L.A. Noire – Console Game Review
L. A. Noire. Xbox 360 Game Review. Publisher: Rockstar Games. Developer: Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. $59.99
Passed inspection: Pushes the boundaries of console gaming: the sound and visuals, authenticity, and acting of characters are second to none.
Failed Basic: If you are a casual gamer who wishes to take to a metropolis, armed to the teeth with some black market weaponry, and gets paid by the car explosion – this isn’t the title for you.
L.A. Noire hit the gaming community recently and instantly became Rockstar’s most successful, fastest selling game which isn’t based on a sequel to a smash hit. With this in mind, you know that this 1940′s detective outing for the heavyweights will be a contender for game of the year and potentially pushing the boundary of expectations for the modern gamer for future releases. So what is L.A. Noire and why are people raving about it?
L.A. Noire in short, is a detective role-playing game (RPG) set in a sandbox format. You play the role of Cole Phelps, new to the beat and keen to impress. Introduced to you early on in the game, you piece together his past before joining the LAPD by a series of flash backs, which sees him joining the US Army and being put through training. With the conversations and snide comments from your partners and colleagues, you quickly learn that he has returned from the war intact and highly decorated – something which is a constant theme throughout the game. Flashbacks and back filling features between cases (or missions) and enables the player to appreciate the character – not simply for an avatar in a game environment but rich with a background and their own history. Something which lacks in Rockstar’s previous games and is a simply joy to learn and experience.
From the moment you start the game, you get a distinct feeling that not all is what it seems and once you start scratching below the surface. In your introductory cases, that abandoned car turns into a shootout and chase scene which ends with fraud and misdirection. L.A. Noire will test your abilities at observation and patience and isn’t for those who wish to jump into a gunfight from the get go, although these do feature in the game from time to time.
Starting off on foot patrol and working the beat, Cole introduces the player to Team Bondi and Rockstar’s masterpiece: arriving at the scene of a shooting, investigating an alleyway murder in the pitch black of the seedy L.A. night. With the role of a tutorial, here is where you learn the basics, but more importantly, learn the key tools to the player’s experience. Picking up objects (or potentially evidence!) and rolling the controller stick will show the object at all angles for further depth and clues. A vibration on your controller or a turn of the angle will indicate further evidence – a mark, a name or a serial number – which will add further lines of enquiries for you to return to after your scene of the crime search. These all being added to your trusty note book as you go of course.
Using your notebook is key to keeping those all important notes and observations; in there you can review evidence, set locations based on conversations or your previous findings and in terms of discussion – or more interestingly in times of interrogation – you can highlight key lines of enquiry or put forward pieces of evidence to try and learn more from your captive audience. With the answer delivered to Phelps, you are offered then three options: Truth, Doubt or Lie. Choosing a wrong option and it will close down the witness and the line of enquiry and you will have to work harder to crack the case. Nail the telltale signs or a giveaway in the story delivered and you are awarded with further lines of enquiry: or more gratifying is a confession for that all important case closure.
Ultimately your goal is to crack the investigation with the least amount of incorrect interview questions or a successful gathering of all available evidence. The better job you do at this, the higher your score, which unlocks more cases and moves you further up the LAPD’s slippery ladder to success. Disappoint the chief and it’s more cases in the same department and the less interesting leads for you – (which are also a delight). It can be fun just walking the streets and bathing in the beauty of a pristine and “living” recreation of 1940′s Los Angeles.
Driving around, L.A. Noire might appear to be like any other sandbox game which Rockstar have released – the NPC’s still roam the streets and the other road users still get in your way as you circumvent 1940′s Los Angeles highways. However, what is a breath of fresh air and features predominantly in Red Dead Redemption are the random occurrences and side missions. Receiving a call over the cop car radio, you can choose to attend to the call or ignore – to mix up the interviews, interrogations and crime scene investigations, I would tend to dabble in a few of these. Sometimes there would be a fire fight with bank robbers or foot chases across the city. These were a welcome distraction, and they also add to your experience points. With every rank you unlock an array of additional items (clothing etc.) as well as Intuition Points. Spend these and spend these wisely detective, these are put to use in identifying all the clue locations at a crime scene or helpful in removing one of the three interview questions when interrogating a suspect. Think Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and then add a suspicion and a possible life sentence angle to it. These ultimately assist in your overall success and mission outcome – although depending on the witness and line of enquiry, you could easily bank these and sail through another case file using your previous points at your disposal. It’s a welcome touch to assist the player, but I wouldn’t rely on them too much – they are few and far between in any event.
Working through the missions or case files, you are judged on the cost to the department (damages to Police vehicles etc.) and cost to the city (driving recklessly – which is as usual, a fun part to the sandbox experience – damaging lampposts, running over post boxes etc.), not just on the success of your questioning and gathering of evidence. Ace all of these and you will shine amongst the rest of your colleagues – and subsequently will be promoted to another desk and speciality. There are five to be awarded: Patrol, Traffic, Arson, Vice, and Homicide which all largely feature similar experiences. These of course offer a mix of various scripted activities- a crime scene, tailing a suspicious suspect or a shootout are a few of the hardships of a LA Police Officer and will centre on your desk of specialty.
Rockstar of course can give you the tools in which to be a successful budding detective who has made it his mission to clean up the streets of LA – but you will need some help along the way. Throughout your career with the LAPD you will have a partner and they won’t be there for decoration. Aside from the usual stereotypical quips and cop terms, they will also be on hand for clues or at the press of the button, will tell you points of interest, share guidance, or simply offer directions to your destination. Although I would add that when driving, they will often advise you to turn left when in fact it’s a right and vice versa……a glitch, but not a debilitating one at that. Let’s hope their detective work and shooting ability is a little bit better than their simple directional skills!
Of course Rockstar are renowned for their attention to detail and imitation of life: From the hugely successful recent Grand Theft Auto (IV) and Read Dead Redemption, this publisher is not shy of pushing the boundaries of realism and immersing the player in the period. Take L.A. Noire: Using the new video capture technology developed for the game, L.A. Noire offers a new depth to the experience and allows a greater immersion into the genre which would be otherwise difficult for most to relate to, given social and technological advances in the last 70 years.
To say that they did their homework would be an understatement: research started 5 years ago and no rock was left unturned. Using aerial photos from the period, Bondi and Rockstar lifted real life landmarks and recreated these in the virtual world. In addition, sourcing period clothing, furniture and personal effects, these are all transferred perfectly into the setting, importing the player into a living and breathing recreation of the period, amongst murder, vice, and intrigue.
So Rockstar and Bondi have done some background reading. So what? Well Motion Capture is the true star of the game and is what will ultimately bring the success owed to the studio and the publisher and will impress such a large audience. Using various cameras at a multitude of angles, Rockstar took in-game graphics to a whole new level; greater video footage means greater authenticity and attention to detail in conversations. Previous games the likes of Mass Effect are no strangers to the art of conversation and facial movement. However, the realism of detail is startling, to the point that a raise of an eyebrow or a shift of eye movement will be your tip off that your witness is withholding information – time to take them down to the station and place them in the spotlight!
In addition to this detail, the voice acting is second to none. With the script being the best of which I have experienced in games to date and featuring talent the likes of Heroes’ Greg Grunberg as one of the actors directly imported into the game, this is one impressive title which puts all previous role playing games/sandbox outings to shame. Nailing all of this is key to its success, and this title couldn’t be farther from the likes of Grand Theft Auto, which has captivated audiences for years.
What is missing from L.A. Noire, and I hasten to add I would be clutching at straws here, would be a lack of multiplayer. Sure, Rockstar could lift the online play of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption and offer a remodel to the post war era: but that wouldn’t be what this game is about and quite frankly might put people off from playing this sole-single player outing. That said; with replayability clearly not an issue for this game, I fail to see how this would be a legitimate turn off or concern. With returning to cases and working the scene of the crime for that all important piece of evidence you missed the first time round, or asking the correct line of enquiries in the make or break interview with a suspect, this game definitely sports depth as well as longevity. In addition, with the multitude of DLC being offered to the gaming community in the form of new cases from separate desks, this will only assist in lengthening the play time and the variation of experience from player to player.
Add some healthy comparative leaderboards in Rockstar’s Social Club, where you are ranked against your Gamer List and the world, in your efforts at detective work and evidence collecting and this is a welcome return from when it was first featured with Red Dead Redemption. Not a tangible effect on your gameplay experience but nonetheless adds a different dimension to the competitive edge of gaming.
What some might have heard and has certainly done the rounds of the gaming community is that of the technical issues experienced by some players who have flagged issues with both the Playstation and Xbox 360 freezing, turning off, or in some rare cases overheating due to the demands and processing power of the game which is required from the console. Whilst Rockstar immediately addressed this concern with an update to the game once the disc is placed into the tray, I cannot comment whether this is a legitimate concern or whether the release resolved the issue. Either way, as soon as news hit the gaming forums, no further issues have made their way to the forefront to potentially overshadow the success of the title.
In closing, this is a thinking man’s game. Patience rewards the gamer with success of interrogations, finding out the bigger picture and all the while, getting your hands dirty from time to time with the odd shoot out or foot chase. This game has it all – but don’t expect a Grand Theft Auto rampage – this is still 1940’s America and Rockstar have kept to realism, over exaggerated violence and social deprivation.
Armchair General Rating: 94%
About the Author
Alex Last is a post-graduate in War, Culture and Society and is an avid console gamer. Combining his interest in social history and popular gaming culture, he also manages his own blog on Console Curious.