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VIDEO GAME REVIEW: L.A. Noire

Jun. 3, 2011by: Andre Manseau



Published by:
 Rockstar Games
Developed by: Team Bondi
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

GET THIS GAME HERE

INTRO:  LA Noire puts you in the shoes of up-and-coming detective Cole Phelps during the Hollywoodland era. It's up to you to grab your partner and hit the street, finding clues and grilling perps to try to find the truth. Along the way, you'll even attempt to solve the mystery of the Black Dahlia murders. The big selling point of this one is the whole facial recognition system, a graphic overhaul that makes faces absolutely photorealistic this means it's up to you to determine whether or not your suspect or witness is being completely honest, simply by reading their face.

People give Rockstar a hard time because they are accused of constantly making the same game ad nauseum and redressing it. I wholeheartedly disagree and think it's simply an easy accusation to make. GTA is the base model, Bully was GTA with kids, Red Dead Redemption was GTA with horses, and LA Noire is GTA with hats. You're truly a fool if you think this way. sure, the engines are similar, but I personally believe that each of these games delivers a unique experience that really do separate them from their cousins. 

Here's the official description: "Amid the post-war boom of Hollywood's Golden Age, Cole Phelps, an LAPD detective is thrown headfirst into a city drowning in its own success. Corruption is rampant, the drug trade is exploding, and murder rates are at an all-time high. In his fight to climb the ranks and do what's right, Phelps must unravel the truth behind a string of arson attacks, racketeering conspiracies and brutal murders, battling the L.A. underworld and even members of his own department to uncover a secret that could shake the city to its rotten core. Using groundbreaking new animation technology that captures every nuance of an actor's facial performance in astonishing detail, L.A. Noire is a violent crime thriller that blends breathtaking action with true detective work to deliver an unprecedented interactive experience. Search for clues, chase down suspects and interrogate witnesses as you struggle to find the truth in a city where everyone has something to hide."

GAMEPLAY:

LA Noire is certainly not GTA with hats. Instead, it's one of the most adult games I've played in a long time. By adult, I don't mean blood, guts, sex and swearing (although to be honest, that's in there). Instead of being a game full of disposable fun to play and forget, LA Noire is a thought provoking, contemplative and dark game that takes itself pretty seriously and quite frankly just isn't for kids. This isn't to say that no kid could handle LA Noire, but they might find the pace of the gameplay to be dull and slower than they'd like.

You won't find yourself driving all around the city and mowing people over with reckless abandon, branching off for 3 hours while blowing things up. Instead, you'll drive carefully (or just have your partner drive, which means you'll miss a lot of the beautiful world created by the Rockstar team) and you might even find yourself cursing if you accidentally clip an innocent person. This is a big, big part of what I like about this game. Although he isn't perfect, our hero Cole Phelps is actually a GOOD guy for once, and that's super refreshing. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little tired of the super macho anti-hero who's too cool to be a nice guy. Cole is always on the straight and narrow, and even in little moments when he can be afforded chances to veer off the path, he stays true. I like that a lot. There are a lot of really memorable characters in this game and the dialogue is sharp and rarely feels forced. You'll suffer through various partners, some of whom are fantastic and helpful while others just want to put you through the ringer and have you do all the work. Much like Heavy Rain, this game feels like you're a character in a full-fledged story that resembles a movie, except this game feels a bit more interactive than Heavy Rain did.

The game's story is told in an episodic format, sort of like Alan Wake or (ugh) Alone in the Dark. The presentation of the game reminds you of old black and white detective serials from that era and gives the game a distinctive flavor that's quite pleasing. Each chapter lasts about an hour, and the game can take you between 15-20 hours to complete (the 360 version spans across 3 discs!). Each case starts with the crime being committed, you being assigned to it, investigating the crime scene, grilling witnesses and suspects and trying to solve the crime. As the game progresses, you find out more and more about Cole's past through brief flashbacks of his military career. There's also another story arc that involves a suspicious 'doctor' that is told through various newspapers you pick up which trigger cut scenes as you progress through the story.

This may all sound very simple, but the game makes things complex and varied enough to keep things interesting. Sometimes you'll need to visit a location 3 times to cross-check your evidence that you've found in your notepad. The way the game works is that any time you meet someone of interest or come across evidence, you automatically make a note of it in your handy notebook. This is your bible for each case and is invaluable. You'll find yourself searching all around the areas you're in, waiting for a vibration from your controller and a distinctive chime sound that lets you know you may have found an object worth noting. At this point, you pick the object up to examine it, manipulate it and try to connect it to the case. There are always items that mean nothing (never pick up the hairbrush), but stumbling upon a clue is always exciting. If you don't like having your hand held somewhat, you can modify the game so that the notifications aren't as obvious and you'll have to find everything yourself. I wouldn't recommend this on the first play through, but perhaps as something to consider as you play through.

As I mentioned before, the big selling point is the game's facial recognition system and it truly doesn't disappoint. You are going to spend countless amounts of time staring at the faces of your opposition, whether it's the actress who's trying to pull the wool over your eyes, the bartender who seems sort of crooked, or perhaps the distraught wife who's heartbroken over the loss of her husband..who beat her every night. It's difficult to describe how well this works, but I can assure you that this is the feature that the gameplay hinges on and it doesn't fail to deliver in spades. Rockstar used over 400 actors and captured their every moment on camera. If you've got a keen eye, you'll even notice some familiar faces from TV and Film, like the dude who played Matt Parkman from Heroes!

This is a system where you notice every single twitch; every twinkle in the eye, every tic, every furrowing of the brow. Believe me when I tell you too, you're going to have two or three friends sitting around and you will disagree. One will swear they're lying because the perp scratched their face, the other will tell you they're innocent because they seem so upset and they can see it in their eyes. There are a lot of tough decision to make in this game and you'll never get 'em all right unless you're an absolute master. This isn't a flaw but a skill that needs to be developed as the game goes on. It feels extremely satisfying to get the right answers and when you can really nail someone dead to rights, you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment.

When interrogating or questioning someone, you generally have three options- you can assume they're telling the truth, doubt them if you sense tomfoolery is afoot, or you can outright accuse them of lying. If you accuse them of lying, be ready to back it up. If they look at the ground, their eyes shift around and they say they've never used a rope before and you've got the proof that they had a bloody rope in their trunk, call them on it and present the evidence. If you're wrong though, be ready for some serious footwork that may require you to run after the suspect on the street and chase them around or to have to drive from location to location to try and uncover the truth. The system might sound simple, but the cases are so varied that the game is anything but a simple 'lie detector' simulation.

In terms of action, the game does pick up the pace when it is necessary and you'll have to do some basic hand-to-hand combat and a bit of gun play from time to time. If you're buying this game for big firefights and wall to wall action, think again. With that said, the action works well using a cover system and a familiar aiming system and although the hand to hand combat is extremely simple, it is functional and serves its purpose.

Ultimately, this is certainly a grown-up game. If you're a completionist, expect the replay value to go through the roof. I'm not usually the 'I have to do everything' type, but I admit- it killed me to blow some of the cases and not discover all the clues. Missing an important piece of information always bothered me because sometimes it led to the innocent getting fingered incorrectly or the bad guy getting away. When you care about the characters, the game can certainly become more rewarding.

Gameplay: 8.5/10

GRAPHICS:

LA Noire sports facial features like you've never seen them before; this is a game that essentially requires the use of an HDTV. Without a great set, you'll miss little details and nuances in each character's performance. While the faces will have your jaw drop, the rest of the game looks pretty good. The textures can be simple and the hair (especially the styles the ladyfolk sport) doesn't look great. Sometimes the character animation is too wooden and although the face might look great, the awkward movement of some characters can seem jarring and pull you out of the experience briefly. LA Noire is still a scenic, rich game with well detailed environments though despite some outdated technology rearing its head at times.

Graphics: 8.5/10

AUDIO:

LA Noire relies heavily on the use of music to help guide the player. As you interrogate and find clues, you'll familiarize yourself with "good" sounds and "bad" ones which will let you know how you're doing. While you investigate, you'll notice that the music will stop altogether to let you know you've found everything. This helps eliminate the need for a HUD and keeps the game immersible. Voice acting is essentially flawless, with a huge cast of speaking characters to boot. 

Audio: 8.5/10

FINAL VERDICT:

LA Noire unquestionably deserves the attention of the patient and mature gamer who likes to contemplate, analyze and solve. It provides an experience unlike any I've had playing a game and breaks new ground with some of its technology. I loved the straight-laced protagonist and the departure from debauchery (I love me some wanton destruction sometimes too though, don't get me wrong). If you've got a couple of days on your hands to sit and devote to this game, I think you'll get hooked and find the time passing by quicker than you thought possible. Plus, some of the cases are so much fun that you'll absolutely revisit them simply to see how reactions would change based on different actions you can take. Spend some time with this one!

Final Score: 9/10

GET THIS GAME HERE

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12:51PM on 06/03/2011

A Modern Classic

Great review. This is hands down one of the best games I've ever played. One to savor and enjoy.
Great review. This is hands down one of the best games I've ever played. One to savor and enjoy.
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7:23PM on 06/03/2011

such a disappointment in the grand scheme of things

This game was such a letdown, I can't understand why people are giving it such a high score? Is it just because it's a Rockstar game? Is it just because they haven't played enough games to realize this is not a great, or amazing title? Who knows. All I know is that this was one disappointing game. Not a horrible game by any means, and still a solid title but it really missed the mark when you take a step back and look at it. If you want to play a great crime investigation game -- go play HEAVY
This game was such a letdown, I can't understand why people are giving it such a high score? Is it just because it's a Rockstar game? Is it just because they haven't played enough games to realize this is not a great, or amazing title? Who knows. All I know is that this was one disappointing game. Not a horrible game by any means, and still a solid title but it really missed the mark when you take a step back and look at it. If you want to play a great crime investigation game -- go play HEAVY RAIN. If you want to play a great open world game in the 40's go play MAFIA II. LA Noire just fails to capitalize on so many levels, yes it does some things right, but it also does many many things at a sub-par level.

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11:40PM on 06/05/2011
l.a noire is a masterpiece..don't listen to the dude below me he expects a grandtheft auto game set in the 1940..plays mafia if you want that. l.a noire is a game that demands patience and thinking but gives back so much
l.a noire is a masterpiece..don't listen to the dude below me he expects a grandtheft auto game set in the 1940..plays mafia if you want that. l.a noire is a game that demands patience and thinking but gives back so much
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