Monday, 6 June 2011

Game Review - LA Noire

There's something unique about L.A. Noire, the new release from Rockstar Games. For a start your a cop, and your trying to be a good one. This game is part sandbox game, part mystery puzzle game, all detective simulation. This is a game that takes a brave decision in stepping back from the norm of frantic all out action we're used to seeing in most games. It favours a more measured approach of investigating crime scenes, following leads and wrapping up cases. This is all brought to life by a neatly realised 1940's Los Angeles. From the car you'll be driving to the locations you'll be visiting, LA Noire is full of immersive details.



You play as Detective Cole Phelps, a recently returned soldier from the Second World War. Awarded the silver star, Phelps finds tries to find his place within the L.A.P.D. Starting out as a beat cop, you guide Phelps through a series of cases that progress him through the ranks. This is achieved through finding clues at a crime scene, to questing and/or interrogating suspects and persons of interest. This is combined with surprise car chase elements and shoot-out sequences. This all interwoven with a dense and overarching plot that remains constant and prominent throughout the game.

The investigative part of a case first places you at the scene of a crime. Being a detective in LA means seeing the ugly side of the glamour. Do not ignore the age rating on the game. There are plenty of grisly scenes where you are up close and personal with murder victims. The majority of the crime scenes are very bloody. Strong stomachs and a lack of imagination may be required. Considering part of the game's inspiration comes from the Black Dahlia murder of 1947, there is certainly a dark tone to match.

After you gathered clues from the crime scene, you set out in finding suspects. This usually involves finding and questioning suspects. Much of the game's case-based structure is logged in a handy notebook which acts as the mission objectives menu seen in most other action games. Within the notebook menu are the questions you pose to suspects. From here you can select whether the suspect is telling the truth, doubt the answer they have given you, or accuse them of lying, With the lying option, you will need to present proof of you accusation. During these sequences I found it very difficult to tell whether a suspect was telling the truth or not. It's not always about what they, its more about how they act. This is where the game benefits from it's MotionScan technology.



L.A. Noire has already got audiences talking about how the game blurs the line between cinema and games. These suggestions are apparent due to the games striking realism in the face-department. Cole Phelps and other characters in LA Noire possess strikingly realistic facial movements. This is achieved using a detailed motion-capture process named MotionScan. From every grimace, to every wrinkle and blink, every character is modelled from a real-life actor. But this isn't just for show. The tech comes into play when questioning these actors. As a detective, it's up to you to spot any inconsistencies with the suspect during the interrogation sections of the game. At their best, the tech serves as a valid addition to judging suspects. At the very least it makes for a good eye-catching cinematic feel. You may not look at other game characters the same way after playing LA NOIRE, simply for the sheer amount of realism they present.

For gamers, there are still plenty of gameplay mechanics to keep you from falling asleep. Some cases have you getting involved in the action orientated sections of the game. The driving and shooting mechanics feel borrowed from Rockstar's recent Grant Theft Auto games. You'll be auto-aiming and taking cover in shootouts, chasing suspects on foot or by car, the latter usually involves ramming the suspect off the road. These sequences may not be the majority of the game, but they are a familiarity that most of us gamers will welcome. The game's only real downside is a slight repetitive structure in the cases. You'll start a case, find clues, question a suspect, and then be thrown into a chase sequence or shoot out without much deviation.

Compared to Rockstar's other recent releases such as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto 4, LA Noire is an almost entirely different experience. Aside from the familiar action mechanics from those games, this is much more about immersing yourself into the Good Cop role. Most of your time will be spent within the linear structure of the cases giving you less breathing room to roam around. When you do roam around, you are presented with small appetiser missions in the form of shootouts or chases. Unfortunately you can't pull out your gun and cause random mayhem. This is a guilty pleasure for most gamers given a Free Roam option. So once you've completed the cases, you may not have much incentive to do anything further.

With a concept like LA Noire, its in the small details. It combines the glamour and nostalgia of 1940's Hollywood with the gritty, modern conventions of recent crime dramas. You'll question a good mix of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe wannabes. At the same time, you'll have plenty of CSI-style murder investigating. Forensics and fame have never come together this well in a game. Technically speaking, it manages to combine the ground-breaking MotionScan with a nostalgic art direction and decent graphics with the various gameplay elements to make a tight package. Many gamers will experience a repetition in some of the gameplay mechanics. However the the twists and turns within the cases should keep most dedicated players happy right until the end.

8 out of 10
John Maguire, CeX Contributor
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