Welcome to L.A. Noire, a place full of jazz, mystery and murder. The new game from Rockstar and Team Bondi has been released after a long period of development. How is L.A. Noire? “Get yourself two suits and get them pressed.” We are going to walk the mean streets of L.A. circa 1947.
L.A. Noire could be viewed as multiple short stories or one large story told in many small chapters. Each case you play through is its own short story.
You play as Cole Phelps, an honest man in a corrupt city, who has returned from WWII as a highly decorated Marine Corp veteran and is now a patrol officer. As the game progresses, you work your way up to detective and through the various police departments. Each case you handle gives a bit more of Cole's WWII back story. Additionally there are newspapers that can be found which tell of another story of corruption within the city.
Telling you any more about the cases would be a disservice to you, the gamer, revealing clues and evidence that you would find to help you uncover the mystery of each case. There are parts of Coles back story that interweave with the story told through the newspapers which help drive the game forward. I will say, if you like murder mystery crime stories, you will love this game.
Controls and Gameplay
L.A. Noire, like most Rockstar games, is a large sandbox style game. Unlike most Rockstar games, you will be doing a lot less shooting and much more thinking. That’s not to say the game isn’t without any action, more like your conclusions based on the evidence open the cases up to chases, shoot-outs, fights, or simple endings.
In the game, when you take a case, you will be briefed at the police station, then drive to the crime scene to look for clues and evidence. As you walk around the scene your controller will vibrate when you are near and item that you are able to interact with, though not everything Cole interacts with will be evidence. This holds true for suspect locations as well.
In addition to the main story cases, you will also be able to respond to street crimes called over the radio in your car.
Another good tool for solving cases is Cole’s notebook. You will refer to this often while interrogating suspects and witnesses. Your ability to read people comes heavily into play when you question a person, observing them while they answer and how they react while sitting there. After they answer your question three choices will be presented; truth, doubt and lie. Refer to the notebook to review evidence if you’re not sure which option to take. You could also use the intuition points you’ve earned in the game to remove incorrect answers or, if you are a member of Rockstar’s Social Club, you can see what a majority of other players chose. Using one of these two aides is entirely optional. When you are ready to make your choice be warned, a wrong choice ends future dialog and gets you an “X” in the notebook. However, a correct choice earns you a check mark in the notebook and opens up future dialog with that character, or others, later in the game.
Wrapping up each case is where you get a majority of the action depending on how you handled the overall case. Did you find all the evidence? Did you get the right answers during questioning? The outcomes will very depending on how well you performed and will also earn you a 1-5 star rating.
Graphics and Sound
Developer Team Bondi went all out to recreate L.A. circa 1947. They used over 110,000 aerial photos taken of L.A. from that time period and were able to not only recreate the cities details, but they were also able to figure out the traffic patterns!
Using newly developed technology called MotionScan, which uses 32 cameras surrounding an actor or actress, they were able to capture stunningly detailed facial animations. This added a level of reality that actually allowed you to be able to “read” peoples reactions to your questioning.
One really nice touch, if you want the full film noir experience you can change the game to black and white mode in the options.
The voice acting is top notch, with many of the actors such as Aaron Stanton from Mad Men, J.D. Cullum from Wizards of Waverly Place and Federal Way, Washington’s own Michael McGrady from Southland. Every actor and actress gives a great voice performance.
Music of the period is highlighted by a fine selection of jazz that includes Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. The band The Real Tuesday Weld, with Claudia Brücken singing, composed original music for the game and Andrew Hale composed the original score.
“So there she stood, a bottle of cheap rye in one hand and a cold blue .38 pistol in the other…..”
Ok, maybe not quite that style of noir, but L.A. Noire is thick with story just like the film style its name intones. A very compelling story that draws you in, as it did me when I put it in for a look and found myself, six hours later, needing sleep before I went to work. I had originally intended to review another game, but ended up playing L.A. Noire so much I had to push its review up.
As a kid I enjoyed solving the logic problems in the books my Mom would pick up. Solving these cases allowed me to tap into that fun of yester-year. It helped that Team Bondi wrapped an excellent story around the problems, tossed in the exceptional voice acting and gave it a little icing in the primo facial animation. I’ve roped people passing my room into watching me question witnesses just so they could see the new facial animation feature and to be able to use it as an effective tool to solve a case? Amazing. It really does bring a new level of quality to the story telling game. It was so good it made me feel like I was playing an interactive movie rather than a console game.
I can do nothing but heap praise on this game. Not only do I give it a 5 out of 5, I would easily put L.A. Noire into the running for my “Game of the Year.”
L.A. Noire is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
L.A. Noire is available now for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. For more information see the L.A. Noire web site.