Saturday, 28 May 2011

Review: L.A. Noire

Since its announcement in 2005, L.A. Noire has been a mystery to most people. Like most games made by Rockstar, it has been completely shrouded in secrecy with very little shown to the press and the public. So does it share the same general quality that the most recent Rockstar games have as well? I can say absolutely.

In the game, you play as Cole Phelps. A 1940's war hero who is back in Los Angeles and joins the LAPD. Very quickly after joining the force, he is promoted to detective, after performing brilliantly as a patrol officer. As the story progresses, you discover just how corrupt and dark the city really is as well as discovering, through flash backs, how Cole became the person he is.

The game play is a massive departure from the usual games that we see from Rockstar. Rather than running through an open world and deciding who when to start a mission, the structure is much more linear. You will always have an objective, while you are free to roam around the accurately re-created 1947 Los Angeles between objectives, you can actually skip any roaming and just have your partner drive you around.

The mission structure is also very different, while GTA and Red Dead Redemption were shooters, all the way through, L.A. Noire is much more about thinking. You turn up to the scene of a crime and have to slowly walk around the area, looking for clues. This is done really well, when you walk near anything suspicious, the controller will vibrate and you will hear a little two key piano chime to signify this. Once all clues are found, the background music ends with a small crescendo which may seem insignificant at first but ends up feeling really satisfying as you progresses through the game.

After you find all the clues in an area, there is usually someone that you need to interrogate. These sections are where the game's technology really shines through. Team Bondi has managed to develop a type of motion capture that records an entire face to extreme accuracy, and it really shows. Characters have an incredible amount of detail in their faces, every little muscle and eye movement is shown in the game. This is used really well in the interrogation scenes as you have to identify weather the subject is lying or not after asking them questions, and this can only be identified through subtle movements. By the end of the game, I was really studying faces looking for tiny twitch that might show if the person was lying.

Shooting and action is kept to a minimum in this game. There are quite a few shooting sections but the main meat of the game is the interrogation and the searching for clues. That's not to say it isn't there though, the action is well paced and fun but you rarely get your gun out and only when the story dictates it, in most instances you will have to chase down a guy rather than shooting him. This makes for a very interesting departure from the norm where games are usually about shooting first more than anything.

The story is absolutely excellent. Told in a variety of different ways through standard cut scenes as well as flash backs and a side story that is told through reading hidden newspapers in crime scenes. The pacing is also very unique, the story is told on a case-by-case basis with the flash backs in between. This is very much like Alan Wake's in that it marks very good and clear points where you can take a break if you want to. Each case is much like an episode of a TV show, self-contained but you can see an overarching story there too. This makes for an interesting way to tell the great story which has a whole series of twists and turns and an ending that will stick with you.

The game also has many reasons to keep you playing after getting to the conclusion. There are hidden items and cars as well as street crimes, small side missions that normally involve shooting or chasing a suspect down. Your progress is all collected on Rockstar's “Social Club” website where you can keep an eye on your stats and how well you're doing while checking on what else needs to be done and where you can find it.

There is very little wrong with this game. The shooting, while adequate, could be a little better and there are some very small game play niggles that could be improved. One such example is the game gives you no idea when you have evidence that contradicts a suspect’s claim, you have a list of all the evidence and clues you've found on hand but there is never any sort of notification on which evidence to use. There are a few other flaws but to list them all would be nit picking and unnecessary.

L.A. Noire is a fantastic game, with a story that's both brilliantly told and acted out by characters that look so incredibly realistic. Not only that, but sequences that are unique and, some might argue, a return to the early 90s of point and click adventure games through searching for clues and talking to people. I would say it is a definite purchase for anyone who owns a 360 or a PS3.


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