Posted 2 years ago By EastonAssass1n - Luke Brown
Cole Phelps slowly pulls up to the alley that’s been cordoned off by the patrolmen. He exits the car, but his new partner Rusty Galloway isn’t done giving him an earful just yet. Phelps is sure this is yet another murder by the Black Dahlia killer, though Galloway isn’t convinced and as the veteran officer on the case, he’s making sure his opinion is heard. It’s nearly midday, and whatever shadows are being cast completely miss the disfigured body hidden off the main street. As Phelps and Galloway approach the body, the coroner is taking his last few pictures of the grisly scene. A woman. Naked. Phelps steps in for a closer look. Her throat’s been slit. Her ring finger has been finely mutilated. Scrawled across her stomach in lipstick is the phrase, “Kiss the blood. BD.” The method is consistent with other Black Dahlia victims. Phelps is sure this woman has fallen prey to a vicious serial killer. Galloway remains unconvinced, and the two of you search the surrounding area for more clues. The sun is beating down, exposing Los Angeles for all it is: hot, mean, unforgiving, and brutal. Welcome to Homicide. Welcome to LA Noire.
LA Noire is the combined effort of Rockstar Games and Team Bondi, the developers who created The Getaway series for the PlayStation 2. In it, you play as Cole Phelps, a returned war hero who joins the LAPD in hopes of making something of his life. Though there is an over-arching story about Phelps’ past and his meteoric rise through the ranks of the LAPD, LA Noire spends most of its time switching between desks and having you solve the cases plaguing the streets of 1947 Los Angeles. The portion of the game demoed for me last week took place on the Homicide desk, with a case entitled “The Silk Stocking Murder.” The cocksure Phelps is letting the frequency of his promotions get to his head a bit, and he thinks he knows more than his veteran partner Galloway, a detective who’s been on the scene longer than Phelps has been able to tie his shoes. The two frequently butt heads and trade verbal jabs during their investigations, and the writing really gives a great sense of the uneasy alliance the duo forge when thrust into the thick of things. While the banter and characterization of the police detectives is certainly good, it’s the intricately researched cases that make LA Noire’s world so compelling.
Without giving anything away, the twists and turns that occur in “The Silk Stocking Murder” will keep you enthralled and on the edge of your seat every step of the way. Each case draws its influence from real-world cases of the LAPD during that era, and though the names and outcomes vary quite differently, all of the missions in LA Noire are complete tales in their own right. While GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption told sprawling narratives, LA Noire feels much more episodic in its delivery. Every case stands on its own, as well as furthering the story of Cole Phelps, much the same way a television police procedural show explores a different story every week, while also exploring the lives of the officers involved over the long haul. It’s quite a departure from what gamers will be used to from Rockstar in a narrative sense, but it works incredibly well. Completing the investigation is imperative in moving the story forward, but Rockstar has taken some precautions in making sure gamers who might struggle with solving a given case can succeed. Though you can find every possible clue and follow every lead given to arrive at the final conclusion, those people who miss a piece of information (or two, or three) will still find themselves able to reach the final destination/confrontation.
This is the only aspect of the game that I’m a bit worried about. I’m all for helping gamers adjust to the new challenge investigation and interrogation bring to the table, but without the opportunity to fail, the stakes don’t feel quite so high. Though from what I saw of the game, it doesn’t appear as if Phelps will magically reach his destination. Instead, nearly every crime scene you visit will have all the information you need… if you look hard enough. Musical cues are set up to let you know when you’re close to a new clue and when you’ve exhausted an area of worthwhile information. However thorough you are, LA Noire does seem to play a little too much in the favor of computer assistance. I wasn’t expecting old school Lucasarts adventure game difficult, but since Rockstar doesn’t want people to give up or miss out on any particular part of the game, it does feel as if they are holding your hand a tad too much. Of course, for the first time ever, you will be able to replay any case in the game to earn a better rank, and earn a better spot on the leaderboards. So if you did mess up one of the 20+ cases a few times, you can always retry it later to try and improve.
Any time you have to question someone in the game, be it a suspect, witness, or a person of interest, LA Noire showcases just how far Rockstar and Team Bondi are pushing the motion capture limits of the current gaming generation. You’ve no doubt seen the video showing off just how MotionScan works, but seeing this new weapon in Rockstar’s repertoire in action is a sight to behold. The faces in the game are incredibly expressive, and show the tiniest facial ticks in an impressive fashion. While the technology is at work nearly all the time, it’s at its most astonishing when speaking one-on-one with another person. This case in particular shows off a good deal of the variations you can expect in people’s tells. Whether it’s his or her shifty eyes, the way a person is avoiding your stare, or even something so small as a slightly raised eyebrow, the expression is captured with such realism that you’ll forget you’re playing a game. In this case, Phelps’ partner is played by Southland star Michael McGrady, and as an avid watcher of that show, I can attest that not a single nuance of the actor’s performance was missed. It’s stunning how insanely detailed this technology is.
Interrogations are conducted with the help of Phelps’ notebook. Clues, evidence, and leads are all recorded here for you to reference when questioning someone. When you ask someone something, you can believe him, doubt him, or think he’s straight out lying. The difference between doubting and lying is that you have evidence to back the lie up. There’s an experience and leveling system in play that rewards you for finding all clues at a given scene, or correctly questioning someone. Leveling not only earns you higher ranks, but also earns you Intuition points. These points can be used during a case much the same way a contestant on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ could ask for help. When used during an interrogation, you have the option to either eliminate one of the three choices you have for questioning, or poll the Rockstar Social Club to see what answer is picked the most. You can also use Intuition when searching a crime scene to highlight all the clues for a limited time. It’s yet another way to help gamers along, but you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to.
Being as you play as a police officer, and not a gangster or outlaw, this time around there isn’t much flexibility when it comes to letting loose on the innocent population. Acting irresponsibly in public will lead to a ‘Game Over’ screen as your conduct is found to be unfitting of a Los Angeles police officer. I also noticed that, like a real police officer, Phelps won’t always have to draw his weapon during a case. That’s not to say you won’t get to fire your weapon at all during the game, but in striving for a realistic depiction of actual police work, Rockstar and Team Bondi made sure that Phelps is only going to be discharging his weapon when absolutely necessary. Rockstar was careful to point out they had to find a fine balance between the action and the investigating to keep people interested. The hand-to-hand combat is also a bit different this time around, and though it looked to control the exact same way it did in Red Dead Redemption, the animations were less jerky. I got to see Phelps cold-cock a perp with a left hook that sent the suspected criminal reeling into a nearby table, where he smashed his head and crumbled to the floor. Like me, that was the first time the guys at Rockstar had seen something like that happen in the game (indicative of the dynamic nature the experience will have).
Some of the best news I received during the demo was that the entire eight square-miles of Los Angeles that the game takes place in will be open from the start. You can drive from one end of the map from the other right from the get go, and there are no forced boundaries keeping you from accessing any area of the game. It’s a good thing too because you could easily get lost just driving around, soaking in the ambiance of 1940s LA. Now to counteract just how large the map is, each of the desks you visit will have their cases confined to a particular section of LA. That’s not to say you can’t just drive off wherever you want in-between cases, it just means that every desk has a jurisdiction its responsible for. It makes a lot of sense, particularly when you learn that it takes about thirty minutes to cover the distance between the two farthest points on the map.
Even though you do have a map - and mini-map on your HUD - there’s no GPS to make use of. To get around town, you can get in the passenger seat of your car and let your partner drive, or by pressing a button, you can initiate your partner, giving directions to the next location. It’s a nice new twist that fits in with the universe created for the game, though I’m sure I’ll be getting lost driving around the painfully recreated Los Angeles more than I did in any of the other Rockstar games. Though day/night cycles will return, the time of day will not change when investigating a case. If a case starts at night, you stay shrouded in darkness until the case is solved. It’s an understandable change to make, as the places you’ll need to visit during a case may not be open all hours of the day. That said, it was still odd seeing the sun out for so long after getting used to the hours constantly passing in their previous games.
Watching an entire case unfold from start to finish in LA Noire was a wonderful thing. The MotionScan tech really lives up to the hype, and the cases are as deep and tightly wound as the best Hammett and Chandler ever wrote. Taking the moral ambiguity out of the picture may be a pretty big risk, but I’m betting gamers used to shooting everything in sight are going to be won over by the unique gameplay LA Noire implements. I’ve been dying to play through this game for quite a few years, and getting to see it in action last week has only made me salivate even more. Rockstar’s made more than their fair share of Game of the Year contenders, but LA Noire has all the potential of a true masterpiece. From what I’ve seen this game won’t just be among the best you play this year; it’s going to be one of the best you play ever.
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Release Date :
System : PlayStation 3
Publisher : Rockstar Games
Developer : Team Bondi
Category : Action
ESRB : M
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