up for the lack of replay ability and overall, this game truly left me satisfied and excited for this new gaming franchise.

About Niki Fisher

Niki Fisher is a former staff writer for Splitkick and former co-host of the Fall Damage podcast.
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