Since the release of L.A. Noire two weeks ago, people have been constantly asking me what I think of the game, and where my review is. L.A. Noire is a vast universe of exploration and interrogation that I needed to play in full before even attempting to put my thoughts together on paper. With all there is to see and do, you can easily lose yourself for more than 40 hours. So the review is a little behind schedule, but to make up for it, our friends at Rockstar have given us some free stuff to give away. Read on to find out if L.A. Noire is worthy of your time, and to win free shit!
Los Angeles circa 1947 is a town full of crime, corruption, and World War II veterans looking for something to ease their minds after all they've been through. You take control of Cole Phelps, a war hero turned Los Angeles police officer who's on the fast track up the ranks, and in the process discovers some of the finer points of L.A.'s underbelly that may have been better left under covers. Having been in development for almost damn near a decade, my hopes were not very high for L.A. Noire, though after spending close to 30 hours as a detective investigating the City of Angels, I'm singing a completely different tune.
Let's start with a disclaimer of sorts: L.A. Noire is not your typical video game. Whether that's for the better or worse is more subjective than anything else, but the fact remains. It was only until a few months before the game's release that I realized this wouldn't be the typical open-world game that pretty much paints a different era over Grand Theft Auto (I'm looking at you, Red Dead). Gun fighting takes a back seat to true detective work, things like investigating crime scenes, interrogating criminals, and cracking cases using your brain rather than bullets. It's almost like Heavy Rain in how it becomes an interactive movie, which ain't a bad thing by any stretch.
Detective Phelps visits crime scenes across the expansive and beautifully rendered city of Los Angeles, in attempts to solve the various ills that have befallen the city's star-crossed inhabitants. Throughout your police career, you'll be seated at different "desks" - traffic, homicide, vice, and arson - each of which open a new range of cases for you to solve. At the scene of the crime, it takes sharp eyes and ears to discover clues that criminals have left behind. These clues open up new paths for you to explore, be it another person of interest to interrogate, more questions for you to ask said person, or evidence to be used when charging criminals. This form of CSI is very slow and deliberate, but it works well. I felt tied to most of the cases I was involved in, and never wanted to rush in and out of a crime scene at the expense of missing clues. Finding everything pays off, and is rewarding when a clue helps you to ask the right questions and get the right answers.
Interrogation is the second pillar that holds up L.A. Noire. It ties directly to investigation in the sense that if you haven't compiled enough clues and evidence, you'll find that your interrogation won't go so well, hotshot. Ask the wrong questions, or pin the wrong evidence on someone, and your avenues of information will quickly clam up, requiring you to discover a new path to solving whichever case has you stumped. As you rank up, you'll earn intuition points, which help if you happen to be stuck or haven't discovered a critical clue. During interrogations, intuition activates something akin to the lifelines of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, for lack of better explanation. You're able to see what percentage of the Rockstar Social Club have successfully answered the question after using a point of intuition, and should you deem it necessary, have the ability to see which answer the Social Club has favored, or just have one of the three choices taken away. With the lack of a multiplayer mode, this is an incredible way to keep players connect, and is very well implemented.
During interrogations, you can choose to believe your person of interest's words as truth, doubt what they're feeding you, or flat out call them a liar. It took me a while to get used to the difference between doubt and lie, but it's actually quite simple: you need physical evidence - clues jotted in your handy notebook - to successfully pin a lie on someone. Any other time, if they're not telling the truth, you doubt them. Though even with this piece of knowledge, I still had a hell of a time cracking suspects. This is by far the best, and hardest, aspect of the game. Reading each character's incredible facial animation, looking for tells and nervous, uncomfortable movements to help further your line of questioning is more immersive than I could have imagined. I will warn you though, do not play these scenes if you're not focused. You will need full concentration to crack cases and read faces, something I learned the hard way as I attempted to play amidst a room of chatty friends. Should you royally screw up a case, and perhaps charge the wrong person with a crime, you'll get an earful from your commanding officer, and know immediately that you fucked up. At the end of each case, you'll get a report, with clues informing you of exactly what you could have done better. And, after completing any case, you can go back and do it again, with less mistakes the second time around.
Action takes a back seat in L.A. Noire, much like Detective Phelp's partners. Sure they're well thought out and unique characters, but they do little more than give you a hint here and there or direct you while you're driving, but I digress. Shoot outs, chase sequences (both on foot and behind the wheel), and fist fights occur mostly during optional street crimes, which help you to gain rank and intuition points, but are completely detached from the overall game. Action pops up during the main storyline once in a while, early on when you screw up on interrogations and have to extract information more forcefully. Later in the game, action scenes appear more frequently as L.A. Noire reaches its climax. You'll even have the option to completely skip the action scenes if you want (much like you can skip the driving between destinations) which is a nice addition if you're not that type of gamer. At times L.A. Noire feels more like a point-and-click adventure than an open world game, which possibly hurts as much as it benefits. It may open the door for a type of gamer who has typically stayed away from these games, while at the same time alienated the player who wants to run around the city with a shotgun and infinite supply of shells.
L.A. Noire is a beautifully constructed game on all fronts. The city is teeming with life, and lovely, muted saturation reminiscent of technicolor used in film noir. Of course, some purists will say black and white is the only way for noir to be, and thankfully L.A. Noire offers the option of turning off all color and playing in complete monochrome. An unnecessary, but welcome addition that directly parallels the level of detail Team Bondi has successfully implemented.
With such a huge portion of the game dedicated to reading the many unique characters you'll encounter, Team Bondi had to make sure faces were rendered exquisitely, to say the least. Fortunately, the MotionScan facial capture technology is up to the task, employing 32 surrounding cameras to capture an actor's likeness near perfectly. As the game's cast is composed of true actors, not only are the facial animations incredibly appropriate and spot on, but the voice acting as well.
As stated above, the voice acting is just about perfect. I didn't hear many lines of dialogue that made me roll my eyes, a tribute to both voice talent and the writing as well. The music of L.A. Noire is a classy combination of original compositions and officially licensed music lifted from the period, performed by jazz legends such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, there is no way to scan radio stations in vehicles to listen to your jazz tune of choice as you're cruising around the streets of L.A., but the music is always perfectly suited to one of the incredible varied and hairy situations Detective Phelps may find himself in.
L.A. Noire is not perfect - there are a few holes in the story that bothered me, some key characters were not fully fleshed out, a twist at the end didn't feel organic, and the ending was left a little to open for my taste - but it's still a damn good game, offering a new experience that you'd be hard pressed to find in any other game, past, present, or near future. Detective work is a rough and tumble job, as you will undoubtedly experience when you discover you've charged an innocent man with a brutal crime, sentencing him to death, and you to deal with his blood on your hands. L.A. Noire is as much a study in sociology as it is a video game, which isn't at all as boring as it sounds. This game will keep you locked in from start to finish.
Buy it if: You want a fresh gaming experience, you're a completionist, you enjoyed Heavy Rain
Don't buy it if: You want a joyride of non-stop action
The Score: 9 outta 10 Blasters!
I promised a giveaway of Rockstar swag, so here it is. Leave a comment below, and let me know if you plan on playing L.A. Noire or not. Did you play it already? Let me know what you thought of it. Don't plan on playing it? Let me know why. Or just say you want free shit, it's okay, I'm not judging you. A week from today (Wednesday, June 8th) one grand winner will be chosen at random to receive a cache of goods from our friends at Rockstar including the following:
- 1 L.A. Noire branded moleskin detective's journal
- 5 L.A. Noire branded pencils
- 4 L.A. Noire stickers
- 1 L.A. Noire T-shirt
A second chosen runner-up will receive a nice compensatory package. Comment below to win, and don't forget to leave an email address. How am I supposed to get all this awesome stuff to you? Good luck!