Welcome to 1947, a time when men wore fedoras, abuse of women was legal, and a Cola cost five cents. The setting is Los Angeles, but not the glitz and glamour Hollywood version in the news nowadays. Murder and drug trade run rampant across the proud City of Angels, and as detective Cole Phelps, you must bring order back to a city where the line between justice and corruption is paper thin. However, Cole may not be the hero everyone can count on. Amid his journey throughout the ranks of the LAPD, he must learn to confront the demons of his past and present. What culminates is a conclusion so conflicting, yet so satisfying, that it will remain with players long after they put the controller down.
Despite the immersive storyline, the investigation aspect crumbles well before the final cutscenes. While I reveled in discovering every hidden clue at first, the novelty befell monotony before the main story reached the halfway point. I’d love to say the feature was fresh and exhilarating every time I drove up to a crime scene, but nearing the end of my time with L.A. Noire, I resorted to sprinting around the next location waiting for the rumble of my controller to signal the next clue. Granted, I can name a handful of more tedious endeavors in video games, but it’s rather disheartening to hear Cole say “junk” or “incidental" as I pick up an empty beer bottle for the fifteenth time.
Nothing spells promotion better than a midday murder.
The interrogation mechanic, on the other hand, is innovative and groundbreaking. Gamers are given three choices when interviewing potential prisoners: Truth, Doubt, or Lie. Analyzing miscreants is crucial. Does a lack of eye contact and uneasy body movement mean the witness is lying or telling the truth? Knowing when to press suspects for information is vital to properly solving each case, and false accusations may shut down that branch of questioning completely. Although the game does well enough to avoid penalizing players for botched interrogations, choosing wrong equates to fewer leads and new clues. That begs to reason, why bother giving the player a say in the first place? Erroneous judgments have little impact on the end of each case, unless opting for a five-star rating, and the story advances regardless of your convictions.
Thankfully, your task is made easier with the new facial capture technology called MotionScan. Basically, a camera tracks each performer as he or she produces varying expressions and emotions. The developers can then take that recording and transpose it on any figure in-game. The implementation is nothing short of spectacular; every smile, every sob, every smirk, every stutter looks absolutely genuine. Even Heavy Rain’s or Mass Effect’s characters seem stiff by comparison. Brows wrinkle, lips quiver, cheeks swell, and eyes dart as individuals give their testimony. Couple that with a talented and varied group of actors and their brilliant voice acting brings the performances to life.
The facial animations are without equal.
Of course, what would an open-world game be without atmosphere? Nothing screams vintage more than barreling down Broadway in a '40s Cadillac listening to the Ink Spots. Eight square miles of Los Angeles have been painstakingly recreated. While not devoid of ambiance, there is little to accomplish in the city beyond finding collectibles, visiting famous landmarks, or foiling petty street crimes. Weapons are restricted for specific shootouts or car chases as well.
The game looks gorgeous – well, from a distance. The City of Angels is awash with color, a stark contrast to the dark and seedy underground that actually runs the city. Character models are near lifelike, buildings mirror their real world counterparts, and every period car has been faithfully reconstructed. However, up close, a lack of texture is immediately apparent. Jagged edges galore! I’m really being nitpicky here, but considering how much meticulous, zoomed-in investigation is required of Cole, occasional texture hiccups are a hard fact to overlook after a few hours of gameplay.
Several cases tie in to the real Black Dahlia murders.
Before I make my next statement, let me iterate that L.A. Noire is not the next Grand Theft Auto, nor do I wish it was. Team Bondi has crafted a superb epic of their own accord, but I really wish the developers would have taken a hint from Rockstar with some inclusion of multiplayer. It seems like wasted potential. Imagine old-fashioned Cops 'n’ Robbers, '40s style, speeding down the straightaways with your friends in tow, trying to shake the feds in hot pursuit, Tommy Guns lighting up the competition, and evading the do-gooders that would prevent you from making a quick payday. Even some form of cooperative multiplayer would suffice, largely because you’re aided by a partner the majority of the game.
L.A. Noire tells a gripping narrative of greed and redemption during the darkest times in Los Angeles' history. The voice acting is top notch, the character animations put the industries’ best to shame, and the facial capture technology is revolutionary. Brief shootouts, chase scenes, and fist fights try to keep the action fresh, but these sequences add little to the overall presentation. The open-world atmosphere is worthy of the added Rockstar moniker, but after the main story concludes, there’s seldom reason to delve back in, even for some mediocre side missions. Make no mistake, though. Team Bondi has struck a balance between cinema and gameplay that many strive to achieve. L.A. Noire is a game that everyone should experience, but its few flaws hold it back from a perfect score.
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360