Review: L.A. Noire
If you are thinking Rockstar’s L.A. Noire is going to be anything like their previous titles (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption), you’re going to be greatly disappointed. If anything, L.A. Noire is an evolution of the adventure genre. Just because this game is open world doesn’t mean you’re free to do whatever you want in every aspect of that meaning. You’re going to be tied down to solving crimes and driving in a very open 40’s Los Angeles, California. And just because you’re sporting a pistol or “Chicago Typewriter“, doesn’t mean you can just unload on civilians. In fact, even when trying to run them over, you’re going to find that these people get out of the way 90% of the time. The times you do actually nail one usually leads to a game over. Is that all cleared up? Then let’s begin!
You play the role of Cole Phelps, an ex-Marine who’s joined the LAPD after serving. Unlike previous anti-heroes from Rockstar’s games, Cole is a cop who’s dedicated to hard work and sticking to the law. He might be a little rude at times, but he gets the job done. You start as a beat cop and work your way through different career paths at the police department. During each career path, you’re given a partner to help solve crimes with. Some of them good cops, some of them bad. Much like any good noir film, this game has characters full of dark pasts, secrets, and corruption.
One of the things that people generally like about Rockstar’s sandbox games are some of the places are actually recognizable. Take Grand Theft Auto 4 for example. It’s a near exact rip of modern New York City. This time, Rockstar has went all out to actually remake a complete city. Los Angeles is completely reconstructed to fit the real 1940’s Los Angeles, complete with real street names and locations. Not only that, the game is based around several real-life crime scenarios that were going on during this time, including the unsolved Black Dahlia murder, crimes of mobster kingpin, Mickey Cohen, and several other smaller crimes. If you really take it all in, you’re not only playing through a sort of interactive movie, but you’re playing through a lot of history from these times.
As stated above, you’re working your way up through the LAPD and taking on several different cases. Some examples of these cases are armed robbery, arson, drug busts, and murder. Each of these are going to generally play out the same since your gameplay objective is to search for clues at crime scenes, interrogate suspects, and occasionally chase down fleeing suspects. In a sense, the gameplay is very repetitive. So much, in fact, that I wouldn’t even recommend playing this game in a two-night sitting. It wouldn’t surprise me if the game was meant to be broken up over a length of a month. Solving one case a night is probably the best way to play the game so you won’t be terribly bored by going through the same routine each case. I also wouldn’t consider this a flaw of the game. I think it’s a relief to play a game that is broken up into cases, or as I call them, episodes.
Throughout the entire game, you’ll get a case to solve, arrive at a crime scene, and begin investigating. It’s really hard to miss a clue since the music changes and the controller vibrates when near something of interest. You can turn clue hints off, but the game would feel very boring clicking buttons after you move around every inch of area. During an investigation, you’re given the choice to accept what a suspect has told you as truth, doubt or a lie. How you determine that depends on clues you’ve uncovered, and facial animations. This is the more difficult part of the game to figure out. Several times, I ended up thinking someone was lying because of the attitude they presented and ended up getting a bad rating on a case file. Luckily, you can’t really fail a case. You’re graded on how well you preformed and that’s it. You’ll just continue to the next case.
As mentioned, you’ll run into fleeing suspects which is a drag if you’re just wanting to solve the cases. Rockstar will allow you to completely skip action sections if you are more into the game for the adventure aspect. If you play through these action scenes, you’ll be treated to so shooting galleries or car chases which aren’t the best but fun none-the-less. Shooting is basically that of Grand Theft Auto 4. You find cover and fire your pistol. I never really ran into any trouble during these shoot-outs, but it doesn’t feel as fluid as a shooter. It feels really old but I guess that’s because it’s the 1940s. The most atrocious aspect of the game is the driving. Luckily, you can skip to areas by having your partner drive, but when you do need to drive, it feels like you’re driving a suicide machine. The slightest turn seems to spin you out of control. The brakes are really hard to get used to (again, must be because of the 40s). It took me near the entire game to finally get the driving down where I wasn’t wrecking the entire time. It would have helped if I was driving the speed limits too. On a positive note, some of the action scenes are really fun. Chasing down someone in a car and slamming your car into theirs, or having your partner shoot out their tires, felt really good when you finished.
If there’s any major flaws anywhere, it’s in the story. There’s several sections towards the middle and end that leave you scratching your head. Since they’re huge twist to the story, I won’t even hint at any of them. However, the game feels like there were cases left out that helped the story. Possibly time, money, or disc space could have effected this since Team Bondi has officially closed their doors. In any case, there’s enough good in the story to help overcome the glaring misfortunes in the personal life of Cole and his friends.
By far, the best thing this game does is provide outstanding voice acting and amazing facial animations. After playing this game, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to how other games lip sync. Hopefully, this technology is handed off and used a lot more often. If you’re completely immersed, you’ll find yourself pretending you’re watching a real movie. All in all, L.A. Noire is a terrific adventure game bundled with a few flaws. It’s new tech will leave an impression that is hard to forget, but it’s gameplay may require someone who’s looking to relax for the next month.
TL;DR: If you’re not a fan of noir films, adventure titles, and games that have more story than gameplay, then stay far away. If you want a game that’s fun to solve crimes with a friend or family member, this is the game. It’s a new age adventure game that should be treated as such.
Reviewed on the PlayStation 3.