Review: L.A. Noire

Posted: May 26, 2011 by Tony Polanco in REVIEWS

I’ve put off writing this review for a few days now. I’ve procrastinated because I haven’t been able to figure out exactly how I would go about reviewing Rockstar games’ latest masterpiece L.A. Noire. This is a game that will make people question what we think a video game could or should be. It’s also a game where the title “game” isn’t entirely accurate and in some ways limits what the product is and accomplishes. I’ll try to convey to the best of my ability what I experienced during my time with L.A. Noire and also try to convince you why this title may very well set the precedent for future narrative driven interactive media.

L.A. Noire tells the story of police Detective Cole Phelps who is also a veteran and hero of the second world war. Phelps is a unique individual since he is one of the few cops who isn’t jaded or corrupt. The story is set in the city of Angels, Los Angeles in 1947. 1947 was the most violent year in L.A’s history (even more so than in the early 1990s) so it’s a great place to set a game that mostly tasks you with solving homicides, uncovering insurance scams and stopping the flow of illegal narcotics.

Despite my hesitance to do call it one, this is a video game and there are some familiar things to engage in such as gun fights and car chases. However these are secondary to the main gameplay of L.A. Noire. You will spend most of your time investigating crime scenes for clues and interrogating suspects or persons of interest. Finding clues like jewelry, notes or blood stained clothing is as easy as walking near it and picking it up. Your controller will vibrate whenever you can interact with something but some of the things that you can pick up have nothing to do with the case. Finding all of the clues in a crime scene will help you out during the game’s best feature, interrogations. The interrogations are what make Noire one of the most captivating video games ever made since you have to carefully analyze a person’s face to determine if they are being truthful, holding back information or are flat out lying.

The technology used to capture the actor’s facial expressions and movements is incredible and the game would have suffered if not for the amazing detail of expression from each of the actors. Never before in a video game has there been this level of synergy between graphics, technology and acting. Properly gauging a person’s reactions and responding correctly gave me a feeling just as satisfying as pulling off a complex combo or defeating a really tough boss. If you are successful in your interrogations you will open up new lines of dialogue which will help in your investigation. If you are wrong you don’t fail but you will have to do some extra leg work in order to obtain information that you missed.

Since the game takes place in a very crime filled era you will have to engage in gun battles, fisticuffs and chases from time to time. Shootouts are very reminiscent of Rockstar’s last game Red Dead Redemption so if you’ve played that game you’ll be right at home here. The problem is that the gun play is EXACTLY like it was in RDR and the same problems of not being able to move smoothly from cover to cover still persist here. Like RDR or the Grand theft auto games your gun automatically locks on to whoever you are aiming at but if you want to end gun battles fast with head shots then you will need to move the right analog stick to do so. Gun play is functional but feels a bit stiff.

The other major “action” that you will engage in will be chases and oh brother are there a lot of them. It felt like half of the people that I encountered ran off which lead me to have to chase them down. This got a bit tedious after a while. Chase sequences take place on foot or in vehicles and are mostly scripted affairs that end at a pre-designated area. Even though it got annoying having to chase so many people down I was thankful that the chases were not as long as they were in Grand theft auto 4.

Saying that L.A. Noire has incredible voice acting is not only an understatement but is somewhat incorrect. Traditionally an actor goes into a recording studio, says his/her lines and then the animators bring that performance to life. In Noire, the performances that you see on screen are from the actors themselves. The acting in this game is on par with the acting in television shows or movies. All of the actors in this game do an amazing job not only because they are naturally talented but because any bad acting on their part would ruin the gameplay since it relies so heavily on being able to read their facial expressions. Even the acting of people who you only meet once is at the same level as any of the main characters. This would be remarkable in a regular show or movie but considering that this is supposed to be a “video game” the acting is phenomenal. I only wish that the actor’s bodies weren’t as stiff looking as they appear. I’m not sure if it’s because the bodies were not given as much attention as the faces were or if it’s because the faces looks so good that the bodies don’t look as good in comparison. It was a bit jarring at times to see this amazingly detailed and lifelike head on top of an awkwardly moving body.

The world of L.A. Noire is just as detailed and awe inspiring as the characters’ faces and acting. The setting of the game is perfectly realized and you will feel as if you have actually been transported to the Los Angeles of the late 1940s. One of my favorite things about the visuals of Noire is in the use of old school Technicolor. Some of you may be too young to remember but Technicolor was the main process used to give films color back in the early 20th century. Although you can set the game to black and white to really give it a noire feel, I prefered to keep the game running in it’s standard Technicolor setting. That, along with all of the period specific vehicles, technology, music, clothing, hair styles and even racism really made you believe that you were in post WWII America.

Unlike typical Rockstar games, L.A. Noire is not a 60 hour plus behemoth. Even if you go off to do the combat heavy street crime missions, one playthrough will last you roughly 20 hours. Again, I stress that the main point of Noire is the captivating story and characters so the 20 hour duration is more than acceptable. If you do want to extend your game time there are a number of things to do although they are few when compared to other Rockstar games. You can find hidden film reels throughout Los Angeles which bear the names of famous noire films of the past, replay cases to earn a higher rank or attempt to get all of the various trophies. Trophy hunting is pretty easy in this game. The only one that will cause a headache is the one you recieve for getting inside of all 95 vehicles in the game. It’s not the fact that you have to get into so many vehicles that is the problem but that most cars look identical. I’m sure that a person from the 40s would have no problem identifying each car but to my 21st century eyes, all of the vehicles looked the same.

L.A. Noire sets a new precedent of how to blend gameplay, acting and story telling for all future video games. After playing the game you may (like I did) look at a standard game and think how silly it is. L.A. Noire will make you rethink what a game is supposed to be and hopefully raise your expectations and standards for the games that you play. If you are one of those people who prefer fast paced twitch based experiences and have no patience for something slower and more cerebral than you may want to steer clear of this title. For those of you who crave something that is not only unique but revolutionary then you owe it to yourselves to give L.A. Noire a try. Team Bondi and Rockstar have created a game that I believe will set the standard for all those that wish to follow in it’s footsteps.

Liked

  • Amazing detail of character performances
  • Engrossing story that makes you feel like a real detective
  • Offers something new and potentially revolutionary

Disliked

  • Body animations looked cartoonish when compared to facial animations
  • Cover system is combersome
  • It was sometimes hard to pick up clues even when near them
L.A. Noire was developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar games. It was released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and is available now for $59.99. The copy played for this review was the Playstation 3 version.
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