Sorry this took a while-finals.
What do Valve, Bethesda, and Blizzard have in common? All three are incredibly reliable developers that always manage to release a high quality game. What does Rockstar have on all of them? Rockstar does the exact same thing, except at a pace that defies the standard conventions of game development.
Since 2008, they have released GTA4, 2 massive expansions for it in 2009, RDR and Undead Nightmare in 2010, and now LA Noire in 2011. If that doesn't make your jaw drop, I don't know what will. Rockstar has an amazing track record built up, and LA Noire has had no end of hype built upon it. Does it succeed?
In LA Noire, players assume the role of Cole Phelps, an up-and-coming police officer in Los Angeles, following the end of World War 2. Phelps, a veteran of the war suffering from pained memories, is the ideal 'untouchable' cop. As one could expect, the LAPD is rife with corruption, and Cole is the golden boy meant to restore it.
Phelps is on a mission to restore LA.
The backstory does a great job of building Phelp's character, while the main story allows players to personally identify with them. Cole's story involves his rise through the LAPD, as the players control him through five 'desks'. More on that later, but it is a very interesting way of establishing a serialized feel to the story.
Unfortunately, this doesn't come together as perfectly as one might expect, especially due to how well other Rockstar games have tied up their conflicts. Though there are multiple cases at each desk, there is a pattern that the player will begin to notice, and as they near the end an overarching connection between the cases begins to take form.
Without saying too much, I was mildly disappointed by how these threads were tied up. It wasn't done badly by any means, just a little too conveniently, with some important plot devices from early cases left untouched. Now in all fairness to Rockstar, this was a very complicated, and daring venture on their part, and they achieved more success with it than most companies could.
Despite faltering a bit at the end, the ride towards the conclusion is an exciting one, and there are a few individual cases that were really superbly done, it's just dissapointing that, in this of all their games, Rockstar can't maintain the quality storytelling through the end.
LA Noire is in many ways the anti-GTA. This is not just because you are playing as the boy in blue, rather than a criminal. LaN is MUCH slower paced than other Rockstar games, due largely to how the gameplay is divided.
Half of the game (actually way less in playtime but you get the idea) is shooting and driving. This is the same as it is in GTA, which was dissapointing to me. I was hoping that, to go with the slower pace of the game, Rockstar would take a chance on a more realistic, less Hollywood-like (oh the irony) shooting mechanic.
Driving is also typical of GTA games, excpet now during missions Cole can order his partner to drive to a location, effectively a fast-travel method. Tailing missions and other car-based missions feel just like they do in GTA, which while not necessarily a bad thing, is dissapointing to see Rockstar not pushing this game as far as they could.
The rest of the gameplay revolves around investigating crime scenes, which is then broken down into several other elements. This is where LA Noire really shines where gameplay is concerned. When Phelps arrives on the scene of a crime, the player is given the chance to explore the envirenment, gathering any evidence or clues that they can.
Whether it's checking a body for any indication of the cause of death, finding a discarded handgun in the bushes, or gathering fingerprints off a glass, it is completely up to the player how to approach the situation. What's great is that the game provides little to no help in gathering said evidence, it just puts it there and lets you do your thing. But the more meticulous you are, the easier later sections will be.
Every now and then, LA Noire breaks from the standard formula. A great example of this is during one of the game's more exciting cases, where Cole has to track down clues based on tiny writings left by a killer. These moments are the highlight of an already well-executed gameplay design.
Once you have the evidence, it is time to check out the suspects. It's amazing how a simple shooting can involve so many varied parties, each with something to hide. And this is probably the best part of the game: interrogation.
When Cole questions a suspect, it is up to the player to decide if they are lying or telling the truth. To do this, they can check their notebook to review the evidence, and make an assertive decision, but most of the time, it will come down to reading the suspect's actions. Using new Global Illumination technology, every movement or expression in an actor's face is captured an displayed 1-1 in-game. Even the slightest sideways glance can cause me to second-guess a testimony, and knowing when to trust your instincts-even in the face of evidence-is what makes LA Noire special.
Walter got himself into more trouble.
Once again however Rockstar falters a little bit. For the most part, regardless of your skill as a detective the perputrator will still get caught. There are cases where Cole will have to choose between two suspects based on the evidence, and it is possible to choose the 'wrong' one. However even here, the only real impact is a lower grade at the end of the case.
Rockstar has always done a wonderful job of bringing the locations of their games to life. Los Angeles in 1947 was an amazing city, where glitzy Hollywood lifestyle clashed with seedy criminal activity and murder. The city was dutifully research and every street corner beautifully recreated, creating a setting that draws me in.
There are 21 cases to solve, many of which take over an hour to complete. If you want to get five stars on a case, you can always go back to old ones using the 'cases' section of the main screen. To 5-star every case (without looking online), will take determination, ingenuity, and around 60 hours.
In addition to the main plot there are 40 street crimes Phelps can respond to via his police car radio. Each street crime case is actually unique, with it's own title and characters. These are also more action-oriented than the major cases, so if you're getting bored with investigating, go ahead and do a few street crimes to wake yourself up.
Finally, there are 30 landmarks around the city, and 95 cars to drive (which count towards your complete %). Trying to 100% this game will take a long time.
There is one more thing I want to touch on, and that's the game's MATURITY. This is a game that earns it M-rating, but not through Manhunt-levels of grotesque violence. The game is violent, for sure, and Cole will spend a lot of time looking at crushed skulls and stab wounds, but there are so many other things at work here.
When investigating a woman's corpse, her body is on full display (yes even her bush), but it's not cool or funny. It's very serious, and COle even comments on it during one of the early missions. Dialogue concerning rape and semen samples is common. If you are squeamish, even slightly, this game may not be for you, it doesn't hold back.
I've already told you about the Global Illumination, but allow me to reiterate-this is the future of videogames. The rich detail shown in every twitch in an actor's face can only be achieved through 30 camera's recording every subtle movement of the actor.
In addition to this, character animation is absolutely superb. This is seen especially when running after a suspect, Cole's steps, leaps, and stumbles looking exactly how one would expect in real life. LA Noire is actually one of few games that shows your character stepping on each step of a staircase.
Graphically, aside from some very minor texture issues, the game is also very strong. Noire is a French word meaning 'dark', and has thus been used to describe famous 1940's detective films which serve as an inspiration for LaN. The use of low lighting to create a dark, mysterious atmosphere succeeds every way.
Th sound is a grand example of how well good mixing and voice acting can draw you into the game. The script, already amazing, is made believable by perhaps the best voice-acting in a Rockstar game to date, and of you've played any of their other games, you know that is saying something. Aaron Staton is amazing as Phelps, as are each of his partners throughout the game. Save for a few hard-to-believe crying moments from family of the deceased, you can't knock the job done here.
The soundtrack is perfect, a real throwback to some of the old detective films from back in the day. Soft jazz tones, rising in intensity when things heat up, round out this great package. And the use of musical cues while investigating is a classy touch.
La Noire loses some points for it's somewhat-lopsided ending, and repetitious, low-affect gameplay. However it makes up for this with wonderful setting, great cases, and a realistic, gritty atmosphere that gives new meaning to the idea as videogames as art.
You may not want to play through twice, but there's a lot here to do on your first run, so it hardly matters.
You May Also Like:
The Maltese Falcon (DVD)
This is the standard by which detective films are measured. If you've seen a TV show spoofing a det. film, it was probably this one.
LA Confidential (DVD)
You probably noticed what I did with the title of this review. If Maltese Falcon is the standard, this is the top of the class. It's a shame that it lost Best Picture to Titanic, any other year it probably would've won.
Chinatown (DVD/Blu Ray)
Jack Nicholson is great on the OTHER film which TV shows love to spoof.