+Great investigation gameplay
+Impressive graphics and realistic faces
+Doesn't punish failure
-Story falls short in the end
-Problematic controls during chases
-Dumb A.I. in traffic
Final score: 9 / 10
A working PlayStation 3
Video games are trying to rise above their status and deliver true interactive entertainment experiences, and L.A. Noire is the newest example that tries to bring something more akin to an interactive action movie or a police-themed TV show.
The game, developed by Team Bondi under the guidance of Rockstar, depicts a classic film noire story, in which former war hero Cole Phelps tries to bring justice to 1947's Los Angeles, a city filled with shady characters, lots of coincidences and plenty of conspiracies.
Powered by a special MotionScan technology that wants to deliver the most realistic faces in the history of gaming, L.A. Noire makes players the stars in their own classic cop show, finding clues, interrogating witnesses and accusing suspects.
So, is L.A. Noire worthy of taking interactive entertainment to a new level or should it be silenced without a trace? Let's find out. Story
L.A. Noire wants to deliver a classic experience worthy of its name, so its story definitely needs to check out in order to support the gameplay. While at first glance things look pretty good, with you playing as Cole Phelps, a World War 2 veteran that returns to his life as LAPD police officer, things get extremely complicated and the game deliberately keeps players in the dark about the actions of the main character.
You work your way through the ranks of the Los Angeles police department, going from lowly officer to a full-pledged detective, by completing cases, which are split into desks, ranging from traffic to homicide, vice or arson. Each partners Cole with another character, which server to help him in his investigation, as well as give him pieces of advice throughout the story.
Sadly, like I've said, the game doesn't really deliver the narrative all that well, as crucial bits are only accessible if you read the in-game newspapers, while the actions of Phelps when he isn't under the control of the player are shrouded in a veil of unnecessary mystery. Couple this with the brief flashbacks Cole has of his days in the military, which start off extremely slow and don't really manage to capture the player, and the story just falls short of a title that could have done much more for the video game business.
There are a few twists and turns throughout the campaign, while some of the characters are surprisingly deep, but, in the end, they fall flat because of the bad taste left in the mouth by the end of the story.
Star off as a patrolman ...
... and become the best detective in L.A.
L.A. Noire has been hailed for its special type of gameplay, but it's not as unique as some might say. Basically, the game harks back to the days of adventure titles where you needed to examine the game world, use all the things you find and try to get out of hairy situations.
Each case that needs to be solved by Cole follows almost the same recipe that appeared in practically every CSI TV show, with players visiting the crime scene, collecting clues and evidence, talking to witnesses and then tracking down suspects and interrogating them, before casting your accusations.
While the mechanic is pretty similar to games like the Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney ones, L.A. Noire's investigation gameplay works pretty well and makes sure that players actually feel like the start of a detective show, by collecting evidence, talking to witnesses or suspects and, through the extremely detailed MotionScan technology, figure out if they're lying, bending the truth or are completely honest.
Speaking of the MotionScan tech, it's quite impressive, especially when you move on to other games, as you get used to the virtual faces of the characters to reproduce every small gesture, from a smug smile to the wrinkles on a forehead or the flashes of disgust that betray a careful lie.
MotionScan does put the extremely detailed faces in a pretty sharp contrast to the lower quality bodies, which sometimes seem completely detached from the actual face, largely because MotionScan involves the filming of an actor's face with a wide array of cameras, while the body is captured during another session.
The system still works as the game's main selling point, as you need to carefully examine the faces of the people you investigate, in order to figure out if you believe them, doubt their statements or flat out accuse them of lying. If you do decide to go on the offensive, you need to be certain that you have the evidence to back up your statements, or you won't be able to squeeze crucial details from your suspects. Luckily, the game isn't all that punishing if you fail to ask the right questions, especially since you can't know for sure how Cole will voice his thoughts, but they will reflect on your final case completion score.
Besides the investigation gameplay, L.A. Noire follows the same open world sandbox recipe Rockstar is known for, just like last year's Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto IV. The developer adds quite a few side-missions, including around 40 street crimes, that appear when Cole patrols the streets of Los Angeles, as well as plenty of collectible things like golden film reels or newspapers.
These provide an adequate distraction from the actual cases, but they can get annoying, as some street crimes happen on the other side of the city, meaning you either need to drive to that location yourself, or get out and force your partner to take the wheel, skipping ride altogether.
Firefights and general combat are pretty similar to what we saw in the two previous Rockstar games, with a cover-based mechanic and a pretty generous auto-aim helping Cole get out of tricky situations. The game throws at you certain moments that are typical of police work, like chasing down suspects and deciding whether to shoot them, wait it out or fire a warning shot, which requires you to keep your crosshair aimed at opponents for a longer period of time. Chase scenes in general are pretty well done, but you might usually find Cole getting stuck on small obstacle or going into weird directions, especially when climbing fire escapes.
Driving is pretty good, as cars handle quite well, unlike in the controversial GTA IV title, but even if you do have the siren on, some of the other cars decided to get in your way, resulting in damage done to police and city property. Once, I even managed to derail a tram car because it decided to go through an intersection just as I was racing to the scene of a crime.
Overall though, in terms of gameplay, L.A. Noire delivers a solid and fresh experience that emphasizes thought over action and rewards analytic thinking instead of just split second reactions.
Graphics and Audio
L.A. Noire is a great-looking game, as Rockstar's Advanced Game Engine once again shines in building a realistic open world, filled with people, cars and lots of small details. When it's coupled with the MotionScan technology, the game looks even more polished, even if there are some problems like the aforementioned relationship between faces and bodies.
Cars look and handle great, combat goes off without a hitch and we've seen just a handful of bugs during our extended playthrough.
In terms of sound, the voice actors deliver a top-notch performance, even if some of the combat taunts repeated by Phelps can get on your nerves. It helps that the actors who loaned their faces to the game also did the voices, and you'll be finding yourself recognizing many characters you meet in the fictional world of L.A. Noire.
The soundtrack is filled with jazz and retro tunes you hear on the radio that bring a feeling similar to the one from the recent Fallout games, while the tunes played during investigations heighten the suspense.
Examine every clue ...
... and write it down on your notebook
Overall, L.A. Noire is an impressive game, but it's not quite perfect. The story gradually erodes towards the end, while gameplay goes along with it. Until then, however, the game from Team Bondi and Rockstar offers an immensely satisfying experience that feels like a breath of fresh air among stale winds blowing through the gaming industry today.
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, L.A. Noire should definitely be tried out by any fan of old school adventure games or who wants to put his mind and crime solving skills to the test. While it's fun to play alone, it's even better to experience L.A. Noire with friends, as you can all try to guess if characters telling the truth or lying through their teeth and very detailed faces.