If you sat down and played any Grand Theft Auto game for an hour, chances are, during that time, you would steal a car, kill a few people and cause general mayhem. In L.A. Noire, during that same time span, you have more chance of going to a crime scene, searching for clues, interviewing a suspect and maybe chasing one down. It’s this difference that makes L.A. Noire unlike anything you have ever played, or will ever play again for a very long time. But does this uniqueness make it any good?
Inspired by the detective movies of the 1940’s, L.A. Noire plays out like the video game equivalent of one. The similarities to the film noir genre are striking, from the presentation of the menus to the dialogue of the characters, every single thing L.A. Noire does seems to strengthen the obvious love developers Team Bondi have for the genre. To make the game more immersive, the whole story can be played in pure black and white and, to my surprise, it’s a whole lot better to play the game without colour than with it.
L.A. Noire follows the story of Cole Phelps, a war veteran who returns to Los Angeles and takes up the reigns patrolling the streets as, at first, a beat cop. In the 1940’s, the LAPD was not highly popular and needed someone who could put trust back into the citizens of Los Angeles. Because of Cole’s love for the job and his skills as a policeman, the heads of the LAPD decide to fast-track him through the different departments of the force.
The story of L.A. Noire, at first, doesn’t seem to be anything special. Cole is just a normal guy trying to readjust to normality after his experiences in war. Flashbacks of his time in the service occur every now and then and provide an interesting back-story to the character of Cole and why he is the way he is today. Overall, Cole is a likeable character; he is smart, funny and good at his job. He is an interesting person to lead the story of L.A. Noire and is vaguely similar to Grand Theft Auto IV’s Niko Bellic; a normal guy with a past he wants to forget who is trying to readjust his way back into society.
But the similarities to Grand Theft Auto stop there. Although the game does have the Rockstar logo on the front cover, L.A. Noire is nothing at all like the mega-selling, award winning series. At first glance, the two could be compared. Both contain lots of driving and lots of shooting, but it has one striking difference; you’re on the other side of the law in L.A. Noire. It’s time to put your criminal days behind you because in L.A. Noire you’ll be solving cases not causing them.
As you play as a policeman this time around, you’re required to do the daily tasks of a detective in the force. Those can range from inspecting crime scenes, interrogating suspects, chasing leads and shootouts with the bad guys. L.A. Noire is a much slower-paced game when compared to Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. Much more time should be put into searching every single nook and cranny of the crime scene, hoping to find that one clue that could give you a serious lead.
Inspections work by wandering around the area itself until either your controller rumbles or a series of chimes play. These hints notify you that there is something near Cole that can be picked up and inspected. After finding the item, you can manipulate it using the analogue stick. Sometimes there’s nothing to find where as other times, the item can be inspected further. You are notified of this by a vibration in your controller, too. The moments in L.A. Noire when you actually feel like a detective is where the game shines and the inspection scenes are one of these.
Finding the clues scattered around the crime scenes can give you crucial leads in your investigation which will assist you in the interrogation parts of the game. The interrogation scenes are another part of L.A. Noire that shines. These moments are similar to speech sections in games like Fallout: New Vegas or Mass Effect, except they have one huge difference; the conversations are based around an incredible piece of technology called MotionScan.
MotionScan is very similar to the technology found in animated films of today that captures an actor’s performance so it can be added digitally onto a character at a later stage. In L.A. Noire, actors like Aaron Stanton, who plays Cole Phelps, acted out scenes in a studio where huge numbers of cameras picked up his performance ready for the designers at Team Bondi to add them onto his virtual character. Amazingly, it isn’t just the lips that are mapped onto Cole; every single aspect of his facial performance is available to see, from the shiftiness in his eyes to the movement of the muscles in his neck. And it is amazing. If this was just to show off how far technology could go in these modern times, then I couldn’t complain, but the fact that it is a crucial part of the gameplay makes the achievement that more staggeringly brilliant.
Interrogation scenes revolve around this new technology. As Cole asks things from his notebook, the player is required to watch the character answering the questions and observe their movements. If their eyes are searching the environment, wandering, avoiding eye contact with Cole, then it can be predicted that their story may not be the whole truth and you, the player, can respond to this. When the suspect has finished speaking, the player is given the chance to press one of three buttons: Truth, Doubt or Lie. Only one of these is correct however and it is down to the player to determine which one it is. Get it correct and the suspect opens up, allowing you to press them for more answers. Get it wrong, however, and the suspect refuses to answer anything else.
There’s no denying the fact that these interrogation scenes are brilliant. They are tense, interesting but, most of all, they are tough. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve sat there for anything over a minute, trying to get my head around whether the suspect is lying or telling the truth. Sometimes, you can be so convinced they are lying that you will be shocked when it is revealed they were actually telling the truth. Whilst this hard difficulty spike may alienate players and make them frustrated, I think it helps the game significantly as it really assists you in feeling actually like a detective as you have to make that crucial decision.
Over the course of the cases, you are required to do things other than interrogate suspects and search crime scenes. Sometimes, characters flee when they spot your presence, requiring you to chase them down. What ensues is a series of scripted moments where you run and jump across landscapes from gardens all the way to crumbling Hollywood movie sets. To do this, you must simply hold down the run button and control the direction in which Cole runs. Jumping and climbing ladders is done automatically and the chases are tense and exciting. Sometimes, you can pull out your gun and aim it at the suspect for a few seconds without shooting, allowing a meter to build up. When the meter is full a warning shot can be fired. The suspect usually stops, but if it is a particularly ruthless character, you may be required to chase them a little bit further.
Over the course of L.A. Noire, you will be required to drive and shoot a lot. Driving is similar to that found in Grand Theft Auto or Mafia II and is generally fun to control. Whilst driving is a crucial part in L.A. Noire, passing through the streets of Los Angeles is a joy as there is always something going on. Shooting in L.A. Noire also takes a leaf out of Grand Theft Auto’s books as it involves a cover system that is still as clunky as ever and a lock on feature. Unfortunately, the shooting isn’t quite up to the standards set by Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption and, like the cover system that accompanies it, feels awkward and isn’t as fun as it has been in past Rockstar games.
Upon first glance, L.A. Noire may look like its set in a Grand Theft Auto type open world. After playing it for a good amount of time, it’s clear that L.A. Noire has more in common with Mafia II. L.A. Noire is a linear experience that is set in an open-world. And what a brilliantly realised open world it is. Team Bondi have nailed the period setting, creating a living, breathing map that genuinely looks and feels like it’s straight out of the 1940’s. Everything, from the clothes people wear to the cars they drive, feels realistic and credit should be given to them for it.
Optional tasks in L.A. Noire is not a problem; if you’re driving a police car, calls can come through the radio, detailing a crime that has just taken place and requires your assistance. Overall, there are 40 of these to do and range from shooting bad guys to following suspects. L.A. Noire is also crammed full of collectibles like hidden cars, film reels and famous landmark locations. Also available for you to find are a selection of newspapers that, when accessed, trigger a cut scene that, as you collect more of them, begins to reveal a side story that is separate from the main game.
L.A. Noire, though, is not without its problems. The huge technical heights the game has managed to reach have, for the most part, come off well except for a few minor graphical hiccups that can hurt your experience, but nothing so much that it would ruin it. Cole can sometimes get stuck in scenery, partners and other AI characters can go a little crazy and there is a small amount of screen tearing but it’s nothing that can’t be sorted out in an update or two. Another slight annoyance is that the lips of characters can be a little faded and you can’t distinctly determine where the lips end and the inside of the mouth starts. The damage of the cars is very disappointing as vehicles in L.A. Noire can engage in head-on collisions and escape with nothing but a dent. Although the game does encourage you not to crash as you’re a policeman this time around, it’s slightly annoying that Team Bondi didn’t incorporate a more extensive damage model rather than a scrape or dent here and there. All of these problems were, in my opinion, to be expected as L.A. Noire is an ambitious game so these glitches are just a small price to pay for what is, otherwise, a fantastic game technically.
The fact that L.A. Noire is more slow-paced when compared to games like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption could put people off. But if you’re prepared to put the hours in and think like a real detective instead of a gamer, then L.A. Noire is definitely worth a purchase. With incredible motion capture features and a unique experience unlike anything else out there, Team Bondi and Rockstar has proven that, together, they can produce something truly wonderful and immensely enjoyable. A few problems, like graphical hiccups and awkward shooting mechanics, stop it from knocking Grand Theft Auto off the top of the open-world perch. But what is available in this phenomenal package is simply stunning and is a game that will be in my console for a long time. It may even go down, in my opinion, as being one of 2011’s gaming highlights.
L.A. Noire (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
The fact that L.A. Noire is more slow-paced when compared to games like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption could put people off. But if you’re prepared to put the hours in and think like a real detective instead of a gamer, then L.A. Noire is definitely worth a purchase. With incredible motion capture features and a unique experience unlike anything else out there, Team Bondi and Rockstar has proven that, together, they can produce something truly wonderful and immensely enjoyable.