Everyone get your detective hat on and come explore the City of Angels. Rockstar’s latest creation, L.A. Noire, features a beautiful and vast landscape. In this game you play the role of protagonist Cole Phelps. The period is Post WWII America and Cole has just been released from military service in Japan. Deciding it is time to rejoin the workforce, he joins the LA police force. You start out as a patrolman, but quickly advance through the department to the traffic desk, homicide and vice. You will find yourself sifting through crime scenes, questioning witnesses and searching for the truth, which comes in many packages. L.A. Noire is a complex and intriguing game, and it thrusts the player into a murder-mystery that they won’t soon forget.
The most obvious and by far the best part of this game is the graphics. The buildings, landmarks and even the advertisements are all recreated in painstakingly beautiful detail. Even the smaller items like clothing and cars are accurate and just as beautiful as the rest of the game. The atmosphere is so enthralling that players will have no choice but to revel in it as much as possible. It feels as if you are driving through a documentary. Everything is geographically accurate and looks the way it did in that time, and as such it is very easy to get pulled into the game right from the title screen.
The gameplay here is a mix between typical Rockstar elements and some completely new and fresh ideas. Things players will find familiar are the driving and the map system. Driving feels much as it does with any other Rockstar game, so if you played those games, you’ll feel right at home with the controls. The cars in this game are a lot slower than the modern cars of Grand Theft Auto, so don’t expect the chases to exceed 60 miles per hour. Players will find the controls easy to learn and quick to master. Much like the cars, the map system works exactly the same as it did in other Rockstar games. Your objectives are shown in yellow on the mini-map and your car is shown in the center of the reticle. You simply point the car where you want to go and make adjustments as necessary.
There are some brand new ideas incorporated into the gameplay which will bring new challenges to players. The biggest addition and the most prominent change are the cases themselves. There are twenty-one different cases in the campaign, set across four different divisions in the police department. All cases are presented to you as a crime scene. You are then assigned the task of searching the crime scene for clues. As you approach items that can be picked up and examined, the controller will vibrate. Some items hold valuable evidence while others are not significant to the crime. Finding clues is critical to getting the dialogue options you need to interview suspects and witnesses in the future.
Speaking of questioning suspects, this is the other brand-new gaming element that we have not seen before. Depending on what you find at the crime scene, certain dialogue options will appear in your case book. If you find all the clues at the crime scene then you’ll be able to ask the correct sequence of questions to get the information you need from the people you talk to. If you miss clues, entire dialogue trees will go missing, and this may prevent you from solving the case correctly. During the questioning sequences you will have to determine if the suspect is lying or telling the truth based on their facial expressions. This is where L.A. Noire takes a quantum leap forward in gameplay, as the facial features shown in this game are unlike anything ever seen before. Characters can realistically express a full spectrum of emotions just with their body language and facial expressions. This gameplay element allows players to become fully immersed in the game and provides an experience like none other. It is almost as much fun to bring in other players and see who can tell if the suspects are lying or telling the truth.
Unfortunately, this game is not perfect, and there are some things that don’t quite hit the mark. Fortunately, these issues are small and easily overlooked. For example, once a car or a person moves a certain distance from Cole, it disappears unless you are looking directly at it. Even if Cole turns a corner, the car or person he was chasing will disappear. As mentioned earlier, the cars are not very fast in this game, and it takes away from some of the chase sequences. With no real sense of speed, chases don’t have the tension normally associated with such sequences. Also, Cole will automatically jump over obstacles, and climb ladders without you prompting him to do so. This tends to pull people out of the scene, and when Cole is almost completely automated in these sequences, it becomes a button-mash rather than a high-intensity chase.
All in all, L.A. Noire is one of the best games of the year so far and you shouldn’t let any of the potential drawbacks keep you from getting your hands on it. Even though L.A. Noire is not a non-stop, in-your-face action thriller, you should still enjoy this title thoroughly. This is going to make waves in the video gaming community and you shouldn’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind adventure. A highly recommended title for all players.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 3 Version of LA Noire by Rockstar Games