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Review: L.A. Noire

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The year is 1947, the rising mood of optimism in post-WW2 America and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood can barely conceal the dark, criminal underworld gnawing at the moral fabric of society.

Cole Phelps, a decorated ex-US Marine, is trying to make a name for himself among the crime-fighters of the LAPD, looking to emulate his wartime heroics on the streets of Los Angeles.

Before we go further, let me warn you, I’m going to do my best to provide as few spoilers as possible during this review, but if you’re the sort of person who loves intrigue, drama and tension it would be a safe bet to step away from your computer and go pick up a copy of the game, which is available now on PS3 and Xbox 360.

As everyone probably knows, Rockstar Games are most noted for the Grand Theft Auto series of games, and while at first glance this appears to be the GTA we all know and love masquerading itself in a vintage Brooks Brothers suit, there’s definitely a wealth of difference in the overall experience.

The narrative in LA Noire is more multi-faceted than your traditional third-person sandbox game – in addition to the story of Phelps’ progression through the police ranks, there are flashbacks to events in WW2 and flash-sideways videos which are at first seemingly unrelated to the central plot, but are in fact integral to the events that occur.

Sometimes this can seem confusing, at other times it can feel like you’re not being shown enough to clearly understand the motives of all the characters, but that’s kind of the point, where would the fun in playing detective be if you were given all the answers up front?

Game play in Noire takes place in roughly three ways. Firstly, there’s the crime scene investigation aspect, in which you have to search for clues which will lead you to develop lines of inquiry, or give you the justification for convicting someone. The bulk of these clues are very easy to find, but overlooking something important can further affect the case you’re assigned to.

Next you have the “getting around” game play, which involves driving around the flourishing metropolis in a variety of law enforcement vehicles. Often the suspects in your case will try to flee, both on foot or in a vehicle, which then has you vaulting across rooftops, or turns your sedate cruise into a dramatic chase at breakneck speeds.

The final element of the game play is the interrogation scenes, in which you have to use both your cunning and the available evidence to determine if characters are giving you the whole truth. Team Bondi have used MotionScan, a state-of-the-art facial recording and rendering technology, to record real actors and bring their performances to life in the game.

When presented with a suspect you have several questions you need to ask them, when they reply you get to choose whether you think they are telling the truth, lying to you, or the grey area of doubt in between. If you think they’re lying, you must have the relevant evidence to call their bluff, otherwise they will clamp down and become reluctant to aid you.

For me, it is the singularly most important and awe-inspiring element of LA Noire, that your performance in the case is not decided by a typically physical game mechanic, but actually on intuition and your ability to follow a logical process. It’s not always easy to tell if people are lying to you, but when making the right choices it can provide you with valuable clues to solve the case and put away the right perpetrator, as well as making you feel pretty clever.

Despite all it’s efforts in creating multiple avenues of investigation, ultimately there is only one end to which the story progresses. You will never actually fail the cases you’re assigned, you are just given a rank associated with your aptitude and the occasional verbal scolding. In a way I’m glad that there wasn’t more than one ending, as it made the game feel more coherent, but I know that some people will be disappointed.

Deviating from the fixed path is also a little less rewarding than in most sandbox games, aside from some random crime solving (foiling bank robberies, settling domestic disputes and chasing down hoodlums) and a multitude of collectibles, you don’t actually have that much to do in the world.

Unlike it’s GTA fore-bearers, you’re on the right side of the law and it’s definitely a lot less fun, you won’t be piling cars on top of each other then blowing them up, or harassing innocent bystanders. The worst you can do is accidentally hit pedestrians, but for the most part they’re pretty good at staying out of your way.

While the majority of the game does not shine as bright as the conversation/interrogation side of it, it does manage to tie together a lot of elements that other games do better – brawling, gun-play, driving, parkour – and yet present them in a competent enough manner that the overall package is still extremely satisfying.

For those who want to get more than 20 hours of value out of their games, there is the ability to go back and chase collectibles, or replay any of the cases. This has the potential to be a lot of fun, as by the end of the game you will probably have a good knack at being a gumshoe, previous failures will have left you feeling pretty stupid and going back to have another attempt can only benefit your self-esteem.

If you’re looking for a game that tells an interesting story, I can recommend LA Noire highly, it’s a dark tale of moral duality, personal greed and how the people we laud as stars and heroes are often the ones most flawed.

Platforms: Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Release Date: Out Now

Review Overview: “A must buy.”

Overall Score: 9/10

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 29th, 2011 at 10:47 am and is filed under General Gaming, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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