Review

L.A. Noire Review (Xbox360)

Let’s get this out of the way up front – L.A. Noire isn’t Grand Theft Auto 1947 Edition.

For one, you play as an L.A.P.D. detective named Cole Phelps, sworn to protect the people of post-war Los Angeles. He’s not the type to endanger civilian lives or even pull his out his gun unless absolutely necessary.

Secondly, while Rockstar Games’ logo might be all over its box, L.A. Noire was actually developed by the independent Australian studio Bondi Games. They aren’t beholden to provide the same type of sandbox backdrop as the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead games.

Meet Cole Phelps - L.A.P.D. detective, World War II veteran and snappy dresser

L.A. Noire strives for immersion, historical authenticity and a mature, down to earth story based on classic noir fiction. Quite simply, it wouldn’t make sense for it to be an all-out action game that allows you to go on crime sprees.

The resulting experience has a lot more in common with the adventure genre, with the best recent comparison being the Phoenix Wright games. You’ll spend the majority of your time sleuthing your way from case to case eventually climbing the ranks through the different departments of the L.A.P.D. Though car chases, shoot outs and the like do occur from time to time the action is definitely a secondary focus here.

A typical start to a case will have you visiting a crime scene. Here you’ll have to investigate the available evidence and interview any witnesses or key figures. The case will then start to branch out with the leads you find determining where you can head next. In the end, you’ll have to narrow down the suspects and accuse one or more of them of the crime. You’ll need to have both the evidence and keen eye to successfully make the case against them.

The way the game presents the difference stages of a criminal investigation is straightforward but effective. While the core mechanics at play are pretty simple the real challenge lies in figuring out of how every clue and character fits together. The game promotes a thorough approach, a keen eye and an open mind, providing probably the closest experience any of us will have to being a real police detective.

You’re ranked on your performance for each case depending on how much of the available evidence you uncovered, if you approached each interview question correctly and if you charged the right person with the crime. No matter how badly you do in the investigation you will always progress to the next case and continue the story. This lack of dynamism is a disappointing though it’s clear that Bondi Games had a set story that they wanted tell which wouldn’t have been possible with wildly branching paths.

As some critics have pointed out, not a single one of L.A. Noire’s many game play mechanics is particularly groundbreaking or better than we’ve seen in any other game. The cover-based gun play is a bit fiddly, moving on foot is fairly clunky and the hand to hand combat could’ve done with more finesse.

The tutorial starts you out as a simple police officer but you’ll quickly take Cole up through the detective ranks

Its one true innovation is a technical one. The astounding facial animation is the first of its kind, capturing seemingly every single motion of the human face. Recorded in real-time as the actors delivered their dialogue, this cutting-edge technology is so lifelike that it often fools you into thinking that you’re seeing the real deal.

It’s not just a gimmick either. The outcomes of every individual case will rest on whether you can call people out for holding back information by observing a character’s detailed mannerisms. Does your interview subject’s gaze break from your own and wander the room? Chances are that he or she is hiding something.

Other body animations and textures are still firmly stuck in the current generation however. They aren’t bad by any means but when they’re juxtaposed to such realistic facial movements it brings into sharp focus just how robotic this aspect of animation in games remains.

Much like your typical Rockstar game L.A. Noire does feature an open world; an intricately detailed facsimile of 1947 Los Angeles. While it doesn’t feature as many things to see and do outside of the main narrative as a Grand Theft Auto there are a few things to divert your attention. While you’re driving around in a police vehicle you can accept dispatch missions over your two-way radio system. These are the only true side-quests in the game and take the form of brief action scenes. There are also some collectibles to be found across the city like hidden film reels and driveable vehicles but these affect little other than your overall completion percentage.

As you’d expect from such a cinematic adventure the story is a very prominent aspect of the game. Initially each case is standalone but later on an overarching arc begins to emerge. There are some very well-realised characters here, helped in no small part by the consistently excellent voice and facial acting.

The plot does fall a little bit flat in the last few hours of the game, however. It’s hard to say much without risking major spoilers but I found the underlying plot to be somewhat clichéd. The abrupt ending has also left many players unsatisfied.

The groundbreaking facial animation truly comes into play during interviews when you’ll have to judge if a person is holding back information

However, there’s no denying the overall brilliance of L.A. Noire. Team Bondi has brought so many different elements together in such a remarkably cohesive way that it’s a veritable triumph. In fact there are so many talking points and brilliant touches here and there that there’s no way I can cover them all in this review.

The bottom line here is that you should play L.A. Noire. It’s engaging, thoughtful, mature and currently one of a kind. Unless you’re the type who only looks for quick, dumb action from their video games I’d recommend this to just about anyone. A serious contender for game of the year.

Top Game Moment: There are so many to choose from but I’ll have to go with one particularly thrilling car chase which concluded with me ramming into and flipping the perp’s vehicle at high speed.

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Comments

By Thibby (SI Core Veteran) on May 25, 2011
Thibby
This game really IS a must buy, if I had some money left I'd go buy it right now xD
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on May 25, 2011
stuntkid
Sounds great. And i was hoping it wasn't too similar to the GTA series
By Thibby (SI Core Veteran) on May 25, 2011
Thibby
@stuntkid
No it certainly isn't, one of my friends has it and this game is much more research oriented, there is not too much action in it, really a nice game.