L.A. Noire stands to capture the crown for being this year’s best brand new IP. From Team Bondi and Rockstar comes a detective thriller that’s unlike any other game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. For me, that’s a huge plus; for others, that may actually be what drives them away.
You won’t shoot your gun every five minutes, you won't hit jumps in your car, you won’t hunt down pedestrians and you won’t deviate from the linear path that’s built into the open world. This game has been designed around the principle that players will follow each case on each desk with the clear intention of catching bad guys and unraveling the story. If that sounds like something you don’t want (read that as: if you want this to be another GTA or Red Dead Redemption), then I suggest you reconsider your purchase.
Otherwise? If you’re looking to challenge yourself as a thinker, step into a unique take on gaming and try something that’s unlike anything else being sold now, L.A. Noire might be for you.
Before I get to deep into the pool of praise, I’d like to lay out the game’s faults. So let’s just clear the air here and now: the title isn’t perfect. Crime scenes tend to feel formulaic at times, interrogations can get frustrating, the driving mechanics aren’t quite spot on, the gun fights feel a little too rigid and the game suffers from some occasional pop-in where the graphics are concerned. There, those are my major gripes. If any of them are game-breaking for you, you’ve been warned.
Players step into the shoes of Cole Phelps, a G.I. turned cop. Phelps aims to work his way to the top of the LAPD by rising through the ranks of patrol, traffic, homicide and vice. You’ll also hit arson, but not in the way you may expect. Each desk represents a different act in the story, features a new set of investigating principles and includes a new partner. My favorite desks by far were the homicide and arson desks. Fantastic, gripping stuff that will likely manage to stick with me for years.
The characters, as is typical with Rockstar efforts, are amazing. Your partners are each unique and entertaining in their own ways. You develop a relationship with them, and they pop up in the story even when they're not working by your side. You come to love your partners; or, honestly, you'll come to love hating them.
You’ll be treated to what seems like an unending wave of cameos through almost every single case. At one point I actually paused the game to text a friend that Winston from The Ghostbusters was a key witness in one of my recent busts. The performances and the actors/cameos doing them are fantastic.
One thing Rockstar proved they were talented in doing with games through Red Dead Redemption was bringing to life the pure essence of a gaming world and its time period. With RDR, the old west and its essence was capture perfectly. With L.A. Noire, Rockstar and Team Bondi have succeeded again. The dialogue, the soundtrack, the characters, the aesthetics all speak clearly to the time period at hand, and that works towards making the experience of playing through L.A. Noire exceptional. My one gripe is that you don't hear enough of the '40s soundtrack. There's not enough jazz, swing or blues. You're always listening to police chatter or talking with your partner, and as a fan of classic jazz that's a bit disheartening. The roster of standards built into the game looks nice on paper, but the fact of the matter is that you won't be hearing them too much while playing.
While being a gumshoe in the real world may come with its own host of intense investigation challenges, the work of the player as the detective in L.A. Noire is made relatively easy. The game manages to hold the player's hand in a way that underwhelms the nature of investigating a crime scene and tying leads together to make a case. Music cues and controller vibrations alert players to nearby and important clues so that every crime scene will be fully exposed by the time folks are finished. While you can turn those cues off, the game is almost too easy with them on. It's like Rockstar and Team Bondi built the title for the lowest common denominator, the folks that would trouble piecing cases together, and then went from there.
But, hey, who can blame them? This is a game that's taken aim to be one of the highest performing new IPs of this fiscal year. If they made it too frustrating, the general public may have walked away angry. Instead of in the path of investigation, the real challenges in the game of L.A. Noire happen during interviews and interrogations. Players will have to use their instincts, the evidence they've collected and their ability to read emotion in order to bust interviewees into dishing out as much evidence as possible. It's tough, and sometimes lies come out silky smooth and are nearly impossible to distinguish from truth. And it's in those moments that L.A. Noire absolutely shines.
These interrogations are made possible by the motion capturing technique that Team Bondi and Rockstar employed while developing the project. They set up 32 cameras in a 360 degree orientation in order to capture every movement actors made as they read their lines. The developers then took that imagery and slapped it on the character models within the game. The result is, quite frankly, stunning. Emotions are clearly visible, subtle facial twitches and ticks come out bright and vivid and players are able to distinguish truth from lie. Honestly, the interrogations coupled with the motion engine behind them make L.A. Noire a pleasure to experience.
When the story's over and the credits finally roll, there's an oddly welcome and unfortunate sense that washes over you. The ride was long, the cases were grueling, but the feeling and impact of the story were well worth the work. That's the welcome part. The unfortunate sense comes from the fact that there isn't much else to do in the world of 1947 Los Angeles. Upon release, there are no extra cases to work. You're left to either deal with the sidequests (there are 40 of those) or replay the cases you've already tackled with 5 Star completions in mind. And that's a wild departure for what's normal within Rockstar. There are no random street events like you'd find in Red Dead. There's no challenge system or any reason to return beyond perfecting the game. And, until some DLC comes out, that's a bummer.
That said, I've gone and delivered a backhanded compliment. I wanted more from this game even after it was over. I wanted to keep playing. And when the DLC drops next month, I'll be downloading it right away.
If you're looking for a change of pace, a brilliantly constructed narrative, great character performances and a thinking player's adventure, L.A. Noire is one hell of a game to play.