Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 [Reviewed]
L.A. Noire is a game that offers an experience unlike any that you have ever had in a video game before. Set in a wonderful recreation of Los Angeles during the late 1940’s in post-war America, you take the role of the war hero Cole Phelps. In the beginning, you work your way through the ranks in order to earn a name for yourself–starting off as a simple officer, but soon gaining notoriety after successfully cracking a big case. It’s at that point that you’re thrust into the role of Detective and the game gets going full swing.
You’ll travel around a significant portion of the City of Angels as you move from case to case while solving various crimes. Along the way you will collect evidence and attempt to uncover the truth from people that you interact with. However, the interrogation aspect of the game wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the MotionScan technology that L.A. Noire brings to the table. This impressive technical display introduces a whole new level to the dialogue and acting in the game. As you continue through the story, this additional level of detail will be an important asset while talking to leads and solving cases.
L.A. Noire offers a huge open world for you to explore when you’re not busy solving the primary cases that are assigned to you. There is a fair amount of extra content available to keep you busy, as well as a number of sights to be seen. However, the main focus of the game is solving crimes and working the different types of cases. As you work the cases and progress through the ranks of the LAPD, you’ll watch the story of Cole Phelps and those around him unfold.
What You’ll Like:
The Cases: All of the cases that you play through in L.A. Noire successfully manage to offer their own individual charms and appeal. You’ll find yourself truly enjoying the cases as you progress through each one. The cases are broken down into different crime desks. You’ll initially start as a patrolman, and work your way through Traffic, Homicide–all the way to the world of the Vice desk. Each department offers a new partner to help keep things fresh as well as to provide different insight into the cases that are unfolding around you.
The cases that are supplied to you are generally solved by examining the scene of the crime, finding clues around you, and then using those clues to track down suspects or possible leads in the case. You will travel around the city of Los Angeles in order to find individual people and points of interest that are relevant to the case at hand. When dealing with suspects, you will need to question them in order to connect evidence and eventually piece together the crime puzzle that has been placed in front of you. Some crimes may be straightforward, while others may involve a little more thought and digging.
The characters that you encounter throughout each case all have their own stories to tell — or hide for that matter. It’s up to you to get the truth from them by using your intuition and the evidence that you have collected. However, cases may not always go smoothly, and it’s at this point that L.A. Noire’s somewhat non-linear path becomes apparent. The fact is that you may not always get questions right, and as a result you might lose a potential clue or uncover a new lead entirely. While most of the cases have a set outcome, the specific path to that outcome is not paved in stone. It certainly adds to the game’s replay value as you can go back and redo cases that you feel didn’t exactly go right.
Cases aren’t all looking around crime scenes and solving puzzles, either. Some cases will have you moving around the city, chasing down suspects on foot or in a car, and possibly even engaging in the occasional gunfight. There’s a nice mix to keep things interesting and non-repetitive. Some cases will take longer than others, but each one you’ll find yourself immersed and trying to serve justice to those who might try and pull one over on the law.
If you want to take a break from the rigorous work of solving crime and want to do something a bit more straightforward, the game also offers “street crime cases”. If you choose to drive around and enjoy the atmosphere from destination to destination, you’ll occasionally receive calls over the radio. When you do, you can simply press a button to accept the short case. These are cases that give you a break from detective work and allow you as a player to jump into action sooner than later.
The different “street crime cases” offer a myriad of scenarios for players to go through. From bank robberies to chasing down delusional men who think rays are being cast upon them — the street crime cases offer a nice break from the main cases at hand. It gives those who want some “action” the chance to let their hair down and get exactly what they want. There are a total of 40 street crime cases throughout the game, and if you don’t complete them via the main story, you can always go back and complete them in the free roam option of the Traffic case file.
MotionScan Technology: It’s going to be hard to watch dialogue in other games after playing L.A. Noire. The motion scan technology that is utilized in the game brings about an element of realism to the dialogue that has never been achieved in a video game until now. There are times when you feel that you’re are talking to a real person while watching dialogue or questioning suspects. This feature helps make characters and their individual stories more believable, as well as helps to catch the liars, or those trying to pull a quick one on you.
Characters and actors have their nuances captured down to the finest detail. There are a few misses from time to time, but overall, the motion scan introduces an entirely new element to dialogue that takes storytelling in games to a whole new level. It makes characters more believable, and conveys emotion that more traditional methods cannot hope to accomplish. The game’s interrogation situations are based around the MotionScan, and without it, L.A. Noire could not have pulled off what it has.
The motion scan also allows for actors and more recognizable figures to not only loan their voice to the game, but their likeness as well. Games of the past have modeled characters after real actors, but none do it like L.A. Noire’s MotionScan technology. There are times that you will feel you’re watching a real person talk, and the level of detail is almost surreal at some points. However, it’s one of the strong points of the game.
Hopefully this is technology that won’t be buried anytime soon, and will be implemented in future game releases. L.A. Noire not only brings a great story, compelling characters, and a great setting to the table, it also brings this stunning technology. MotionScan can and hopefully will open the doors for more realistic narrative in games for many years to come.
The Characters: From the game’s main protagonist Cole Phelps to partners such as Finbarr Rusty Galloway, each character that you come across in the game will elicit a response from you as a player in some way or another. While some games have a forgettable library of characters, L.A. Noire’s cast is not one that you’ll soon forget. While you exclusively follow Cole Phelps for the majority of the game, you’ll take an interest in some of your partners, or maybe even the suspects in your cases.
The MotionScan truly brings characters to life and makes them all feel both real and believable. Each character has their own story to tell, and the game tells that story surprisingly well. Not to be outdone, the voice acting is top-notch, further adding to the realism that the MotionScan technology brings to the table. All-in-all, L.A. Noire’s characters are all very well developed and add an element to the game’s storytelling that cannot be dismissed by anyone who picks up a controller and play it.
Gameplay: Before we get into this, the first thing that we should get out of the way is the fact that this game is not like Grand Theft Auto. Just because the game is set in an “open world,” has cars, guns, and lively city — doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that–which seems to be a common misconception. L.A. Noire is entirely its own game. It has its own unique elements that make it seem new, but also has familiar ones to make someone such as a Grand Theft Auto fan feel right at home.
You’ll need to solve cases around you by examining crime scenes, interrogating suspects, and using evidence collected to piece together the overall crime. This is where the game really lends it’s unique style of gameplay. You’ll need to examine crime scenes to the fullest extent to collect all of the evidence, and question suspects in the correctly in order to help solve each case. However, not acquiring all of the evidence or asking incorrect questions can lead to a different outcome to that specific part of the case.
When talking to or interrogating suspects, you’ll need to tell if the person you are talking to is either telling the truth, lying, or if their is some doubt to the story. You’ll need to use that evidence collected in order to build your case against each specific person. However, not everyone you talk to is going to be a dishonest criminal. You’ll need make sure you pay close attention to how each person reacts to the questions you ask. If you know they are lying, make sure you have proper evidence to support your claim. If you’re unsure, you can always use “intuition points” to help narrow down your choices.
Fighting, driving, and the shooting in L.A. Noire are all done very well. You’ll be put in situations where you’ll need to brawl with a suspect or two, but you’ll notice that the fist fighting is damn good. Gun fights are just the same. The game provides a cover system that you’ll want you utilize in any situation where the guns are drawn and bullets are flying. You’re not super human and you will take damage fast. However, your gun will always be your last option — unless forced into the situation.
Driving in the game is going to be easy for people to pick up. Each of the car controls very well. However, don’t expect to be drifting around turns and driving like a mad man through the city. You’ll need to drive like a sane human being in L.A. Noire. You’ll be penalized for crashing, destroying anything around you, or running over innocent civilians. If you don’t think you can handle that, don’t worry too much — you’ll have the ability to make your AI partner drive and you can skip right to your next destination.
The Story: The story in L.A. Noire follows Cole Phelps, a war hero returning to L.A. as an officer of the law. You start as just an officer, but work your way up through all the different crime desks. The story in L.A. Noire ties itself together through the cases you play, collectible newspapers, and flashbacks to Cole’s experience in the war. You’ll learn the true story of Cole Phelps and just how he became the “hero” everyone believes him to be. As the story unfolds, you’ll learn that not everyone and everything around you is as it appears to be.
While it might not seem L.A. Noire is trying to tell one overall story, it does. Corruption, deception, greed, you name it. L.A. Noire has it all. As you progress through each of the different desks, you’ll slowly learn details about specific characters, and when you least expect it — the story will take a twist or turn that you will not see coming. It isn’t until much later in the story though that you learn why Cole Phelps isn’t too keen on talking about the war, and you’ll see the sacrifice he must make in order to become a true hero.
The 1940’s Atmosphere: L.A. Noire does a fantastic job at recreating the post-war era of 1940’s America. The cars, technology, music, environment, clothes — everything around you makes you feel like you’ve been trust back in time. You can tell a lot of time and care was put into creating the vast open world to make it feel authentic to that era of history. The authenticity of the era helps to set the stage even further.
There are times you’ll find yourself in awe of how life used to be. There were no iPhones or internet back then, so when Cole Phelps needs to call in for an address or suspect, you truly feel like you’re back in the 1940’s. The time period is noticeably ideal for the game–if L.A. Noire had been set any time in the present day, cases could have easily been solved using modern technology such as forensics or various other sciences. However, being in the 1940’s, you are limited by the technology at your disposal, making it so you have to utilize the only tools provided in order to solve cases.
The Soundtrack: While the game does a great job at recreating a post war America in the 1940’s, it wouldn’t have had the charm without the music to go along with it. While the game does offer music from that time period, the background music of the game when you are just roaming around or going from location to location on the case does a wonderful job at helping to set the overall mood of that part of the game. One part in particular after the vice cases has the mood set even further by the musical score that accompanies it. It helps to tell the story and convey the emotion you as a player know Phelps is feeling.
The soundtrack does a great job at setting a tone for certain scenes in the game, but also lends to the credibility of the era being recreated. If you actually do drive around–as opposed to skipping driving scenes and letting your partner drive–you’ll notice that the music on the radio station is accurate to the time period, and as a result helps to add an additional level of immersion to the game. L.A. Noire is not only a visually appealing game, but it is aurally pleasing as well.
What You Might Not Like:
Glitches, Bugs, and Some Bad Animations: While L.A. Noire is a great game, it’s not without it’s flaws. There are several times in the game that you will encounter particularly strange glitches, encounter a bug or two, or notice animations that just seems downright bad. While none of these issues are game-breaking, they do take away from what the game is trying to accomplish with some of the more impressive technology utilized.
There were several times while playing that we’d be talking to someone and while the facial animations were spot-on — the character movements themselves weren’t up to par, and effectively takes away from the realism that the motion scan brings to the table. It only happens from time to time, but when it does, you’ll feel the thrill of the technology taken away. Luckily, instances like these are few and far between, but they can put a damper on the viewing experience.
There were a few times where we would experience frame rate issues as well. However, it seems that they were in all the right places. We experienced them while browsing locations or doing something rather unimportant. None of these drops took places during any sort of crucial moment, but nevertheless you will run into them from time to time. Encountered glitches ranged from the giant head of Cole Phelps to arrest animations failing during the street crime cases.
None of these issues ever entirely ruin the experience, but as we’ve already stated, you can’t help but notice them when they do come about.
L.A. Noire is a game that will not be replicated any time in the immediate future. It offers so much that other games today can only strive to be like. The MotionScan and superb voice acting add such a fantastic level of realism to each character and offers something unique in regards to each person throughout the game. You as a player will enjoy your time exploring the city and solving the various crimes around the city.
While the game is far from what some would call “perfect”, it certainly strives for realism on many levels. It adds interactive, fun, and intuitive gameplay, great voice acting and character models, as well as a large open world that can be explored as you deem fit. Overall, L.A Noire is game that’s well worth your time and money. It’s a unique and wonderful singleplayer experience that gamers won’t soon forget.
Final Verdict: 5 out of 5 – L.A. Noire is a unique and unforgettable experience
Editor’s Note: A copy of the game was sent to us by Rockstar Games for the purpose of the review. We played through all of the main story cases, the street crime cases, checked out some landmarks, and searched for hidden vehicles scattered throughout the city. The game released on May 17th and currently retails for $59.99.