Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Consoles: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Release: 17 May 2011 (US), 19 May 2011 (AUS)
Price: Fishpond Australia ($67.97), Amazon US ($59.99), Amazon UK (£37.99)
Often when an upcoming release title is hyped up to ridiculous proportions, it’s difficult for the game to live up to its expectations (take Homefront, which seemed certain to score 9’s and 10’s in the gaming community but fell short of its target by only scoring 6’s and 7’s). However, sometimes the companies get it right and the game is everything it promised to be.
It’s no secret: L.A. Noire has been my most talked about game for 2011 and ranks on my “most anticipated” list. When Rockstar Games first announced the title, I had high expectations for the game. Combine it with the character dossiers, a nomination for Tribeca, and impressive gameplay trailers released prior to its street date, and it seems the game just could not fail. From its MotionScan technology to its mult-layered storyline, L.A. Noire ensures a fresh and innovative gameplay experience which is sure to keep any player on their toes.
Based in 1940s Los Angeles, L.A. Noire sees players assume the role of Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran and hero who has returned to Los Angeles to join the police force. Phelps begins his career in the LAPD as a patrolman, and quickly moves up the ranks to the other desks: traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. As he moves through the ranks, he uncovers the truth about Los Angeles: actresses that will stop at nothing for fame, men and women who have affairs and conspire to kill off the husband, and people in power who will do anything to hold on to it. The cases are often based on actual crimes from the era, including the Red Lipstick Murder which takes elements from the real life case, which adds to both the authenticity of the game and the corrupt tale of L.A.
While there are set cases to solve which paint a smaller picture of a post-war Los Angeles, there is also an overarching crime which is ever-present in the game through newspaper clippings. The game also features flashbacks to Phelps’ days in the war and uncovers the reason he came back to join the LAPD.
I have to say that, prior to playing the game, the constant solving of cases seemed repetitive to me and I was worried I would get bored of it. However, the flashbacks to Phelps’ time in WWII and the newspaper clippings ensure that the entire game is cohesively strewn together. Each individual case also houses its own storyline, and it was surprising to see how unpredictable the cases were. I have a habit of being able to guess what happens in games far sooner than it actually happens, but in L.A. Noire each case had so many different twists and turns that I eventually stopped trying to guess and just used my evidence to make a judgment.
And on that note of evidence, judgments, and solving cases: the cases aren’t the only thing that makes the game’s storyline as great as it is. Cole Phelps is the greatest example of a true cop. If you looked up “justice” in the L.A. Noire dictionary, his name would be the first definition there: he’s the pursuer and upholder of the law, and the antithesis of everything else in a corrupt Los Angeles. While his partners may believe it’s time to give up on a case, Phelps refuses and it’s really because of him that the game is that much more enjoyable: after all, sometimes it’s fun to play the unwavering good guy.
L.A. Noire’s graphics are a delight to look at – to put it simply, I felt as though I was in a noir like Double Indemnity. With the MotionScan technology, and the faithful rendition of 1940’s Los Angeles, Rockstar and Team Bondi have really created a visually stunning game. It’s fun to solve the cases, but sometimes what can be more entertaining is cruising around the city Grand Theft Auto style and checking out what’s what.
From the very beginning of the game, I was impressed with the visuals. The main menu, the pause menu, Phelps’ notebook, and even the conversation log exude the very essence of both noir as a film genre and the time period the game is set in. The world of L.A.Noire is sharp and vivid, and there aren’t any moments where the images look pixelated or blurry – in fact, it’s the essence of an open world game where every place and everything can be examined and explored (unless there’s a fence blocking the way!). The chase scenes are great: I was chasing a guy around on a movie set for one case, and I actually stopped chasing to look at how great the setting was…needless to say, I failed the case because my suspect ran away.
However, it’s the attention to detail which really gives L.A. Noire that authentic feel. Every nook and cranny has had thought put into it: the writing on the blackboard at the LAPD is all legible, the houses have household items all clearly laid around the place, and of course, the characters move and look like their real life counterparts. With MotionScan and questioning/interrogation, every little move is so evident and L.A. Noire really makes the most of this: when looking for signs that a person is lying, it’s not always crystal clear. Even the most subtle swallowing or glance downwards can indicate so much about what the suspect or witness is saying, and every motion the character makes is so similar to a person’s in real life that sometimes it’s hard to remember this is just a game and not actually Los Angeles.
Audio: SFX and Soundtrack
I was fortunate enough to receive the Verve Remixed album with my copy, which was a real treat because the soundtrack is just filled with those jazz beats that everyone loves. L.A. Noire’s soundtrack features a number of unique songs as well as iconic songs from the era (think Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday) and really sets itself apart from other game soundtracks in that respect. Whoever believes a game should only feature hard rock or poppy beats needs to pick up L.A. Noire because the sultry jazz fits the game like a key fits into a lock. The graphics are great at recreating the look of Los Angeles, but what really recreates the feel is the soundtrack. Take the moment when Phelps walks into a jazz bar: I could have sworn I could see the man at the piano, playing away to the song request of a patron. While it’s not as award-worthy as a game like Dead Space 2’s soundtrack, L.A. Noire’s soundtrack most certainly does establish the tone of the game and helps create a brilliant atmosphere.
The audio is integrated into the game not only as a soundtrack, but as a hint to the environment around Phelps. When searching for clues, the music is a great indicator of where things are – kind of like a musical “hot” or “cold” – and the music fades out once all the clues in a certain room have been found. This music is often eerie and adds to the suspense of a creepy case; however it’s also useful as an indicator of whether or not Phelps asked the right question during interrogation. When Phelps correctly guesses whether a person was telling the truth, lying, or to doubt the witness or suspect, there will be an approving tune from the soundtrack; if Phelps is wrong, an ominous sound will play.
The easiest way for me to describe the gameplay is to say this: imagine L.A. Noire as Grand Theft Auto meets Phoenix Wright. It’s got that open world element to it where any car can be taken, any road can be driven on, and people make comments if you run into them or steer your car off the sidewalk; meanwhile the detective side of the game is akin to Wright’s investigation of crime scenes and interrogation of witnesses on the stand (minus the “Objection!”, of course).
In L.A. Noire, the style of gameplay is simple to describe: there’s a case, you investigate the crime scene, drive around to different locations to collect evidence and question witnesses and suspects, and help maintain justice within the city. Sometimes witnesses or suspects will run and it’s up to Phelps to catch them and beat them up; other times people will shoot and Phelps has to protect himself and his witness. However, despite the gameplay being simple to describe, there’s a lot of time and energy that is required for playing L.A. Noire which gives it a totally new experience.
Investigation of the crime scene and of various other locations tied into the case, and involves Phelps examining the body (if there is one) and the surrounding area to search for clues. Phelps can pick up objects and – by rotating the left analog stick – examine them closely to judge their relevance to the case. Not everything you find is going to be relevant, but nevertheless it’s great to pick up a bottle of beer and look at the detailed label on it just for fun. Phelps can also look in the victim’s pockets, examine their neck or head for signs of foul play, and speak to the coroner for any extra information involved with the case. Occasionally, some clues will even involve doing a small puzzle, which adds a fun little element to what can otherwise be a very serious game.
From here on, gameplay involves collecting evidence and talking to witnesses and suspects, and building up your knowledge of the case in Phelps’ notebook. The notebook contains Persons of Interest, clues, and locations which all contribute to the solving of the case. Additionally, there are “Intuition Points” which Phelps can use as a hint for clues in the vicinity or when players aren’t sure whether the POI is telling the truth, lying, or to be doubtful. Intuition points are earned through asking the correct questions in the game, and are a real help when you’re stuck in a tight spot.
When interrogating people, I’m going to give you one hint which will make everything easier: unless you have evidence, don’t press the “lying” button! I’ve dropped down the rating in some of my cases because I knew they were lying but didn’t have anything to back it up. While the interrogations are fun though, the chasing and shooting parts of L.A. Noire are my favourite because they add a certain degree of balance to an otherwise slow-paced game. When suspects run, Phelps chases them until they give up – alternatively, some suspects can be very uncooperative and require a bit of a brawl to set them straight. There are also shooter phases where a suspect could take a person as their hostage and Phelps has to get them down before they kill the hostage. Needless to say, while L.A. Noire definitely has many question-and-answer moments, these action-packed sequences reignite the game for those who need a bit of guns to make gameplay complete.
The only thing which annoyed me slightly in L.A. Noire was how repetitive the cases could become at times, as I mentioned earlier. Rockstar certainly did a great job of minimising repetitiveness and balancing out the game with chase scenes, puzzles, and shooting, but going through the game case by case by case can become formulaic at times. Thank goodness the cases are all different enough and intriguing enough to take away from the sometimes formulaic moments, and overall I found that as I got further into the game, I stopped caring about repetition and started focusing on suspects.
L.A. Noire provides gamers with a new experience which is sure to intrigue even the most genre-specific players. After months and months of reading news about the game, talking about it and watching trailers, I have to say L.A. Noire lived up to every one of my expectations. However, from a stellar combination such as Rockstar and Team Bondi, I wouldn’t expect any more. This title is innovative, fun, and a challenge to the traditional genre games in the industry…and for me, that’s a winner. Case closed: I love this game.
I give L.A. Noire