L.A.Noire Review (360, PS3)

by May 22nd, 2011

A modern day classic that’s not all black and white

Everytime Rockstar gives me an open world to explore, it comes at a hefty moral price. In order to experience such well crafted games of theirs, I’m pretty much forced to drag out my grittier side to appreciate said masterpiece. There’s a fair amount of guilt harboured within me for the terrors I’ve forced upon Liberty City and even many parts of the Old West, but honest to God, I’m a changed man. I want to start cleaning the streets I’ve sullied with blood, cocaine and whores. I want to do it in style, though, and L.A. Noire is serving up the exact opportunity many are looking for.

Taking place in the late 40’s Hollywood Golden Age, L.A. Noire tells the story of Cole Phelps, a man hoping to shine through the seedy underbelly of California and right the wrongs of the cities ills. Through rising up the ranks of justice however, he soon realises that the difference between good and evil isn’t all black and white. A truth that will force him to look into the secrets of the cities’ most respected, and even into himself.

With a long tutorial placing you in the shoes of a petty patrol-man, it’s not long before you want to don the long coat and start fighting crime with a trusty notebook at hand. Cole is given the chance to rise through four ranks of the LAPD, all offering their own trials and tribulations of Los Angeles’ darkest crimes. Out of the 4, the Homicide department sounds like the only desk that’s really got the guts to delve into the darkest hearts of L.A. However, each department whether it be dealing with arson cases or racketeering conspiracies always chews out cases that mean more than meets the eye. Some great writing of these cases almost proves good enough to be mini noir movies, and combined with newspaper collectables dotted about detailing the conspiracies of the underworld and flashbacks of Phelp’s military career, there’s this looming feeling of something afoot, toying with that classic film noir expectance of twists and turns.

Great results in each mystery don’t turn up on a silver platter.

Great results in each mystery don’t turn up on a silver platter. Some truly brilliant sleuthing is involved in solving cases, or even progressing. Entering crime scenes forces Cole to slow down from dashing about the streets and take a careful and detailed look at the grimy environments around him. A keen eye for detail is required in these scenes as L.A. Noire enters a sort of point-‘n-click mode of progression. Audio cues indicates when possible clues are at your feet, and tell you when all clues in an area have been uncovered, so though these segments are something of a breather from the tension of being a vice city cop, it doesn’t ruin the pace for obsessive compulsives’ who worry they haven’t checked every corner deep enough. Those who truly wish to challenge themselves at being a detective can turn these off, but either way, they are enjoyable chapters in a case and are never challenging enough to halt you in a gripping psychological pursuit of a criminal.

Those who decide to slack off at the crime scene thinking a corpse can’t account for them napping on the job will be severely mistaken, however. Clues can effect who you meet in an investigation and how you deal with them. You can’t simply bowl into areas pointing accusations at people Cluedo style, even if you do miraculously know the guilty party with each scenario. Lawyers don’t buy it when you have no proof or your suspect just isn’t cracking. This is where interrogations come into the mix. Interviewing well is just as influential as gathering clues, yet slightly more difficult thanks to the game’s MotionScan technology. Everyone you meet in the game is played by an actor religiously tracked with said impressive tech, and this examination of every muscle in the face does a better job that traditional motion capture ever could…and is your most powerful weapon in the battle of nerve and evidence, and can be described only as eerily realistic.

Though there are innocent parties in the game, everyone has certain motives to lie about what they know,and so it is important to distinguish when someone is telling the truth, or a dirty fib. Accuse them of lying when telling the truth, and they’ll act hostile. Accuse them of fibbing with no evidence, and they’ll think they’re running circles around you…and it effects your own performance. It seems that with everyone you meet, there’s always something to stab at your gut feelings and kick down your confidence, and it’s very worrying when a game leads you to question your own abilities whilst playing. Yet L.A. Noire manages to do in incredibly well, and leads you to feeling incredibly smug for the experience when you manage to solve a case…and like a complete tit when you balls it up. The performances from the whole cast, though slightly altered from the traditional ‘Whodunit’s’ you’d find on the TV or film for gameplay merits, never feel melodramatic, and create an unparalleled atmosphere and immersion…until you realise one of the suspect you interview is clearly Matt from Heroes…and it’s that sort of lack of focus which screws up investigations.

Words can only get you so far, though, and not everyone will go down quietly. Occasionally you will be forced into gunfights and brawls. It’s a shame there’s nothing truly special about combat segments, with L.A. Noire’s gunplay segments playing out much like GTA’s, albeit with more of a slight emphasis on cover based combat, and fistfights are nothing but a baseline system of blocks and punches with some minor contact issues. These aren’t major factors that have done anything wrong, but it’s a shame they’re so on par when L.A. Noire does a stellar job with everything else.

Unfortunately some pretty standard open world glitches worm their way through to rear their ugly heads on occasion. Occasionally car thieves would be caught by an unexpected spring trap in the road, perhaps installed by ACME, flying them 20 feet in the air before the vehicle lands on its roof. In one amusing instance I entered an atmospheric cut scene with a driver in traffic still loudly beeping his horn at me from my driving antics before hand, making it sound like he was hopelessly trying to censor everything I had to say. Nevertheless, it was aggravating to sit through revelations being told through tears of anguish and a honking Chevrolet.

L.A.NoireWith 21 cases to crack, all of which taking up to an hour to complete, there’s plenty of life in L.A. Noire, which is unfortunately cut out at the credits. Although you can revisit cases to see how else they can pan out due to your performance, you’ll do so already knowing the guilty party and unable to skip certain cut scenes with info you already know. Replay value feels restricted to trophy hunters as it juggles with the pros of a friendly ranking system and the cons of problematic pacing on multiple playthroughs, it feels like the only way L.A. Noire will survive a trade in is with inevitable DLC.

The city doesn’t so much focus as much on free roaming as its fellow Rockstar brethren, though there are the standard collectables on offer and a mode especially available to allow you to roam the streets. L.A. doesn’t quite feel as alive with traffic or pedestrians as much of its open-world counterparts. More attention has been focused on the internal structures of buildings, constructing some truly believable locales and recreating some of L.A.’s most famous landmarks. The world really comes to life, however, during ‘Street Crimes’, little mini missions which can be accessed whilst driving through the city. Answering these pleas for help against robbers and murde
rers usually results in an attempted getaway with civilians pointing you towards the assailant and cars skidding to a halt so close to your fleshy body that you could practically do a roll on their bonnet. It’s fantastic little touches like this in action segments which thankfully add life to this detailed world.

With an atmospheric aesthetic, tongue in cheek nods to the film-noir that’s inspired the title, brilliant performances from all characters and great story lines that weave through each other to intrigue throughout your career, L.A. Noire is a thinking man’s Heavy Rain. Through just 5 minutes of playing, its hard not to be immersed in an experience which challenges with your own convictions and delivers a great typical noir story at the same time. Rockstar aficionados may be slightly turned off by the more restricted pacing in terms of not pumping out the action in one fell swoop, but it works brilliantly well within its own means to deliver a consistently tense experience from beginning to end. A must play title of 2011 has turned into a modern day classic.

The Good: Fantastic atmosphere conveyed in locations and aesthetic, Brilliant writing with several stories constantly interweaving and intriguing, Interview and clue gathering gameplay go hand in hand to create a tense experience
The Bad: Little replay value unskippable segments should you wish for a better ranking on missions, Some minor graphical and technical glitches have seeped their way in


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Gold Y AwardGold Y Award
4.5 4.5 / 5
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Ben Taylor

Well, after 4 years lurking in the darkest corners of YARS, it's probably about time I updated this profile. I'm Ben, one of the senior editors here, and outside of scribbling on here, editing and finding pwetty pics to put in reviews, I'm studying 'Game Cultures' at uni. That's...that's game development in simpler terms, I don't spend my time analysing pixelated toes to determine whether they're 'art' or not. Anyway, I generally write to either save people money on utter crud or at least make them smile in some wry way with my bitterness and general disdain. If you're not laughing with me, you're laughing at me, and hey, that's progress in my books. 🙂

About Ben Taylor

Well, after 4 years lurking in the darkest corners of YARS, it's probably about time I updated this profile. I'm Ben, one of the senior editors here, and outside of scribbling on here, editing and finding pwetty pics to put in reviews, I'm studying 'Game Cultures' at uni. That's...that's game development in simpler terms, I don't spend my time analysing pixelated toes to determine whether they're 'art' or not. Anyway, I generally write to either save people money on utter crud or at least make them smile in some wry way with my bitterness and general disdain. If you're not laughing with me, you're laughing at me, and hey, that's progress in my books. :)

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