L. A. Noire
By Rockstar Games and Team Bondi
Genre: Third-person action/adventure
Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence
Ah, the hard-boiled detective world of the 1940s. The subject of many a detective novel by Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and others, this genre has a name that instantly evokes dark and gritty. That name is noir. And it’s played pretty much perfectly in this game. While the game’s not totally perfect and there are a few annoying snags, the technology behind it is pretty impressive and you can definitely get a few hours out of playing through and exploring post-WW2 Los Angeles.
As former Marine Lieutenant Cole Phelps, a rookie cop in the LAPD, you work your way up from the bottom to the top, then strangely down a step, but how you get there is not for me to say. You start out on the traffic desk, solving crimes on the beat before rising to Vice, investigating a military-surplus morphine distribution ring. From there it’s on to Homicide, where you investigate crimes seemingly very related to the Black Dahlia murder, committed just prior to the game’s start. Finally, a scandal that rocks Phelps, and the department to its knees sees you busted down to Arson, where a mad bomber is disrupting peaceful living in suburban Los Angeles.
Gameplay is quite a bit different from the standard Grand Theft Auto clone. You can free-roam between desks, but while you’re in a case you’re pretty much rushed on to the next objective. Auto accidents are counted against you, so you’d do best to “fast-travel” to your destination by letting your partner drive.
Once you’re at a crime scene, speak with the coroner and conduct an investigation. Examine the body (all of which rendered in pretty horrific detail; this is where that Nudity descriptor comes in!), finding any and all relevant items and questioning witnesses. This pattern is followed throughout the places and people of interest you encounter, but there’s a twist thanks to the awesome facial scanning technology built into the game:
Each person you meet has basically had his or her actor’s facial performance recorded and mapped onto the model, such that you really have to read his or her expression to determine whether they’re lying. You can choose to doubt them or catch them in a lie with evidence you’ve acquired; but if you choose the wrong response, you’ll be penalized and your suspect will clam up. By the way, if you’ve paid attention to various TV series in the last decade, you’ll recognize some faces: Aaron Staton from Mad Men, Greg Grunberg from Heroes, and others.
There’s not a whole lot to do in the otherwise massive environment of Los Angeles and Hollywood; you can respond to up to 40 street crimes spread out across the ‘desks’; you can find 50 golden film canisters throughout the game world; locate 20 real-world landmarks; and that’s basically it. There’s no real replay value to speak of, and the gunplay is repetitive; the fistfights are interesting, but they don’t last too long.
For what a great first impression this game makes, there’s not a whole lot of reason to come back time after time. I give this three out of five stars. I really wanted to give more, but the games need to give too, and this one wasn’t doing it for me.