L.A. Noire Review

Look beyond the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and you'll find a harsher, darker reality. A reality filled crime and corruption.

L.A. Noire takes place in Los Angeles post-World War II. Players assume the role of Cole Phelps, a decorated war hero who continues serving his country by signing up with the L.A.P.D. You start off as a street cop but quickly climb the ranks of the department. As you solve cases, you advance to homicide, vise, and eventually arson investigator. Each new title comes with a new partner, who helps with investigations, fights, and arrests.

Immediately, you'll notice the massiveness of the game. Rockstar has successfully recreated a dark and gritty 1947 Los Angeles, but it still has that tinseltown charm. The sheer size (it takes about 30 minutes to drive from one side of town to the other) and attention to detail of the environment is remarkable. The cars, buildings, and music are all true to the era, making it easy to become immersed in this crime-stricken city.

The game has 21 "Story" missions. Each follows the same basic format: a crime is committed, and you must investigate the scene by finding clues, questioning witnesses, and interrogating suspects.

L.A. Noire uses a new technology called MotionScan. This groundbreaking technology features 32 HD cameras surrounding the actors, allowing their actions and facial expressions to be transferred directly into the game. While this hi-res 3D recreation of the face is nice to look at, it serves an even bigger purpose in the game.

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Much of L.A. Noire revolves around an interrogation system that relies on recognizing facial expressions and body language. The subtlest eye shift could determine whether a suspect is telling the truth or feeding you lies. While it can be frustrating trying to know the difference, the realistic interrogation is a unique feature that wouldn't be possible without MotionScan.

Although the interrogation system is a fun part of the gameplay, there is ultimately no penalty for selecting the wrong choice. While making an incorrect decision may lead to a different (often longer) path, the final outcome remains the same. The only benefit to making the correct choice is an increase in experience, which allows you unlock new outfits (some are pretty snazzy) or gain intuition points, which can be used during an interrogation or crime scene. But it's highly unlikely that you'll ever need to spend them.

Herein lies the problem with L.A. Noire. To put it simply, it's too easy. There is no penalty for wrong choices or missing clues (which is pretty hard to do considering the control vibrates and you hear chimes whenever you near one), and players have no real motivation to interrogate a suspect correctly–unless you consider being chewed out by the chief motivation enough.

Aside from the repetitive investigation and interrogation that takes place, each case usually requires some form of gameplay action. This action is usually in the form of a car chase, foot chase, hand-to-hand fight, or shoot-out. Sometimes a couple of these are mixed together, but those are generally the action sequences you can expect to find at least once during a case. Again, there is no real penalty for failing these (which is also pretty hard to pull off since the AI seems pre-determined on when to speed up to get away and slow down for you to catch it). The worst case scenario is you completely lose the suspect, fail that part of the mission, and restart from that exact point.

The entire game is basically spoon fed to you. The clues are clearly marked at the crime scene and the ones that aren't as easy to find are made easy with the controller vibrations. The action sequences require no skill. Basically, the chase scenes have you follow the suspect. All the jumping, stair climbing, and pole sliding is done for you. You simply have to move toward the object and it performs the action automatically.

While L.A. Noire is technically a sandbox game, those looking for the complete freedom that exists in previous Rockstar games (Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption) will be disappointed. You are a responsible cop, so you won't go on errant rampages killing hundreds of innocent civilians. You are given some leeway from the main story by performing side missions (responding to calls heard over the police radio), taking the time to collect the 90-something cars in the game and even trying to find all the landmarks within the city. While far from the typical Rockstar game freedom, these goals should suffice. After all, the main driving force in the game is the story, and it’s a very good one.

Don't let the easy gameplay scare you away. L.A. Noire is very story-driven, relying heavily on the acting and the script rather than the action gameplay typical of Rockstar titles. Here is where the game excels. With Mad Men's Aaron Staton playing the role of Cole Phelps and a cast comprised of over 300 actors, L.A. Noire's performance is top-notch. In fact, the story, acting, and graphics are so compelling that it sometimes feels more like you're watching a movie than playing a game. 

The story is intriguing, albeit a little slow at first. L.A. Noire takes an old school approach toward its storytelling. It's a much slower approach, similar to older movies, with a heavy emphasis on detail. It is that attention to detail that sets L.A. Noire apart from other games and makes it enjoyable to play.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]