Rockstar Games never seems to shy away from an ambitious project. The "Grand Theft Auto" franchise put them on the map, but games like "Bully" and "Red Dead Redemption" have solidified them as industry leaders, particularly when it comes to open-world action games. With their pedigree, Rockstar's next epic, "L.A. Noire," is attempting to redefine detective games while taking inspiration from the pulp fiction and the classic film noir style to a degree that no game that has come before it has ever attempted.
Developed by Rockstar Games and Team Bondi, "L.A. Noire" is set in a post-World War II Los Angeles, and puts the player in the shoes of war-hero-turned-flatfoot, Cole Phelps. As an enthusiastic and ambitious new addition to the LAPD, you start off fresh out of the academy, as a patrolman with his eyes set on making detective. Working your way up through the ranks from patrolman to arson detective, you must hone your sleuthing skills to search crime scenes for evidence, question suspects, and make arrests.
Cleaning Up The Streets
With Cole's detective work as the main focus of the gameplay throughout "L.A. Noire," it's fundamentally set apart from most other games on the market. While there are titles that have put players on the right side of the law, few of them have captured the nuances of criminal investigations the way that this game has. From scouring crime scenes to pressing suspects for info, there's a lot that can go wrong in each case - much like in the real world - and it all comes across as both intense and entertaining. The logical deduction necessary for each investigation makes "Noire" feel very much like a game, complete with puzzles and action sequences, while toeing the line of reality.
A Pre-Freeway L.A.
Setting a film noire style game in 1940s Los Angeles may seem like the obvious choice, but after wandering the streets, it becomes apparent that the era is captured perfectly, with no detail overlooked. The game's story even goes so far as to weave infamous crimes from that era into the plot of the game, making it feel that much more historic. Classic L.A. landmarks such as Pershing Square and the set of "Intolerance" are peppered throughout the city, some of which are even integrated into the storyline.
Crossing The Uncanny Valley
Depth Analysis' newly developed and much lauded motion capture system is one of the stars of "L.A. Noire." Finally seeing realistic facial expressions, from subtle lip movements to furled eyebrows, executed in a game like this is striking at first, but then quickly becomes a vital part of the gameplay. During the interrogations, players have to try to deduce whether or not the interviewees are lying to them, and this is mostly accomplished by reading their body language, making the mocap not only a graphical wonder, but also a key part of the game.
Since investigations are the main gameplay focus of "L.A. Noire," when the game jumps to an action sequence there's a little left to be desired. While the gunplay isn't bad, following the standards of most third-person shooters, "Noire" runs into some problems with its cover mechanic. Like numerous games before it, "L.A. Noire" has a sensitive-to-the-point-of-frustrating automatic cover lock that snaps you to walls, making it difficult to unlock, particularly during intense action sequences, in many cases leaving you unhealthily exposed.
Unlike most Rockstar games, which have a tendency to put their players' skills to the test, "L.A. Noire" has numerous fail-safes put into place to help usher the player through the gameplay. For example, there are both audio and vibrational cues whenever Cole ventures near a potential clue while investigating a case. Additionally, "intuition points" can be earned throughout the game which can be used to reveal clues or help with interrogations. And finally, players can altogether skip some of the more challenging parts of the game if they fail at completing it too many times. The combination of having all three of these assistance techniques occasionally makes "L.A. Noire" feel more like an interactive movie as opposed to a big budget video game.
Worth noting, though, that hardcore gamers put-off by these elements can choose to turn off most of these aids in the options menu for a more authentic and challenging experience.
Action gamers beware: "L.A. Noire" is not "GTA" in a trench-coat. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Instead of being chased by the black and whites, you're doing the chasing (and everyone runs). Instead of being questioned, you're doing the interrogation. And, instead of getting locked up, you're the one throwing away the key. "Noire" manages to find the sweet spot between giving the player too much control, and too many options and putting too much emphasis on action. Essentially, it's a grown up version of classic point-and-click classics like "Police Quest" with real action mixed in. While some more experienced players may find it a little on the easy side, it's still well-worth taking the ride, as long as you're not expecting it to be a high speed chase.