|*Best New I.P. of 2011*
PG 1 | PG 2
'L.A. Noire' from Rockstar Games and Team Bondi is a hybrid game utilizing gameplay elements from different genres such as: adventure games, open world sandbox games, and third person shooters. In general the developer’s have managed to seamlessly combine the different gameplay mechanics into an engrossing and fun game. However, what truly makes 'L.A. Noire' an incredible experience is the sharp writing and the new facial animation technology that creates the most nuanced performances ever seen in a game.
'L.A Noire' follows the rise of Cole Phelps from a traffic cop to a renowned detective within the L.A.P.D during the violent and complex times of the late 1940’s. The player will investigate, interrogate, chase, and gunfight his/her way through the 20 or so hours of 'L.A. Noire’s' story. The story revolves around the different cases the player will have to solve. Each case follows a similar pattern: Cole and his partner are given a case by their captain, they drive to the crime scene, gather evidence, question/interrogate witnesses, follow leads (which opens up further evidence gathering and interrogations), there will be an action sequence (a shoot out, foot chase, or car chase), Cole and his partner end up back at the precinct for more interrogation and finally a suspect is charged with the crime. This pattern does not change much throughout the game but I rarely found myself bored with the process.
'L.A. Noire' is a linear game and as such there is no real way to fail any of the cases. Cole can die and his death will result in a checkpoint reload but even if a player completely botches an investigation and interrogation the case will still get solved in the end. The only detriment to a total screw-up is a low case rating once the case is closed. The game offers only slight deviations from the overarching story and this linearity requires that cases get solved in order for the narrative to continue. Thankfully the game world and narrative are completely engrossing so the linearity of the game does not adversely affect the experience of being a detective, which is ultimately what this game is about.
The Sights and Sounds of 1940’s L.A.
'L.A. Noire' is not necessarily the best looking game out there. However, the facial animations give 'L.A. Noire' a graphical edge over most other narrative driven games. The game also offers a high degree of visual and aural fidelity to its 1940’s setting. This goes along with the sound, particularly the voice acting, and the musical score which is engrossing, subtle and well-used. One can also choose to play the game completely in black and white. The black and white option makes 'L.A. Noire' feel more like an old film but otherwise adds no gameplay benefits or hindrances that I could see.
The narrative in 'L.A. Nore' is a bit uneven with cases that shine with uniqueness, while others simply follow cop drama clichés. Yet the story is always entertaining. At first the game seems like a collection of short stories or television episodes with seemingly unconnected cases and crimes but eventually a narrative emerges that ties certain events together.
The major issue with the narrative is, unfortunately, Cole Phelps. Cole is a largely a flat/ one-dimensional character. There are flashback cut-scenes that reveal Cole’s WWII past in that try to give Cole some depth and a love narrative that emerges later in the game that also tries to give Cole some internal conflict. However the flashbacks mainly reveal that “War Cole” is generally the same character as “Detective Cole” and the love story is barely examined or explored so it fails to offer any exciting intrigue or insight into Cole’s character. Cole simply does not have an interesting story arch; he seems exactly the same in the beginning of the game as he is at the end. Thankfully the supporting cast is so wonderfully and expertly realized that Cole’s one-dimensional quality does not ruin the game at all.
Players can also find a total of 13 newspapers that trigger cut-scenes that reveal some of the underlying causes of several crimes Cole is investigating. These newspapers are essential if the player wants a complete understanding of the games events. I was able to find 12 of the 13 newspapers without even really looking for them, so they are not difficult to find.
Write it Down so you Won’t forget
At anytime during the game Cole can bring up his notebook to review all of his case notes and evidence. Cole’s notebook is the key to calling out lies and to figuring out where to go next. Reviewing case notes is a good habit whenever the player is about to interrogate someone and the player can access Cole’s notebook during interrogations. In the main menu there is also a “Log” that transcribes all the dialogue of the game. This log is largely unnecessary but I found I used it a few times near the end of the game where a character might rapidly say information that is crucial to understanding the plot and I was not able to catch it all.
Finding evidence, asking the right questions, surviving gun fights and catching criminals earns the player experience points that rank up Cole. Gaining a new rank can reveal hidden car locations and give the player intuition points that he/she can use during investigations to help narrow down dialogue options. As much as this ranking system offers a simple sense of progression it is really only useful in a gameplay sense when it comes to intuition points.
The first step in any case is investigating the crime scene. The investigation process is where Cole will find most of his evidence. Unfortunately the investigation gameplay is not as subtle as it could be. The default setting of the game has the controller vibrate and a musical chime sound when Cole is near a clue. So the player can simply walk around the environment waiting for the controller to vibrate and find all the clues without really trying. As well, there is a musical score that plays during the investigation that will fade out when Cole wanders too far from the crime scene or when the player has found all the evidence. This musical cue and the vibration/chime can be turned off, however I found playing with the vibrations and chimes off but the musical score on made the most enjoyable experience (plus the investigation music helps set the mood). Still, playing on the Xbox 360, I could lead Cole around the crime scene while repeatedly tapping A (which makes Cole pick up and search a piece of evidence) and I almost always found all the evidence with this button mashing formula (I managed to find 95% of all clues). Thankfully not all evidence is simply picking up a letter and reading it. There are clues that require some puzzle solving skills, which helps to keep the investigations engaging. Ultimately the evidence that Cole finds in a crime scene is used to find suspects, build cases, and is used to call a characters bluff during interrogations.