Posted 1 year ago By kingquagmire - David Collins
One of the year’s most anticipated games, L.A. Noire has finally arrived on store shelves after quite a few years in development. Sporting what could be the most amazing facial animation engine to ever grace a video game, L.A. Noire grabbed fans attention as soon as the first trailer made its way to the Internet last year; and has continued to do so with each subsequent peek that Rockstar provided. Now that the game is available, is it worth the foray into 1940’s Los Angeles or will it succumb to hype machine that has been propelling it?
Anyone familiar with the noir style will feel right at home here. Team Bondi and Rockstar did a fine job bringing to life the genre most popularized in pulp dime novels and on film; complete with period stylizations and hard nosed dialog. It combines elements from plenty of notable noir examples including The Big Heat, L.A. Confidential, and Gun Crazy. One walk through this version of Los Angeles will immediately immerse you into this world of hot shot cops, seedy (and sometimes grotesque) crimes, gorgeous dames and a couple fingers of whiskey. Visually, the game’s a stunner. Anyone who’s been around Los Angeles or Hollywood will recognize many of the prominent locals (I even found a hotel I stayed at during E3 one year). Each character is wonderfully animated, although there is a lot of shared facial features across the board. The vehicles are pretty much spot on for the period too. Topping the whole thing off is the ability to play through the game in both color or black and white, which tailors the atmosphere to your liking.
Players start out in the shoes of ex-WWII Marine Cole Phelps, who has joined up with the L.A.P.D. following his return from the war. Starting at the beginning of his career, Patrolman Phelps’ first case has him relegated to some low end evidence gathering. But in a display of initiative - something that will become a signature trait for the no-nonsense ex-soldier - him and his partner decide to follow up on the leads they discover. This begins a dizzying rise to fame for Phelps, as his uncanny knack for case-solving gets him noticed and along with that, promoted to other desks with more important crimes awaiting his prowess.
Each desk serves as chapter of sorts and each also has it’s own set of cases and street crimes (more on that in a bit). Starting off on the Traffic desk, working his way through Homicide, then on to Vice and finally into Arson, Phelps’ career sees more action and more dead bodies than one could possibly want. When taken individually, each case is an interesting jaunt through the 1940’s psyche, complete with racism, sexism, crimes of passion, greed, drugs, et all. Not to mention the general societal differences between now and 70 years ago. Now, while each case is individualized, there is also an overarching storyline, tying most of these cases together. It’s very subtle at first, with the loose ends not really starting to come together until the last third of the game. I hesitate to really expand on it any further as it was that mystery that kept me hooked from beginning to end. The hints about what’s to come are extremely low key at the beginning, but once the ball starts rolling, you’ll be guessing all the way until the final case.
The scriptwork, dialog, and voice acting all provide a solid foundation for the noir presentation to flourish. A colorful cast (which includes such faces as John Noble from Fringe and Greg Grunberg of Felicity and Heroes fame) flesh out the noir tapestry that Team Bondi has woven. Phelps will have several different partners as he cleans up the streets of Los Angeles and each is completely unique, providing a nice offset to the all-business and oft-times overly harsh Phelps. And, as this is a true crime drama, there will be plenty of shocking moments that you won’t see coming.
However, great writing and presentation still only amounts to a glorified film unless there’s great gameplay to support it. In typical Rockstar fashion, L.A. Noire segments a huge section of the city and gives players the opportunity to freely explore it. Real-world landmarks like Pershing Square and the La Brea Tar Pits (called the Wilshire Tar Pits here) are present and ready for you to check out. Tons of hidden vehicles to drive and film reels to find make the free roam parts fairly robust. And that isn’t accounting for the street crimes. As players cruise around the city, they will get calls for crimes in progress. These could be simple robberies or thefts, scams, hostage situations and one even has you chasing down a peeping tom. There’s 40 different ones in total, all split up across the various desks. Smartly executed, players who respond to these crimes during the story cases will find they add a measure of freshness to the ongoing investigations.
Unfortunately, also in typical Rockstar fashion, the driving mechanics are just as floaty and touchy as ever. While it is true that the vehicles from the period did drive like tanks, here it just leads to heavy amounts of frustration. Don’t get me wrong, if the issue was just the driving, I could be more forgiving. But, take the loose driving controls and compound that with some of the most ignorant free-roam city AI to be found in a sandbox game and you will be dreading any high speed chases you may have to embark on. I can’t count how many times I hit a pedestrian because they ran in front of my car or hit another vehicle because it pulled in front of me and literally stopped right in my path. And these occurrences were when I had my siren blaring, a sign that should keep the general public out of my way as I’m barreling through the city streets. Even worse, street crimes are inexplicably miles away from your location when you get the call, so you’ll spend an obscene amount of time driving around the city just to respond to it. There is one saving grace though. Most of the time, you can have your partner do the driving for you, essentially teleporting you to your waypoint. So those of you not interested in exploring the city for landmarks or other discoverable goodies, you have a little bit of a reprieve. For the rest of you, get ready to have your patience tried over and over again.
Investigating cases ushers in a whole new set of mechanics that really stood to make or break the success of L.A. Noire. The hub of the entire investigation is your notebook. It contains all the clues you have gathered, any locations you need to visit, questions you have for a given person of interest (or POI), case objectives and Intuition points. Intuition is earned as the player gains experience levels (with experience being garnered by successfully completing street crimes, finding landmarks, and having successful interrogations). The points can then be spent to aid in any of the investigations.
The first step for any investigation is canvasing the area for clues. Initially this can be a daunting prospect because they are not marked in the typical “oooh shiny” sort of way employed by other titles such as the Resident Evil franchise. Instead, hints are provided via background music. As the player walks around an area that needs inspecting, the “investigation music” is played. Wander outside that area and the music will stop. This keeps the search in the correct general vicinity. As the player searches, a small tone will play along with a slight vibration of the controller, indicating that clue is near by. Once all the clues have been found, the investigation music will stop. Initially I thought it would make the game too easy, but once put in practice, I quickly grew to appreciate how ingenious the music system really is. Should some extra help be needed, an intuition point can be used which will expose the location of all pertinent clues on the mini-map.
Now, things get really interesting when questioning or interrogating a POI. Understand that your line of questioning is directly related to what you know, so a thorough search for clues is a must before beginning the interrogation process. Take a look at your notebook, choose which topic you want to ask the person about, then after they respond you have to decide if that person is telling the truth, lying, or in doubt. If you decide they are lying, be ready as you will have to back up that claim with a piece of evidence you have gathered. This process is easily the most difficult aspect of the game. Team Bondi’s facial animation is very precise, so each person gives tell-tale signs if they aren’t being completely honest. However, they aren’t always easy to spot nor is it always obvious as to which clue you have that could support a lying accusation, so mistakes are frequent, and at times, costly. Again, for those having a hard time, here’s where another use for Intuition can come into play. Using a point will allow you to remove one of the incorrect choices or poll the Social Club to see what the most popular answer is (provided your console is connected to XBL or PSN).
It would be kind of tough to be a cop without seeing some action and L.A. Noire has plenty of it. From foot chases to firefights to fisticuffs, there’s more for Phelps to do other than being a human lie detector. The actual brawling is fairly basic, with just the ability to block, punch, and a knock-down move. And the chases are finite, meaning even if you don’t catch the suspect - and most of the time you won’t - something will happen that ends the chase, whether it’s a good samaritan popping the suspect as he runs by or a massive car accident putting his ride out of commission. As such, these sequences end up being just the right length to keep the experience varied, meaning you won’t care that there isn’t much depth or difficulty to them. The gun-play, on the other hand, is a considerably more frequent. There is a rudimentary cover system in play here, but Gears of War this is not. Taking cover isn’t so bad, but maneuvering between cover spots is almost broken. It became much easier to just leave and re-enter the next cover point, instead of transitioning between them. The standard issue pistol will be the weapon of choice, although Phelps can pick up any weapons - like a shotgun or machine gun - dropped by his deceased foes. Again, most of these sequences aren’t terribly difficult and do a fine job of changing up the pace during investigations.
Once cases have been completed, players are scored based on how effective their interrogation techniques are, how thorough they are in locating clues, and how much damage is done to vehicles and city property along with civilian injuries. Remember, Cole Phelps is a good guy, so running rampant on the streets, destroying everything and killing innocents is a big no-no. Once the case is done, players can return and replay any case in hopes of getting a better score. Expect to be occupied for a while though as the overall campaign lasts roughly 20 hours across 21 case files.
As I finalized the final case, I was still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing. L.A. Noire has plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing right up through the final cut scene. It is one of those games that you experience just as much as you play and one that you will continue to mull over long after you finish the campaign. Don’t get me wrong, Noire has plenty of issues that mar things from time to time. Driving around the city is a pain, there are some random collision issues to be found, and the flawed cover system are just a few examples of things that could draw you out of Team Bondi’s world. However, it is still a unique experience that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the gaming crowd. Fabulous writing, a distinct and stylized noir setting (including a soundtrack that’s just begging to be put on your MP3 player) along with the both balanced and intriguing investigative gameplay makes for a journey that no gamer should miss. Even if you detest Rockstar titles, this is one of the most original gaming experiences to be found this generation. Keep your eyes on it, L.A. Noire is sure to be sitting among the Game of the Year contenders come year’s end.
+ Engaging mechanics
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Fabulous audio direction and soundtrack
+ Intricately written
- Cover system is cumbersome
- Some random collision issues
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Release Date : 2011/05/17
System : Xbox 360
Publisher : Rockstar Games
Developer : Team Bondi
Category : Action
ESRB : M
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