L.A. Noire Review

Amid the post-war boom of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Cole Phelps is an LAPD detective thrown headfirst into a city drowning in its own success. Corruption is rampant, the drug trade is exploding, and murder rates are at an all-time high. In his fight to climb the ranks and do what’s right, Phelps must unravel the truth behind a string of arson attacks, racketeering conspiracies and brutal murders, battling the L.A. underworld and even members of his own department to uncover a secret that could shake the city to its rotten core.

I must admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of Rockstar Games (although I’ve never played Red Dead: Redemption). While the Grand Theft Auto series can be fun at times I quickly find myself getting bored with them. So it was with mixed feelings that I approached L.A. Noire. Thankfully, L.A. Noire is a very different game, and I hope that we get more like it in the future.

One of the best aspects of the game is the wonderful atmosphere it creates. L.A. in the 40’s is recreated in loving detail and the characters are pitch perfect for the time. Although some of the partners you have along the way feel a little one-dimensional, this is in keeping with the type of story they’re trying to tell. This is a classic hardboiled story of a troubled cop in a corrupt police force.

For a while, it seems like the character of Cole Phelps is too good to be true. He zealously holds to the letter of the law and takes his experienced partners to task for their more open approach. But soon the cracks begin to show. While the flashbacks filling in Cole’s back story feel a bit ham-fisted at times, the core story is pretty good. But it’s a consequence of the structure of the game that the pacing of the story feels very disjointed. Some more exploration of the time between Cole’s cases would have been very beneficial.

A great deal of fuss has been made about the ending of this game, and while I can see why some people would be upset, this story was only ever really going to end one way. The writers made the conclusion feel satisfying, and that’s all you can really ask for. The writers have done a great job in general, with each of the cases feeling fleshed out, and making it very dubious as to which suspect actually did the deed. Unfortunately, the cases on the Vice and Arson desks don’t feel nearly as interesting as the cases you follow through the Homicide desk. I know that the later desks are very important to the story, but it was always going to be a bit of a let down after the excitement of Homicide.

As for the technical aspects of the game, the heavily promoted facial capture technology is very impressive. While there are still some uncanny valley problems, you really can read facial expressions, which is what the entire interrogation mechanic relies on. In the early stages of the game, the actors were obviously instructed to exaggerate their expressions to make it easier for the player, but in the later stages of the game it’s always a really tough call. You have to pay attention to all of the clues that you’ve gathered and witness testimony to have any idea what your suspect is thinking.

The open world gameplay is hit and miss. I found the driving extremely cumbersome and annoying. After a while I just got my partner to drive me wherever we were going, but there are several sections where that’s not an option. The gun play is really fun, and flows fairly fluidly, but the camera can sometimes be a little annoying which is a problem that all 3rd person games suffer from. The really annoying parts are where artificial barriers are put into place to increase the difficulty. One prime example is when you’re asked to pursue an armed suspect through a series of catacombs in the dark. For the entire game you’ve carried around a torch that you clip to your jacket when investigating in the dark, but for some reason you seem to have forgotten it this time. So the only way you can see what’s in front of you is by firing your gun (Or by turning up the brightness which is what I resorted to).

Overall, this game was a great deal of fun to play. A few problems are to be expected when trying something different like this, but none of them were game-breakers. If you’re a fan of detective stories, then this is definitely something you should check out.

What I Liked – Different style of game. Great style and atmosphere. Impressive face capture technology. Interesting cases. Good shoot-outs.

What I Didn’t Like – Some of the characters felt a little thin. Awkward controls, particularly while driving. Artificial limitations to increase difficulty. Story pacing was very haphazard.

Rating – 4 out of 5 (Really Enjoyable)

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