L.A. Noire – Developer: Team Bondi – Publisher: Rockstar Games – PS3/Xbox 360
CAUTION: May contain spoilers!
I see Rockstar as the Quentin Tarrantino of the video game world. They are never in a hurry to release a new game, but when they do, it’s an event. And they are always paying homage to other movies in what they do. So then L.A. Noire does nothing to change this and plays out like a seedy post war detective thriller. Rockstar are renowned for their open world sandbox titles. L.A. Noire on the other hand is story centric. This isn’t to say that you can’t get in a car and drive off and do whatever you want, it is still a very open world, just don’t expect to have anything else to do other than what you have in your case notes.
Set in the late 1940’s, the game starts off with the main character, Cole Phelps, a decorated war hero, working the beat in downtown L.A. After some good investigative work, you are soon promoted to homicide, where things certainly take a grim turn, as you have to investigate a group of murders that impersonate the Black Dahlia. This case sees you take in murder, attempted murder, statutory rape and spousal abuse. Just another day in Hollywood. As gritty and tense as the cases get, unfortunately, it just drags on after a while. As more and more Black Dahlia cases appear, the more a routine sets in. Drive from A to B. Walk around suspect area until clues are found. Question suspect, rinse, repeat.
After the Dahlia case is eventually cleared up, you are transferred to vice. The reason I won’t divulge, as it’s a result of your previous departments story arc. Up until this point, there isn’t much of a story going on, just a series of cases for you to pick up. Between each case however, you go through a series of WWII flashbacks, which eventually tie in with the story. Working vice, you soon start to become involved with a story arc which will eventually result in your demotion to arson. This I feel is where the game really picks up in both pace and interest. Most likely because things start to get personal and you also get to take control of another character, breaking up some of the monotony of the game-play. Working arson is undoubtedly my favourite part of the game. The investigations are more interesting, resulting in a huge corporate conspiracy that takes the characters to hell and back, making them face their demons, which is where this story works best.
The focal point of this game is the facial motion capture. While the graphics are nowhere near the best we’ve seen this generation, the face mo-cap is absolutely stunning, really bringing the characters to life in way that hopefully, will revolutionise gaming in future. The facial movements are so wonderfully lifelike, it really adds more depth to the game. Especially when interrogating suspects. The main reason for the mo-cap is to help you read the expressions of the suspects whilst questioning them so you can tell if they are lying or not. Although the faces are lifelike, they suffer from the same issue as films made in the same way. Those lifeless eyes. Like dolls eyes…
As it’s an open world detective game, you’re going to need some transport. And there is plenty of that, with over 100 cars in the game. The only problem being, the driving feels to arcade like and the world is not as destructible as previous Rockstar games. In GTA IV, if you had something in the way, like a fence or gate, no problem, just plough it down. Not so much in this game. If there’s a fence in the way, it’s staying there! Either garden construction was much sturdier back in Hollywood’s golden age, or the cars a lot flimsier! Bottom line is, don’t expect to take any short cuts through any fences or other potentially breakable objects as they aren’t going anywhere, making some driving sections an absolute pain as the cars do not handle very well and you will hit the odd bit scenery when in pursuit of vehicular suspects. The handling is awful. Eventually I just kept using the fast travel option as the driving is frustrating, which is not always an available option, unfortunately. The cars do look great, really capturing the look and feel of the time.
The city itself is beautifully realised but shamefully wasted. All it’s therefore is to provide a visual back drop when investigating or getting from A to B. Other than that, it’s good for nothing, which is a terrible shame as it is massive, just not interactive. It really does feel like all that effort was put in for nothing.
While it is a bold move not making this an interactive open world experience, the story is enough to keep you invested in the game. Like Heavy Rain and Mafia II, it is all about moving the story along. Unlike Heavy Rain though, your decisions do not impact the overall result of the case or main story, which is a shame as I would have probably worked harder to get the cases as spot on as possible.
There are some elements to it which have a minor effect on the case you are working on. For example, if you have 2 prime suspects and mess up the interrogation with 1 of them, you don’t have the option to charge them, meaning you may end up sending the wrong person to jail. But as I said, this has no impact on the main story lines.
What is overall a superb gaming experience is let down by repetitive case structures and shoddy driving controls. If you stick with the story you are in for a real treat as things really improve towards the latter stages of the game and you will be more than impressed with the facial mo-cap technology. Lots of familiar faces crop up, resulting in a few visits to IMDB! It’s another great release from Rockstar, but a slight disappointment after the wonderful Red Dead Redemption.
I give L.A. Noire 8 out of 10 (would have been a 7 were it not for the mo-cap).