L.A. Noire Review

While most developers are worried about what the future might hold and post-apocalyptic destroyed worlds, developer Team Bondi takes us all back to a simpler time of the 1940’s set against the back drop of Los Angeles, California. The golden age of Hollywood has captured the city and has led to a great economic boom with movies and businesses taking advantage of the return of GI’s with their money from the government for their service.

The protagonist, Cole Phelps, a World War II decorated soldier for his actions in battle begins the story as one of the newest members of the LAPD. Starting out on the beat as a patrolman, Phelps will be answering calls for help both on the street and assignments given to him from his commanding officer. The cases that the player will investigate will be inspired by real world crimes that occurred during the time period. While clearing each crime scene for clues and getting statements from witnesses the player will have to piece together and recreate what has happened. Completing cases will allow Phelps to rise the ranks of each desk in the LAPD and even be part of one of the heinous crimes of the period The Black Dahlia murders. The moniker “The Black Dahlia” was based on the real life tragedy of Elizabeth Short who was victim of a serial killer during the time. The player will not only discover lies, deceit, cover ups, and violence, but also discover the dark underbelly of the city they are sworn to protect.

As a man of the law the player will not go from level to level, but keep a persistent track of their career as they complete different cases that are assigned to them moving from desk to desk being promoted. There are five desks in total that will span the player’s career, Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and finally Arson. Being a patrolman the cases are simple at first with not many pieces of evidence to discover or questions to ask the witnesses, these first few cases play as the training levels. Even on patrol players will have a partner that they can rely on for information in the case if they find themselves lost on what to do next. The player will rank up by finding landmarks, completing street crimes, or completing cases to reach the maximum rank of twenty. Players can use intuition points that they have earned by revealing all the clues at a crime scene, remove an answer during interrogation giving the player a fifty-fifty opportunity to get the question right , or ask the community on what they believe to be the correct answer with each option being given a percentage. The player is given one intuition point to start and can earn up to five at any one time. After interrogations and suspects have been arrested players will be graded on their performance based on a five star scale. To achieve a five star rating players must find all clues, correctly branch questions during interrogation, not rack up too much damage to their assigned vehicles, or damage city property.

Police officers will have small notebooks that they will have to write in and keep track of suspects, locations, case notes, clues, and be able to reference during interrogations. Any time during an interrogation or questioning a suspect or witness players can press up on the right thumb stick and look up at the person they are talking to for a better understanding and reaction to the questioning. Players will notice when the suspect or witness is lying or being devious about their answers by looking away or avoiding eye contact in part to do with the technology that Team Bondi has implemented into the game. Depending on the correct or incorrect responses to the questions as the player questions the suspect or witness might cause different outcomes or misleading results when trying to complete the case. If the player is able to correctly answer all of the interrogation questions it will be easier to charge a suspect. There is a few instances in the game where the player will have to question two witnesses at the same time and play both suspects against each other to figure out the truth.With “MotionScan” technology called it captures the full performance of the actors, including muscle movements, eye movements, and every detail in-between. This technology was able to capture over four hundred actors and provide a realistic blend between movies and gaming. Of those four hundred actors players might see or hear recognizable actors from their favorite movies or shows, like Greg Grunberg who played Matt Parkman on Heroes, or John Noble who plays Dr. Walter Bishop on the television show Fringe.

The recreated 1947 Los Angeles is accurate to street names, locations, landmarks such as the tar pits, museums, stop signs that are butterflied signs that move up and down, and store fronts that were present or available during the times. The city spans across many areas of Los Angeles such as Hollywood, Wilshire, and Central being the main parts of the city that the player will be investigating. So familiar street names will immediately bring some quick recollection on where to go. Even those who don’t know Los Angeles well will probably be familiar with Sunset and Vine or 7th and Figueroa. The detail that is presented in the game is just another amazing feat for the game to deliver to the player to engross them into the world. Not always relying on patrolling the streets by foot the player will be able to access ninety five different vehicles, including police cars, trucks, and specialty cars that are hidden around the city.

Players can take advantage of Gamewells, which are phone locations especially designed for police and fire departments. Using these Gamewells can help players call dispatch for quick and vital information to the case easing the work load. Players have the choice to drive themselves or allow your partner to drive to destinations by pressing and holding the Y button, which then can be skipped to the destination for fast traveling. While my preferred method is to let my partner drive because I don’t feel that the car’s handling is tight enough to my liking. These loose controls makes it hard to drive and I found myself frequently hitting objects which might cost me the collar when trying to apprehend a suspect. When my partner was driving we were allowed to discuss the case and get a better insight on what conclusions we might reach when arriving on scene.

When investigating a crime scene make sure to check everything that might be a possible clue. Hidden throughout the game is thirteen newspapers, each providing a deeper look into the backstory of the game with a movie to watch. With the crime scenes there is two choices for players to approach the situation when it comes to game controls. I am not one for turning on vibration in most games as I find it to be distracting to my movements and accuracy, but in L.A. Noire it is a great tool for people to use when searching for clues. When looking at a crime scene music plays in the area, but when the player gets near a clue the controller will vibrate to indicate that there is a clue. After picking up objects they can be investigated further by pressing the A button or rotating the left thumb stick. If you choose to not use the vibration on the controller it will be harder to discover clues, but also provides more realism as an investigator. Another effect of using vibration is when driving around the city and going over the trolley car tracks will create some feedback, it really is the little touches that help incorporate the player in the game.

The music in the game has a phenomenal presence that will provide a great backdrop on an already realistic recreation of the city. With timely radio announcers, music, and advertisements players will get that sense of the 1940’s. With each area explored will have a unique presentation of music from when the player is driving in the car, exploring an abandoned Hollywood movie set, or the depths of the LA sewer system chasing suspects. Not only does the music play an important role in the development of the game, but the audio in general with restaurant patrons using small talk asking for the waitress, the thumping sounds of crossing over trolley car tracks, and sounds of the streets. Gun fire sounds realistic based on the different weapons in the game ranging from a pistol, machine gun, and even shotguns.

While exploring the city and answering distress calls from fellow officers or from dispatch the player might be involved in a few different scenarios such as car chases, foot chases, shootouts, hostage situations, and suicide jumpers that need rescuing. There is also a few instance where Phelps will need to tail certain suspects, either by car or by foot. If tailing a suspect on foot the player has an option to go incognito by either finding newspapers on park benches, sitting down to get their shoes shined, or even taking cover behind poles or cars by pressing the right bumper. The animations for chases on foot are one of the best I have seen in years as the player can scale fences, tackle suspects, climb ladders and rain pipes, and run up fire escapes on multiple levels with ease. This ability to just effortlessly scale obstacles and close in on the fleeing suspect is a great accomplishment in game animation and it never loses its appeal. I often found myself frequently just jumping over fences of backyards or scaling chain link fences just to see the animations again.

During car chases your partner does have the ability to shoot out the suspect’s tires or shoot out the back window that will scare them into driving a little more recklessly. Even though your partner will tell you to hit the car off the road the game usually has a predetermined path for the suspect and the player’s actions might not make a huge difference, letting the AI drive away faster or avoid a full on crash from your efforts of hitting them. The ending result most of the time is that the suspect will crash and the player will have to exit the vehicle and apprehend the suspect.

So while shoot outs and car chases are somewhat expected out of a crime drama, it is the dialogue, developing story, characters, and interaction with the world that makes the game something unique. The game offers a great amount of content with just the main story line and can be mixed up with the side cases and other things to search for throughout the game. The game has many different collectables that can be found, minus all the evidence from the crime scenes there are newspapers, film reels, landmark locations, and ninety five cars to collect. With these side objectives to complete the player will have a great investment into the game and the hours of gameplay, especially if they want to achieve five stars on all cases which can take some time to find the correct answers.

While the game is an open world to explore on the streets of Los Angeles players who find themselves only completing the main objectives without exploring the city and doing the side tasks might find the game a little drawn with repetition when completing the main story. The game is heavy on dialogue and cut scenes with little gameplay elements in-between. Not to say that the acting, story, or dialogue isn’t top notch or to belittle it, but some players might be turned away thinking that this will be a consistent shooting spree or action film. This is a crime drama and it plays as such, so be warned that the attention to details in the game on realism might turn some away if they are not aware of what to expect.

The overall game plays great and really engages the player into the sense of wearing a fedora, suit, and packing a gun as a detective in the 1940’s. The little touches to the scenery such as advertisements for different soft drinks, electronics, and home appliances which were booming during this time was just a way for Team Bondi to go to the next level. The key story elements of Cole Phelps and the supporting roles that his partners play throughout the game as more and more evidence is discovered and leading to some really unexpected twists in the story creates an overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want to put down the controller and just see where it all would lead. The presentation of the game overall is just something that rivals some five star big screen movies with how it is all blended together to create a seamless interaction with gameplay and movie quality acting. Creating a believable crime scene, not only with clues, blood, and dead bodies which can be at times hard to look it with nudity and gruesome details, but the presence of other officers coordinating off the area and the corner on scene to discuss the details just gave a different view for the player. I believe this game will be a waking up to the industry on how a game can really start to blend two major entertainment choices together withtechnology and I look forward to what the next generation could bring in terms of graphics, quality, and presentation.

I only had a few minor issues with the game and that came in the way of performance and graphical concerns with textures and objects in the world popping in. This isn’t a major flaw in the game, but at times it can cause a distraction when doing a high speed chase of a suspect and flashes of objects pop into focus. I would like to see the handling of driving adjusted as the cars were very touchy to movement and caused some problems at times. Cars made in the 1940’s were built heavy and often very large not giving them the best reaction time when it came to turning. During some of the more intense shooting engagements of the game did I find some slowdown and inability to move properly and react to get into cover and not die. Which leads me to my next point and that is the cover system, while not heavily relied on players can find themselves being caught on objects or having to press the cover button frequently to release out of the piece of cover. The cover system could use some work, but mostly did what it was required to do, giving me the opportunity to not get shot in the face.

So if you want to discover what it is to be a detective in the 1940’s or just want to play cop in a recreated Los Angeles, I would say pick up L.A. Noire. This is a game that every gamer should experience this year. Let us know what you think of the game if you had a chance to play it in the comments or in the forums!

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