L.A. Noire Review Or: Grand Theft Confidential?

The Gameplay:

The main thrust of the gameplay involves Phelps moving on up through the ranks of the LAPD. It’s an interesting dynamic that always keeps things fresh, mission-wise. Traffic cases differ greatly from homicide cases, just as homicide differs from arson, vice and so forth. That being said, there is a degree of familiarity that sets in sooner than the designer’s probably intended. There’s a certain Law & Order feel to most missions, where the general direction you can expect a case to take you in is evident in its first few moments.

Main plotline missions number around twenty or so, requiring a more than decent 15-20 hours of gameplay, depending on your commitment to the game’s various extra-curricular activities. You can also have Phelps respond to around 40 unassigned cases while driving around L.A. but these quickly become a repeating cycle of “chase this suspect on foot” , “chase this car around” and “break-up a mugging by engaging the criminal in fisticuffs”. You’ll never lack for something to do in L.A. Noire but the amount of enjoyment you get from these side-missions is entirely up to you.

L.A. Noire screenshot
Pardon me, sir, but didn’t I beat you up yesterday?

In terms of additional distractions, L.A. Noire is no Grand Theft Auto IV. Cole doesn’t go around cruising for dates and since nobody’s gotten around to inventing the cell phone yet, Phelps’ social life is limited to driving around L.A looking for a few of those hidden objects that always litter Rockstar games, the gathering of which earns you several minor rewards like hidden cars and helpful “intuition points” to help during the game’s many interrogation sequences. In L.A. Noire, you’re a cop and you’ll spend your time doing cop things.

Luckily, Rockstar always gives players a beautiful sandbox to play in and Noire is no exception. You’ll drive around a faithfully reproduced Los Angeles, complete with kitchy Hollywoodland sign. The game’s garage consists of dozens of era-specific cars, none of which you can expect to drive at several hundred miles an hour. This is the 40’s and the top speed of that decade isn’t exactly going to blow your hair back.

L.A. Noire screenshot
What do you mean I’m speeding? I’m only going 30!

Noire’s few shooting sequences are underwhelming since the game’s engine was designed chiefly as a storytelling tool, rather than as an FPS. You can hide behind walls, sliding out of cover to deliver some carefully aimed shots but with Noire’s arsenal limited to real-word weapons of the era the action never gets frenetic enough either visually or in difficulty level to warrant much in the way of increased respiration. Noire uses shootouts sparingly and its story is all the better for it. Fistfights boil down to little more than learning the proper timing.

The only action that’s worth drooling over in Noire takes place during interrogations. Your investigations will often require you to converse with characters both shady and entirely too forthcoming, it’s up to you, as Phelps, to determine in which category your suspect falls in. Outright accuse a suspect of lying and you may be rewarded with a tibbit of information you would have otherwise missed, the flipside is that innocent witnesses don’t take too kindly to having you shove your finger in their faces and may clam up entirely, denying you valuable clues.

Unfortunately, despite making investigations the crux of its gameplay, L.A. Noire doesn’t punish you harshly enough for antagonizing witnesses. You simply cannot fail at extracting the necessary information required to move a case forward, making picking the right conversation choices a bit moot. I understand the need to avoid forcing players to listen to the same scenes over and over again in the hopes of eventually picking the right answer but rewarding gamers for failing seems counterproductive.


The Graphics:

While all of the above is more than enough to qualify L.A. Noire as a good game, it’s the magic of its motion-capture technology that sends it shooting into a whole other weight class. For the first time, a game truly does earn the term “Interactive Movie”.  Check out the clip below, featuring Lord Of The Rings and Fringe actor John Noble as one of many Hollywood celebrities to contribute to Noire’s cast. If you’re at all familiar with the actor, notice how many of his mannerisms and facial tics are perfectly captured by Noire’s engine.

While this level of motion-capture realism is worthy of praise by its lonesome, what it contributes to the game’s countless interrogation sequences is priceless. A nervous swallow or a cocked eyebrow now speaks volumes as to your suspect’s state of mind. Figuring out who is lying and who is being honest is now a sort of mini-game, where the player must navigate every line of an actor’s face, carefully listen to the tone of their voice and the gestures being employed by a character to determine the veracity of his or her statements. L.A. Noire was the first ever game to be presented at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Thus perhaps causing film critic Roger Ebert to finally reverse his position on how video games simply cannot be art.)

Noire’s extensive cast of actors deliver realistic, solid performances, perfectly captured by the game’s engine. These are no longer actor’s watching their performances stiffen and lessen when translated to video game form, these are actor’s acting. And it’s a marvel to behold. As far as its technical merits go, L.A. Noire is in a class all its own. No other game of this generation can touch it.

In the realm of sound, Noire is also superb. 1940s America is rather unique as far as its music is concerned and the game does a fine job of of selecting a plethora of appropriate Jazz tunes and popular music. Actor’s voices sound crisp and clean, you’ll never feel like you just missed an important line of dialog.


The Verdict: [rating:4.5]

Sorry Mr. Ebert but L.A. Noire IS a spectacular work of art. You can equally enjoy it as a game or as an interactive novel. A few fundamental flaws unique to its 1947 setting do rear their heads but its nothing overwhelming. Sure, you can’t base jump from a skyscraper like you would in a GTA game ( L.A in the 1940s didn’t have skycrappers) and your role as a goody-goody cop prevents you from flaunting societie’s laws but those are minor blemishes.

At its core, Noire is a detective story. And it’s a damn good one to boot, filled with fascinating characters and superbly acted by the finest cast ever assembled for a video game. Run, don’t walk, to pick up a copy of what is sure to be one of the year’s most heralded games.

Your faithful reviewer,

TheMatt.

L.A.

10:00 PM.

The Dame sauntered into my office, all elegance and promises. I swallowed the last of the bourbon in the cracked glass on my desk, at the same time silently cursing myself for a fool for letting her walk back into my life. Her lips parted, she spoke:

“Matt! Get your damn feet off that desk and go take out the trash!”

“Awwwwww, mom!”


L.A. Noire Screenshots

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