Friday 22 July 2011

Game Review - L.A. Noire 2nd Opinion

Format: (Xbox 360, PS3)

It was a hot day in May when I stepped out onto a sidewalk you could fry eggs on. The word on the street (a street so hot, you could cook bacon) was that L.A. Noire, the new crime-solving simulator from the egg-heads up at Rockstar games was back in town, and it was up to me to figure out the mystery surrounding it. So, after wringing the sleep outta my whiskey-fogged eyes, I set out to my nearest CeX to begin my investigations.

The hustle and bustle quietened to a low murmur as soon as I entered the joint. Shifty characters quietly slipped out, but I eyeballed them as small fry. I had a bigger fish to fry, and its name was Noire. I pulled my fedora low over my brow and shot the guy behind the counter a look that meant business.
"You know anything about L.A. Noire?"

A few more questions and a knuckle sandwich later, I left the place with new information and a copy of the game. Apparently those Rockstar boys had been busy, already guilty of four counts Grand Theft Auto, and were last seen up to some cowboy shenanigans out west. Would this latest case be their downfall? I was about to find out...

If you were thinking I’d keep up the Noir style for the entire review, you've got another thing coming! L.A. Noire continues Rockstar's legacy of genre-spanning sandbox games, this time taking on the gumshoes of Cole Phelps, a detective working his way up through the ranks of the L.A. Police Department, busting crime and solving mysteries in 1940s Los Angeles.

Things work differently on this side of the law, so you won't be assigned different missions and tasks from various characters as in Rockstar's previous offerings. Instead you are led to various crime scenes where you collect clues, which point you towards certain suspects, whose surroundings you inspect for clues and so on. The cycle of 'visit scene, search for clues, question suspect' continues on until you either extract a confession or a piece of evidence so damning comes to light that the suspect has no choice other than to make a run for it.

The pursuit sequences could have been real set pieces for L.A. Noire. After slowly building tension between cop and criminal as they battled wits, an explosive chase sequence would be a perfect way to satisfyingly wrap up a case. Unfortunately a lot of the chases happen out of the blue, with little to no build up, and are so heavily scripted that in most cases, you just have to make sure you don't crash for a long enough period. The ones that are on foot are even more tedious, with most completed simply by holding forward on the controller. These sequences also highlight the horrible controls that L.A. Noire suffers from. Any activity that doesn't involve simply walking and talking to people, i.e. driving, shooting or running, feels really clunky and awkward, even for a GTA-style game.

Happily these action sequences only make up a small percentage of your time, and most can be skipped altogether. The meat and potatoes of L.A. Noire is the game's investigation and interrogation gameplay, which takes advantage of Rockstar's new facial animation technology. After collecting clues, players must quiz suspects and determine whether they are telling the truth by observing their reactions and body language. There is no onscreen 'TRUTH' meter, you have no special x-ray vision to measure their heart-rate, you just have to gauge their response and behave accordingly, just like a real person (jeepers, fancy that!). Since the facial animation is so realistic this task is simpler than it sounds, and players will soon be able to pick the liars and killers out from the crowd fairly easily. But what impact will that have on poker games around the world?!

The new MotionScan facial animation technology is the real highlight of L.A. Noire. I can usually see through the smoke-and-mirror illusions that comprise most videogame effects, but the only way I can guess that Rockstar achieved their as-good-as-real-life lip-synching is through black-magic and sorcery. However, the bewitching facial animation is let down by the robotic character animation and AI, making it seem as though the realistic faces are just superimposed onto mannequin bodies.

Well, the gameplay might be a bit iffy but at least the story's good, right? Unfortunately, no. Cole Phelps is not the likeable down-on-his-luck private detective, the loose cannon who always gets results or the gruff veteran with a heart of gold. Instead he comes across as an annoyingly by-the-book jobsworth, who preaches about not making any assumptions without evidence while wildly accusing little old ladies as soon as you press the 'Doubt' button. The story is well acted but suffers from repetition, as many of the cases follow a similar M.O. (well what do you expect from a serial killer?)

L.A. Noire, like the automobiles of the 1940s, has some great ideas and incredible technology under the hood, but handles horribly and moves slowly. While some may appreciate the authentic setting and story, those looking for a post-war GTA had better investigate elsewhere.

Lukao gives L.A. Noire 6 blood-stained car jacks out of 10.
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