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L.A. Noire Review

Review; Jul. 5, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Jenner David Cauton
Team Bondi's effort is a good one

L.A. Noire takes a different approach to the open-world genre. The game takes place in 1940s Los Angeles. As L.A.P.D. detective Cole Phelps, players will be solving crimes this time around instead of causing them. The game's theme might seem a little bit more innocent than Rockstar's GTA series, but don't let that fool you into thinking the world in this game doesn't have its fair share of criminal scum. Gamers who enjoy a good story and history enthusiasts will be at home here. L.A. Noire deals heavily with The Black Dahlia case, the infamous real-life murder case of Elizabeth Short in 1947 that to this day, still remains unsolved.

L.A. Noire Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

The game will typically have you arriving at the crime scene, and it's up to you to find the clues. By default, the game will vibrate your controller or cue audible music tones when you're near a clue. While cinematic, this option makes it feel like the game is holding your hand and can ruin the fun in exploring as well as make the game shorter. Players who want the feel of real sleuthing can disable this feature.

When you find a clue, you have the option of viewing it so you can rotate and examine it for anything intriguing. When you do, Phelps will write it down in his notebook, which can be referenced later. Clues can also come in the form of eye-witness statements, so be on the look out for anyone willing to speak up. To make things interesting, the game also throws in many red herrings -- clues that may seem like clues but really aren't. The challenge is lost, though, because Phelps will make a comment if it's nothing important. After a few cases, you'll notice the exact same useless objects placed about anyway.

When you're done searching, it's face time. In many locations, there's at least one person you can talk to, but the conversation is more than just a simple cutscene with dialogue choices. You can interrogate witnesses, suspects, and victims, and it's here where the game shines. When you start an interrogation, Phelps will bring out his notebook, which shows a profile of the person along with any questions you can ask. After the NPC makes his or her statement, you have to decide if they are telling the truth, holding something back, or flat-out lying.

Unlike many other games with dialogue choices, there is actually only one "correct" response. If they sound honest, you can accept it as truth. If you think they're full of it, you can doubt them. If their statement contradicts a clue you had collected, you can call their bluff, but you'll have to prove it by selecting the right evidence (any clues you collected) to back it up.

Probably the most difficult option is the "doubt" response, mostly because the context keeps changing. The game's tutorial describes its use as, "If you know they're lying but you lack proof," but the problem is that this isn't always the case. Sometimes it's a gut feeling; sometimes it's common sense; and sometimes it barely makes any sense at all. Real-world knowledge can go a long way to cracking suspects. For instance, knowing that a bartender -- a highly social profession involving the knowledge of a lot of rumors -- is lying when he says he doesn't know anything. Other times, however, the player himself and Phelps might not be thinking along the same lines, and the reasons Phelps reveals for doubt can sometimes be way off track -- sometimes to the point where you can think of a legitimate reason but Phelps comes off as just plain lame.

We've come a long way into making characters looking more realistic, and this game takes the cake. While character animation uses typical motion capture for the body (those white sensor ball suits), Rockstar has used an entirely new technology called "MotionScan" to capture the real-life faces of the actors that voice them. What you're essentially looking at is a real face that doesn't look like it was whipped up with sliders in a character creator. For L.A. Noire, it's not just a gimmick. If you have nothing else to go by to figure somebody out, you can look at the suspect's tension. Is the suspect nervous? He could be lying. Does he have a straight face? You might be dealing with an honest Joe. Of course, using this method is never as easy as it sounds.

Combat, while fun, doesn't happen nearly as much as you'd expect in an open-world game. (Which is a shame, because Los Angeles is huge.) This is because all of the fights are scripted, unlike other open-world games. Between destinations, your police radio will randomly transmit emergencies that need to be taken care of. If you choose to do these, your destination will deviate and switch to the emergency at hand. When you arrive, a cutscene plays (usually, unrelated to your current case), and the action goes from there. Combat is cover-based, and you'll have your selection of classic '40s weaponry. Phelps will always start with a pistol, but enemies can drop weapons for your use. The only drawback to combat is that it's generally a bit easy, and the weapons have infinite ammo. In fact, I found it easy enough to dispatch everyone with just the starting pistol, but don't let that stop you from trying all the other weapons. To break the monotony, other combat scenarios may involve driving shoot-outs or foot chases.

After your first few missions you'll get to open open the game's "free-roam" mode (one for each chapter) where you can drive around LA exploring the sights, unlocking different landmarks, and answering new distress calls (or any ones you've skipped and haven't completed yet) without a case to worry about. Unfortunately, this mode is just begging for random generic distress calls in addition to the already existing pre-made ones. While it's true that well-made hand-crafted missions are always better than randomly generated ones, this mode keeps repeating the same missions over and over (with the occasional new one) to infinity. The missions will happen in the exact same spot, and will have you face the exact same enemies who attack from the exact same places. The idea is to roam around answering calls, like a real-life cop, but it gets boring really quick when all the shootouts play out the same way every time, something that doesn't suit an open-world game very well. A little deviation with each repeated scenario would have been nice, as this is the only combat you'll ever get to experience outside of the main story. You are, after all, the law this time around, and causing crimes doesn't exactly fit with the game's nature.

The game's re-playability relies on the cases themselves. After each case is solved, you'll be presented with an overview of your work. The game will you show you how many interrogations you got correct, how many clues you've found, as well as how much damage you've caused with huge-open-world-inducing bad driving skills, as well as side notes on things that you could have done to get a better ending. Rockstar has quoted several different endings with each case, and while the culprit more or less is always the same, the journey on the way can be different. Clues you find or don't find; interrogations that you answer correctly or incorrectly -- all can change what you'll go through at the end.

It should be noted that the cases get progressively longer, and even though you can save in the middle, it's highly suggested to take a break between each one. The details of each case can get complex, and even though you can look back at your notes, as well as the entire script of who said what in each case (a trademark in a lot of Rockstar games), it's still less of a hassle if you actually remember what has transpired, so a long break from the game right in the middle of a case can cause you to make rash decisions when you finally return.

All in all, L.A. Noire is treat for gamers who are looking to use their brains to solve mysteries instead of where to put down that next block to make a line. Combat is enjoyable, but obviously not the focus of the game. It still would have been nice to see this side of the game developed a little further, as this game's story is so good you'll want to make it last as long as possible.

Presentation - 8

The game's main menu screen and overall theme lives up to its name.

Story - 10

By far the game's most engrossing feature.

Graphics - 7

Standard affair, unless you count facial expressions, which is phenomenal.

Sound - 7

Soundtrack is classic '40s tunes, as well as dramatic tones when things get heavy or mysterious.

Game play - 8

No game pulls off crime solving better than this. Combat may be a different story.

Current Stability - 7

Currently the only real issue is quite a bad one: The game has been reported to overheat many consoles, mine included. However, the game itself doesn't show any signs of lag or bugs. No real word yet on a fix to this.

Lasting Appeal - 6

This is largely based on how long it takes you to finish all the cases. While there are collectibles to find, just like any open-world game, those and the combat are not nearly as fleshed out as the game's story. The cases aren't as interesting anymore when you know who the culprit is. In other words, take your time with this one.


Review Score


Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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