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Posted by Raine Hutchens on May 26, 2011

Review – L.A. Noire (Xbox 360)

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Product Information

MSRP: $59.99
Published by: Rockstar Games Developed by: Team Bondi
Platforms: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 Rating: M for Mature
Genre: Action/Adventure

L.A. Noire is not like other games out there. Of course it’s from Rockstar, so car chases, guns, and point-of-interest travel is given, but it’s the approach that Team Bondi took to the normal, run-of-the-mill Rockstar game that we all expected. The game’s focus is not one centered around how many grunts you can kill or how much money you can rack up, but one of how well you can judge people and handle having their fate rest in your hands. I got to spend a lot of time with L.A. Noire, and I have to admit, I am sort of on the edge when it comes to this title. Let’s get into the review and I’ll explain.

Story

One of the defining elements to L.A. Noire is its story. Players will follow Cole Phelps as he rises through the ranks in the L.A.P.D. Fresh out from the war in Okinawa, Cole finds himself being promoted into the police department soon after he returns home. The setting is Los Angeles in the 1940s. There’s plenty of history and element to the game that goes beyond the internal storyline itself, which makes it an astounding title right out of the gate.

Cole gives his all and uses his strong sense of intuition to scour crime scenes. The game introduces you to many different characters, which are all defined by their strong personalities, setting each apart from the others. Cole makes his way through the Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson desks while in the L.A.P.D. in a story full of mystery and plot twists that I can’t reveal for the sake of spoiling the game. Players will unlock clues that can potentially tie crimes together, or mean nothing at all whatsoever. L.A. Noire presents players with something that I believe we haven’t seen in an extremely long time – a story filled with characters that players can actually grow to care about. Before I knew it I was sucked into the 1940s, and I couldn’t pull myself away.

While Rockstar worked very hard to create a story and characters that are captivating, there were a couple of issues that I found within the story that made me ask questions, and almost stop playing the game. Rockstar has painted a wonderful image with Cole, making him out to be the stand-up detective that Los Angeles has silently been searching for. You do get to points in the game, however, in which Cole makes decisions that just don’t seem like him. Going by what Rockstar has laid out for us with Cole, some of these plot twists and character decisions seem to come out of left field, with no explanation or foreshadowing. This leaves players to speculate, which can cause debate. Some characters do things that you would expect, while others can fly off the handle and show actions that just don’t make sense. I understand that keeping players on their toes with unexpected changes in the storyline is a great way to keep a game interesting, but what’s presented in L.A. Noire at a few points in the game just seem to not make any sense at all. It was frustrating, and left me very confused, sometimes to the point to where I had to take a break from the game.

Gameplay

The shining feature in L.A. Noire is easily the new MotionScan system that is used to capture character’s body and facial movements. Every scratch, wrinkle, blemish, eye shift, grimace, smile, and gulp is from an actual actor playing his or her own part. This time there were no animators using computer-generated manipulations to a still 3D image like with other games. This is the core of the game, as all of your interrogations and investigating are centered around how a character behaves. The MotionScan system makes every emotion – anger, sadness, surprise, happiness, belittlement, jealousy, and more – come to life right before your eyes. If you so much as blink while interrogating a suspect, you could miss the vital key in the suspect’s behavior that can give away if they are lying or telling the truth. This easily can make or break any and every case.

In L.A. Noire you play a detective. This means that you have to think more like a crime-solver and less like a gamer. You can’t run in, guns blazing, to answer every case. Though many cases end with you gunning down a suspect, it’s not how every case is approached from the beginning. It takes all of your mental capability to be able to search for clues and connect them with different persons, which means players will always have to be on their toes.

Once you’ve gotten your clues together, it’s time to interrogate your suspects. The interrogations are the defining moments in L.A. Noire. This is where the MotionScan becomes of the highest importance, as it’s up to you to read the suspect’s behavior to tell whether or not they committed the crime in question. After listening to each suspect’s statements, Cole has the ability to accuse them of lying, doubting them, or acknowledge that they’re telling the truth. The line that’s drawn between doubt and lie is extremely thin. When you doubt a suspect, you are basically saying that they are holding out on information, while calling them out on a downright lie requires evidence to back it up. This is where the clues come in. The clues you gather while investigating crime scenes function as the ammo during the interrogation. Using the right interrogation techniques, backing up your suspicions with evidence, and knowing when to badger suspects will all help make you the best detective on the force.

Though it’s a key element to the game, L.A. Noire isn’t all built on tearing into witnesses. Players are free to leave the beaten path on any case, explore the city, and attend to the game’s Street Crime Missions. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, though, so don’t expect you can just gun people down in broad daylight, steal cars, or run a muck through the city streets – you’re a cop after all.

There are 40 Street Crimes that players can participate in, which come in as random calls on the car’s radio system. These cases are single missions where you will either gun-down some robbers, chase a fleeing suspect, tail a crook, or chase a lunatic through the streets of L.A. in your automobile. Completing these missions and the main story cases will award experience points that all accumulate towards your rank. The rank cap is 20, which means that it won’t take too long to top out. New ranks award intuition points which can be used to find clues, remove wrong answers in an interrogation, or canvas the community for opinions with suspects. Players can also receive new outfits, locations, and hidden vehicles by ranking up.

Although the gameplay is intuitive and different from other titles, I did find some issues with how things all pan out. There are 21 cases in the game’s main story, and once I got about eight cases or so into the game, I knew what to expect. L.A. Noire helps raise the bar when it comes to new content, but it still has in place some repetitive gameplay that can make the game redundant. I knew that with each upcoming case I would either be chasing down a fleeing suspect in an alley, running a guy off the road in my car, or shooting a suspect that just refuses to cooperate. Of course this all leads to a big interrogation at the end, with the mission ending after I get all the questions right. It’s not that big of a deal, as this is how police work rolls out, but it still can be a bit boring.

On top of that, although the game has an open-world option, it’s not like other Rockstar games where you can finish the game and continue to run around. Of course I understand that with the story Team Bondi has presented us with, it can be hard to achieve this. My point is that if players want to continue the game for any amount of replayability, they will need to reload old cases and intentionally deviate from them in order to achieve the one hundred percent completion on the game. After that, there really isn’t a reason to continue playing.

Conclusion

Though L.A. Noire isn’t a game without its flaws, it provides a brilliant story with gameplay that always hits the top of the charts. With the use of amazing new technology, the characters in the game are brought to life in a way that has never been seen or attempted before. Team Bondi and Rockstar have come together to present a game that is captivating from start to finish, despite having it leave me dazed and confused. I do think that the game falls a bit short of where it could have been, simply because of how it ended. Cole Phelps was a poster child for the L.A.P.D., and went through most of the game demonstrating it. By the end of the game, however, I ended up hating him simply because of the thoughtless decisions he made, and how sporadically his story was told throughout the game. Simply put, sometimes it just didn’t make any sense.

L.A. Noire has flaws, but I haven’t yet met a game that didn’t. The core mechanics come together and provide for an amazing experience, and the game had me hooked from beginning to end. If you’re a fan of Rockstar, someone who is looking for a new experience, or a gamer looking for a great game to immerse yourself with, L.A. Noire would be on the top of my list for you.

The Good

  • MotionScan adds all new character elements to the game, never seen before
  • Excellent actor performances make the characters believable
  • Elements of gameplay make the game exciting and fun
  • Well-written storyline makes the game intriguing and hard to put down

The Bad

  • Gameplay can sometimes get repetitive and dull
  • Plot twists leave players hanging and in the dark
  • Story can leave players confused and frustrated
  • Not much replayability after the game is completed, as open-world exploration must be done via the case selection option

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