L.A. Noire’s tale is a pretty lengthy one: in fact, it dates back nearly seven years, when it was announced in 2004. The game has been delayed more often than The Ocarina of Time, and has gone through many aesthetic changes to get to where it is today. L.A. Noire’s biggest draw is the new facial motion capture technology, that boasts near perfect representations of actor’s performances, down to the smallest lip quiver.
So, does the technology deliver? Or more importantly, does the game itself justify the wait? Read on to find out.
Players are put in the shoes of Officer Cole Phelps, an ex-marine who, while naive at times, has a true passion for cleaning up the streets. As the game progresses, Cole’s talents will quickly become noticed, and during his career as detective, he’ll face a ton of obstacles, challenging partners, and some of the trickiest cases in American history. Thankfully, Mad Men actor Aaron Staton plays Cole perfectly, and whether you love him or hate him, one thing’s for sure: Staton does such a good job, that you will have an opinion of Detective Phelps.
Phelps will start off as a street cop (Patrol), and eventually, progress to Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson. Each desk contains different themes and storylines, but after each case, the over-arching narrative of Cole and his Marine buddies will present itself through flashbacks, culminating in an emotional finale.
If you wish, you can also pick up hidden newspapers throughout the game’s story cases, shedding even more light on the events that are happening behind the scenes. All in all, L.A. Noire’s world is incredibly rich, and each character oozes a unique personality rarely seen in games today – some of that is owed to the new facial scan technology.
In the realm of video games, it’s incredibly hard to assemble a swarthy all-star cast, and truly present each actor’s nuances in the way television does every day: thankfully, with L.A. Noire’s advances, that conception is a thing of the past. TV fans will no doubt recognize many (talented) actors and actress from various shows such as Heroes, Mad Men, Californication, Lost, and Southland - all of whom give 110% with their performances like they were acting for a big budget movie.
Surprisingly, I found myself immediately recognizing the actors after walking in a room, before they even spoke. When they did open their mouths, you could see their idiosyncratic micro-expressions as clear as day. All in all, the performances are really the best part of the game, and I found myself itching to see who I would meet in the next case – when I say that all of the actors in L.A. Noire “nailed it”, I really mean it.
Progression through these cases takes place in three different styles of gameplay: investigation, walking/driving, and interrogation. I’ll get to investigation later in the review, but as far as the action sequences go, thankfully, unless it is required by the story, you hardly have to do any driving.
In fact, you can hold the “Y (or Triangle)” button, and immediately arrive at your next destination (you can drive if you wish, but the city isn’t too lively – which I will get to later as well). The action sequences are short and sweet, and usually involve a thirty second chase, or a one to two minute gunfight. In fact, most of your time is going to be spent listening to the twenty hours of audio, and, in my opinion, the best part of the game: interrogation.
Once you find a witness, suspect, or person of interest, Cole will open up his notebook, allowing you to choose from a series of questions to ask each person. After listening to their testimony, you can choose to claim that it’s a truth, lie, or call it into doubt. If you doubt the statement, or accept it, the suspect will react accordingly, and it’s onto your next question.
However, if you call them an outright liar, you have to prove it with evidence you have collected during your investigation (including witness testimonies, or facts). The reason all of this is possible is because of the facial scan technology. All of the folks you investigate will either have certain “tells”, wear their hearts on their sleeve, or make a slip-up that you can catch – it doesn’t always work out, but the reactions are always entertaining.
Even if you wrongly accuse the sweetest old lady of deceiving at Lucifer-esque proportions, the result is always exciting, and you can still progress through your case with success (although botched interrogations may result in a delayed case). As a result of the twenty hours of audio, each time you play the game, you’ll experience different actions and reactions, which is incredibly welcome, and provides for a very unique experience.
So what does L.A. Noire do wrong? For starters, the investigation sections aren’t always the most engaging of sequences. While the majority of the time you’ll be snooping around interesting crime scenes, inspecting interesting set pieces, often times you’ll find yourself in some schlub’s kitchen, checking out his bills, and family pictures (this is especially apparent in the murder cases). Every time you walk past an object you can pick up, “clue” music cues you in, and lets you know you can interact with it.
To add insult to injury, the “clue” music plays even when you’re picking up something insignificant – the problem is, the clues are usually so small, you can’t really tell a piece of trash apart from a suicide note. Having the clue music play with gusto after picking up a banana, and having Cole deem it “irrelevant to the case” is just plain pointless, especially since it takes Cole an average of ten seconds to pick up and put down each object.
Also, those who are expecting a true “GTA” style open world game – prepare to be disappointed. The only real activity you can do while roaming the streets is answer a limited amount of vanilla flavored dispatch calls in-between cases. Make no mistake – L.A. Noire is a narrative driven game.
Sadly, you really aren’t going to find those staple extra-curricular activities typically found in open world games of this nature, like diving off of skyscrapers, or finding planes and boats to experiment with. Most of the time, you are going to be confined to your car, or in limited action zones, furthering your case, and the game’s story. I can easily see this being a polarizing factor, so some people may want to think twice before expecting another Grand Theft Auto.
Despite a few gameplay hiccups, there is no doubt in my mind that L.A. Noire will be on many outlet’s Game of the Year lists. I wouldn’t necessarily include it in mine (so far), but one thing’s for sure: it’s pretty darn entertaining.
L.A. Noire's visuals may suffer at times in terms of framerate issues, but the facial recognition technology is absolutely stunning, and really has to be seen in person to be appreciated.
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The lack of consistently solid gameplay is L.A. Noire's biggest fault. At times investigating can be tedious, and the open world exploration aspect of the game feels unfinished - thankfully, the interrogation sections are incredibly well done, and a blast to play.
There wasn't one actor or actress in the entire game that I felt was miscast, and the gloomy tunes of the 40s help set the mood brilliantly.
While open world fans won't find a whole lot to do in the actual city of L.A., a 15-20 hour story campaign (minimum), in addition to the game's replay value and future DLC will keep you entertained for a while.
L.A. Noire may have a handful of gameplay faults, but overall, it's an incredibly engrossing experience you won't want to miss out on.