The standard sandbox game is often one that somewhat glorifies lawlessness and violence. You typically find yourself running from the cops while attempting to get away with murder. Team Bondi turns the tables on you with L.A. Noire, making you the law.
This single-player detective story twists and turns its way through postwar 1947 Los Angeles, each of its characters flawed and damaged in their own way with nary a wholesome soul to be found. It's a mature and unsettling tale of deceit, regret, crime, corruption, and war, and it's unlike any other game that you've played before.
Let's get one thing out of the way: L.A. Noire is not a 1940s-themed Grand Theft Auto. It may look like an open-world game, but it doesn't play like one. It is decidedly linear and much slower-paced than the other famed franchises under the Rockstar banner.
The argument could be made that L.A. Noire is truly a member of the adventure game genre, hearkening back to the heyday of the video games that held the importance of the narrative above all else.
As its title suggests, the content of both L.A. Noire's appearance and storyline are heavily influenced by the "film noir" cinematic era of the 1940s and 50s. You assume the role of Cole Phelps, a decorated hero of World War II who enters law enforcement in an attempt to play the role of a clean cop in a corrupt city. His efforts quickly gain him local notoriety as he rises through the ranks of the LAPD.
L.A. Noire takes you through numerous investigations ranging from car accidents and homicides to drug busts and arson, and ultimately, you'll be the one deciding who to charge with each crime. And you won't always be right.
L.A. Noire's flagship function is its interrogation mechanic. Many times throughout the game, you will find yourself questioning a witness or suspect and it will be up to you to decide whether they are being honest, bending the truth, or flat-out lying. Choosing the right conclusion will either gain the trust of the person being questioned or crack them, exposing evidence or even an outright confession.
But if you incorrectly decide that they are covering something up, you may have trouble getting more truth out of them. If you accuse them of lying, you'd better have evidence to support your claim or you will quickly lose ground in your investigation.
This is largely made possible through the pioneering of MotionScan technology, which takes the method of motion-capture a significant step further in the industry. By surrounding the actor's face with 32 cameras recording footage from all angles, MotionScan enables L.A. Noire to display facial expressions with unprecedented accuracy never before seen in a video game. As a result, Cole Phelps unmistakeably resembles actor Aaron Staton (of Mad Men fame), with his performances completely intact.
Every character in the game is captured using this technology, which offers nuances in the delivery of their testimonials, helping you to determine their level of authenticity. The outcome is something that must be seen to be believed, and it results in what is likely the most well-acted game created to date.
How correctly you conduct each interrogation will have a tangible effect on each particular case. It will mean the difference between putting a criminal behind bars and sending an innocent person to jail. There's no save system to bail you out here, either. While you have the option to re-play cases that went wrong, they must be played out in their entirety before trying again. This will likely result in some unsettling outcomes in which you've accused the wrong person, but it contributes to the immersion greatly.
You've got to live with your rights and your wrongs as you progress through the game, and it makes the entire experience that much more authentic.
L.A. Noire does give you some helping hands if you get stumped, though. Experience points earned through successful interrogations will earn you "intuition points" which can be spent during future interrogations to help determine the correct reaction to a statement. You can spend a point to remove one of the incorrect choices, leaving you with two and narrowing your odds to 50/50 if you were to make a guess.
There is also a social networking-style option called "Ask the Community" which will display percentages next to each option, identifying which choice most other players had made, provided you have a connection to the internet intact.
But L.A. Noire is more than just a 1940s interrogation simulator. When you're not interrogating, you'll be spending most of your time carefully traversing crime scenes in search of evidence to point you to a suspect. This is where L.A. Noire feels very much like an adventure game as you carefully search every nook and cranny of a particular area for clues to aid in your investigation. But the game takes steps to help make this procedure much less troublesome than it could have been by using audio cues.
Areas containing undiscovered clues are accompanied by subtle and distinctive music to remind you that there is more to be found in your immediate vicinity. Furthermore, you are gently alerted with a chime when passing by something that can be more closely studied. As a result, these sequences always feel fruitful and never like wastes of time. The aforementioned "intuition points" can also be spent at these times to highlight all available clues in an area if you're having trouble.
There are also several types of action sequences peppered throughout to keep you on your toes. You will quite often find yourself in a foot race when particular suspects notice that you are on to them. These chases will take you on parkour-style romps through the city, climbing fire escapes and jumping between buildings as you either rush to tackle the suspect from behind or end up in a fist fight at the chase's end.
There are also occasional gun fights which feel very similar to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, requiring you to take cover and pop out to squeeze off a few shots and subdue violent criminals. These sequences each help to keep the pacing of the game varied, but they also feel rather cookie-cutter and monotonous towards the end of the game. They're also quite easy, rarely requiring multiple attempts to overcome.
There are several car chases thrown in for good measure as well, but typically, driving sequences will simply take you between areas of interest while investigating each case. In the early-going, these will be very satisfying as a way to marvel at the meticulously detailed re-creation of 1947 Los Angeles. But remember that you are the law in L.A. Noire. Driving like a maniac might be fun, but it just doesn't feel genuine. Conversely, waiting at red lights is never, ever enjoyable, making the option of driving responsibly rather drab.
For the completionists, there are hidden cars to collect and landmarks to discover. For everyone else, there thankfully exists an option to "let your partner drive," which will skip the driving sequence and bring you directly to your destination to get you straight to the meat of the game.
In an effort to add to its sandbox feel, L.A. Noire offers up "street crime" missions, which are impromptu crimes being committed that you have the option to respond to. They're mildly interesting action sequences to change things up mid-case, but they virtually all end up as simply "go here and kill these guys" missions. There is the inexplicable lack of any non-violent resolution to any of these crimes, as they always seem to result in the coroner picking up another body. It would have been nice to have been offered some strategic options to choose how you want to resolve the conflicts.
While the repetitive nature of the life of an LAPD detective taking on case after case does briefly instill itself on the feel of the core game, the monotonous moments are short-lived. L.A. Noire does a superb job of sending you through a tumbling and unfolding plot, strategically providing flashbacks and insight into other goings-on in the city.
What start as seemingly unrelated occurrences gradually unify in fantastic fashion over the 20+ hours of gameplay through the story cases alone. The soundtrack is particularly good, not only serving as emotional orchestral interludes to aid in the tension and excitement, but also borrowing authentic recordings from the time period of the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.
L.A. Noire's recreation of 1940s Los Angeles is incredible, from the cars and the streets to the music and the lingo. The MotionScan technology allows it to host acting in a way that no game has before, and Aaron Staton and cast took the opportunity and ran with it, delivering the greatest acting performances ever seen in a video game.
The writing itself is also superb, weaving a tale of flawed and struggling personalities through twists and turns that will grip you until its conclusion. It may be a bit more linear and repetitive than you'd expect from a game that bears the Rockstar moniker, but this is an experience that you cannot find anywhere else, and one that will remain with you well after it ends.
Developer: Team Bondi, Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Genre: Third-Person Action-Adventure
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: 17 May 2011
ESRB: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence)
Pick up L.A. Noire at these local video game retailers:
- , 545 S. Broad St., Lansdale. (215) 368-1955.
- GameStop, 1551 Valley Forge Road, Lansdale. (215) 631-1230
- , 2333 W. Main St., Lansdale. (215) 855-4280
- GameStop, 801 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales. (215) 412-2900
- GameStop, Montgomery Mall, North Wales. (215) 362-2036
- Toys R Us, 2 Airport Square, North Wales. (215) 368-8050
- Best Buy, 801 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales. (215) 855-3528