A Great Force in a Great City. Join Now! – L.A. Noire Review

Back again with another game review.   This time it’s L.A. Noire for the PS3 (also available on the XBOX360), brought to you by Team Bondi and Rockstar.  Just gonna start off by saying this game is amazing.  Go buy it.  No, really, go out and buy this game now.  OK, read my review for more info and THEN go buy it.  It’s that good.  Really.

OK, all kidding aside, this game really is an amazing game, definitely one of the best this year, if not ever.  So, why is it so good?  Simply put, great story, great visuals, and great gameplay.

Let’s start with the story.  Set in the glitzy, glamorous world of 1947 L.A., you assume the role of Cole Phelps working your way through the ranks of the LAPD.  Starting as a patrolman, you’ll work in traffic, homicide, vice, and arson before the game is through.  And it won’t be easy…  Tough cases, police corruption, scandals, mafia, and more will get in your way to the top.  And it’s not just a cool setting either.  Team Bondi and Rockstar have done their work in creating an amazing and very real look at 1940s L.A.  And more than that, they’ve come up with a great story, with great, memorable characters, full of plenty of twists and turns along the way.  If this were a TV show, you’d already be watching it.  Think Boardwalk Empire in Hollywood.  Oh, and those memorable characters, they’re played by some memorable actors as well.  From Aaron Staton (Madmen) and Michael McGrady (Southland) to Adam Harrington (Dexter) and John Noble (Fringe), this game is chock full of immediately recognizable faces.  Heck, it’s even got Jessica “Sugar” Kiper from Survivor in it, heh.

And recognizable they are.  The visuals in this game are unlike any other.  From the freely traversable open world map full of real landmarks, to the almost 100 authentic period cars, not to mention weapons, clothing, and more, this game really puts you into the world of 1947 L.A.  But buildings and cars have been done before.  What REALLY sets this game apart are the facial animations.  Thanks to MotionScan technology, developed by Australian company Depth Analysis, programmers are able to scan in real time data from an actor’s performance in order to create unbelievable lifelike facial animations.  Characters look just like the actor playing them, mouths perfectly match words, and even emotion is readable.  Check out this video for more info:

Now for the most important part; gameplay.  While I myself probably wouldn’t mind it even if this game was just a choose your own adventure movie, most gamers need a little more than that.  Luckily for you, and for me, there is quite a bit more than that.  This game has everything for everyone, from intense action sequences like shoot-outs and car chases to in-depth detective work that would interest the most avid adventure game fan.  Much like Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and other games of the same type, this game is set in an open world with free travel between locations, and the driving and gunplay sections will definitely feel familiar to fans of those games.

Unlike GTA, though, the cases have very specific locations that you need to go to, so most of the freedom is just moving between points.  Don’t worry though, for those of you who like some freedom in your open world, sandbox type games, after finishing each section, you are then granted access to the city to play through a bunch of side quest type missions.  These side missions are also available as random calls over the police radio mid-game as well if you feel like taking a break from the case at any point.

Another nice addition to this game is the ability to avoid these sections if you are only interested in the investigation parts of this game.  Don’t feel like spending the time it takes to drive across town?  No worries, let your partner drive instead.  Not real great at action games?  No worries, fail three times and you can choose to skip the action scene.  Don’t avoid them to begin with though, they are very fun.  The cars all have unique handling and it’s really interesting to see how the traffic patterns actual follow real rules.  Unlike GTA where you are intentionally causing havoc, it’s fun to attempt to drive a car as if you in the real world, and it’s interesting to see how traffic patterns change when you turn on your siren.

Now, for what makes this game unique.  You are a police officer solving crimes, and that is what you will be doing.  The first part of every case, and also again throughout the case, is investigation.  Here, you explore the crime scene/other location of interest looking for clues.  Finding clues gives you new information and opens new locations that you will need to solve the crime.  Clues can also be rotated and often manipulated in other ways to find out extra info.  Once you’ve got your clues, the case proceeds.  Often, this means car chases and gun fights like I mentioned before.  But there is one other important piece to the investigation, interrogation.

Interrogation makes use of the amazing facial animation I mentioned before.  Asking questions, it is your job to pay close attention to the response and then decide whether they are telling the truth or not.  You’ve got three choices to make each time: truth, doubt, or lie.  If you have some evidence that contradicts what they are saying, choose lie and present the evidence, otherwise if you have a hunch they aren’t telling the truth or are holding something back, choose doubt.  This part of the game is by far the hardest, most challenging aspect to the game, but watching their eye movements or other tells, you can definitely see if something is not quite right.  And without that impressive new motion capture system, none of this would be possible.

Sound a little hard, don’t worry, you’ve got systems to help as well.  When searching for clues, you have the ability to activate vibration and sound cues when you are near a clue as well as having the music turn off when you’ve found all of the clues.  In addition, you unlock intuition points throughout the game.  These points can be used to identify clues on the map, remove one of the selections during an interview question, or get a percentage display of what other players have been choosing during an interview.  Feel free to use these as much as you want (as available anyway), or don’t use them at all if you prefer a challenge.

As you play the game, mistakes you made along the way will change the story, sometimes quite drastically.  Finish a case and you can replay it as many times as you want to get everything correct.  Another awesome addition to the game is black and white mode, which makes the game feel like an old black and white film noir.  Whether in color or black and white, this game looks great, but it should definitely be experienced both ways at least for a short time.  Gameplay also changes up a bit depending on which section you’re working for, including one really fun, extra investigative, murder case and an interesting surprise change up towards the end of the game.

This has gotten pretty long now, and there’s not much more for me to say  (though I probably could continue raving about this game endlessly), so let me just reiterate, if you own a PS3 or XBOX360, you owe it to yourself to play this game.  If it’s not your kind of game, that’s fine, but you’ve got to play it before you decide that.  It’s worth it, I promise.


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