L.A. Noire – Game Review

In 2010, David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream studios, released an intensely touted PS3 exclusive called “Heavy Rain”.  It was a game that promised to usher in a new era of interactive entertainment, blending 4 distinct stories into one central case involving a serial killer known as the Origami Killer.  The game was met with many positive reviews that praised its unique approach to blending film and videogame, but some gamers and critics were less than enthused about the awkward, at times cumbersome, control scheme.

Flash forward a year later, and Rockstar, famous for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, as well as last year’s hit Red Dead Redemption, is taking a stab at the same concept with their latest, L.A. Noire.  Set in post-war Los Angeles, the game follows the rise of a beat cop turned detective named Cole Phelps as he rises the ranks of the L.A. police force.  Taking a number of cues from past films of the genre, most notably Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential”, the game attempts to bring gamers into one of the richest, most detailed settings ever seen in a videogame.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Let me state up front that this review is only a commentary on the basics and beginning levels of the game.  Unlike some game review sites, I make no attempt to bulldoze my way through the game and then pass it off as a “thorough” review.  No spoilers will be given.

Fans of the film noire genre are going to soak this game up.  Every effort has been made to recreate the nuances, the music, and the style associated with post-war film.  It would not have surprised me in the least to see Humphrey Bogart stroll onto the screen glowering from under the brim of his fedora.  Music is actually used seamlessly to assist in the investigation of any crime scene.  If you get close to a piece of evidence, subtle tickling of piano keys alerts you to this, as well as a slight vibration on the controller.  This can also be turned off, if you wish to make the game more of a pure challenge.

Controls are simple and familiar to anyone who has ever played videogames.  The organizational interface is well executed, using a notebook to organize things like “persons of interest”, clues, and locations.  Waypoints can be set using the notebook as well, ensuring that you have a clear destination at any point during an investigation.  A game like this has the potential to be a frustrating train wreck if certain safeguards aren’t used by developers, and one genius idea they have is to use gold colored handles on any door to buildings with which you can interact.  I don’t know how many times I’ve run around open world games trying various doors to buildings that were only skins.  Whomever came up with this idea needs a raise.  Now.

As you play and solve cases, you gain XP which increases rank.  The higher rank you have, the more you can use “intuition points” to spend during an investigation.  These points basically allow you to highlight hidden clues on the map that you may be missing.  This feature acts as a kind of valve to let off some of the frustration if you get stuck on a case.  As an open world game, you can basically drive anywhere you like, but the story will steer you in certain directions in order to progress the plot.  Similar to Red Dead Redemption, small side missions will come to you over your dispatch radio and appear on your map.  You can choose to accept them or not.

From what I played, the game appears to be fairly large, and once you get tired of driving everywhere yourself, you can use the option to “let parter drive”, which is essentially a form of fast travel.

One aspect of the game that does require some commentary is the revolutionary facial mapping system.  If I could compare it to anything, it would be the way Jim Carrey’s face was mapped as computer animation for last year’s version of The Christmas Carol.  Everything from the hairline, down along the earlobes, to the underside of the jaw, looks like a human face (albeit slightly animated).  Words sync with mouth movements, eyes drift in conversation, and subtle “tells” will appear when characters speak.  These gestures are key to investigations, because you need to determine when someone is lying or not.  Part of this involves using evidence you have already collected.  Calling someone on a lie, or accepting truth at face value, will give you an influential edge as you push them for information, or even a confession.  This is why it’s incredibly important to gather every bit of evidence you can, and watch the faces of anyone you question.  Getting more questions right will increase your XP and move the case forward.

Although I have only had a chance to play a small portion of the game, I can say that it’s definitely going to be a winner.  Lack of any sort of multiplayer may not give it the longevity of Red Dead Redemption, but I think the developers have the right idea in making this SP only.  There’s an incredible amount of data in the game, and like many RPG’s, should offer dozens of hours of gameplay.  One thing I should warn people about is that because the developers are attempting to marry the gaming format to cinematic style, there are many cutscenes, and as far as I can tell, you cannot skip them.  So if this sort of thing drives you nuts, you might want to pass on L.A. Noire.  Everyone else should find it pretty entertaining.

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Posted on May 17, 2011, in Video Game News & Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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