Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
by: Mike "Pheriannath" Katsufrakis
I must admit, if we were reviewing games solely based on their title screen, LA Noire would easily coast to a superlative score. However, this isn’t a fantasy land, and that makes me sad. Luckily, the rest of LA Noire is just as incredible as its moody title screen and I’ll still be able to give high marks.
LA Noire, at its core, is a classic point and click adventure game dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Sure, it’s got most of the trappings of your standard post-GTA 3 open world game, but I find it has a lot more in common with something like Phoenix Wright. A typical case opens with an introduction to the case by your Captain, then you’ll proceed to various crime scenes, collect evidence and follow up on leads. Eventually, you’ll find a suspect and try to pin them with the evidence you’ve collected. Simple enough.
The storyline follows the career of one Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran who joins the police force after returning home. After an early break, he’s promoted to Detective, where you’ll advance through the ranks and take on all sorts of cases, from Traffic crimes to Homicide and eventually Vice and Arson. He’ll rub shoulders with the elite, punish the wicked and even help investigate the infamous Black Dahlia murder.
What you’ll notice instantly about LA Noire is the startlingly realistic facial animation of its characters. Real actors, many whom you will recognize had their facial expressions recorded during their performances, and the game translates them beautifully. During interrogations, you’ll be asked to suss out whether a character is telling the truth, holding back or outright lying, and the fidelity of the character animation will let you see every sideways glance, nervous swallow or smug grin. It’s really something to behold, and the fact it doesn’t go sailing off the cliff flanking the Uncanny Valley is an achievement.
Since much of the game is based in (exaggerated) nuance, it can sometimes be frustrating to misread a suspect, and failing to conduct flawless interrogations will lead to lack of evidence that may or may not be critical to your case. The game does a great job of continuing on despite any failures on your part. It’s certainly possible to put the wrong person behind bars, but it will never result in a failure state.
The sheer amount of content in LA Noire is almost staggering. There are 21 cases to solve in the main game, and once you’re out of tutorial land, most take at least an hour to wrap up. If you’re playing the PS3 version, you benefit from having an extra two cases out of the box. In addition, there are about forty street crime mini-scenarios, each with a small bit of story set up, though they usually involve a quick chase or shootout, and Cole sending another stiff to the Coroner’s office.
So while the investigation and interrogation portions that make up the bulk of the game are absolutely fantastic, other aspects of the experience leave a little to be desired. Driving around the city is fun, especially if you appreciate the painstaking detail Team Bondi put into 1940’s Los Angeles, but once you’ve cleared street crimes out of the way, there’s not much in the way of content. Luckily, you can set a waypoint and have your partner chauffer you around. Periodically, outside of foot chases, you’ll be expected to engage in a bit of urban traversal, which feels shoehorned in. Nothing takes me out of a game faster than asking me to control a character’s balance while walking across a beam or plank.
When the action picks up, the game does a good job of keeping things exciting. Some scripted events are inserted into the chase sequences to ratchet up the tension, and who doesn’t love a good car chase? Foot chases work well because Cole will automatically grab onto ladders or jump over/climb obstacles for you, letting you focus on keeping eyes on the perp. When guns come into the equation, the controls are serviceable, with some basic cover mechanics and (seemingly) infinite ammunition. If you’re having a hard time with the action and fail a set number of times, the game will actually allow you to skip the sequence, keeping the plot moving.
Though there are some rough edges along the way, the superlative quality of the writing, acting, presentation and the technology that drives it all make this a game that’s not to be missed. Recent Rockstar games have had fantastic DLC support, so hopefully LA Noire continues that trend.