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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Game Shelf: L.A. Noire (PS3)

So, I've been putting off reviewing Rockstar's latest hit game for a week or two now. Why? In all honesty, I've just been lazy about writing. That's all. No other reason besides that. However, I've got the time right now, so I think I'll finally get it out of the way. Partially because I want to, but also partially because I'll be finishing another game shortly and will want to write a review about that as well. Anyway, enough of that, onto the review of L.A. Noire.


For those that don't know, L.A. Noire is a detective game, taking place in 1940's-era Los Angeles. You play as Cole Phelps, a young man with a family fresh out of the war after a very respectable military career. Phelps is straight as an arrow and plays by the rules, one of the last few honest cops in LA. In the game, you as Cole start off as a rookie police officer and make your way up the ranks as you solve more and more cases as well as praise from your superiors (and chagrin from your fellow officers). There are 21 cases to solve in the game, all loosely based on actual cases from the era. As you make your way up the ranks and solve more cases, Cole begins to learn that there is almost always more to these cases than meets the eye, as well as the fact that the LAPD are not the honest police department they would have the citizens of LA believe.

In between cases, you get flashback scenes to Cole's life in the military and how he acted as a soldier serving uncle Sam. These are important to the cases you play in the game, as many of the people involved in Cole's platoon begin popping up in the City of Angels, especially during the Ad Vice and Arson cases (two of the ranks you work towards during the game). It's kind of important to pay close attention to these scenes. Although you don't control Cole Phelps during any of them (they are purely cinematic), they add important information to the game about Phelps and his fellow troops.

Now, while 21 cases might not seem like much, some of these cases are fairly lengthy and can be pretty challenging to solve. Plus, the game is exceptionally heavy on interrogation. You will be interrogating a lot of suspects during the game, and the better you are at it, the better rating you'll get at the end of each case. As far as interrogating goes, it's all based on body language. Listening to each suspect answer questions is important, and you may need to present evidence to call B.S. on them (which happens quite often). However, it's not just listening to their answers that is important; it's listening to how they answer the questions, as well as picking up tells in their body language that may or may not give them away.

What happens in each case varies, depending on the type of case. In most cases, you will do interrogation and hunt for evidence. Some cases also include car chases, shoot-outs, hostage situations and a number of other activities. Although the game is mostly interrogation-based, there is still a fair amount of gunplay and driving to do here, for those of you that are more into the action aspects of the game. This game is also a open world-format game, meaning that you can pretty much go anywhere you want at any time (for the 3 of you out there that don't know). And There is definitely a lot of ground to cover in this game, as the creators based the city on actual maps, movie reels, written reports and photographs of 1940's Los Angeles. The amount of detail put into the environment is staggering.

Much like most all other Rockstar games, aside from the 21 cases I played through here (there's actually 19 main cases, but pre-ordered copies included 2 more bonus cases: "The Consul's Car" and "The Naked City"), there are side some side quests. There are 30 famous landmarks to find (which is easy; all you have to do is drive by them to find them), 50 golden film reels-all named after actual films, nearly 100 cars, and, if you pre-ordered the game, it included the "Badge Pursuit Challenge"-which entails finding 20 police badges scattered throughout the city. There is also the "Traffic Crimes". These are 40 crimes that pop up at random intervals. It is not required to do them in order to finish the game, but each one does add more experience to your ranking (which in turns helps you unlock other costumes), and they are a fun distraction from the main game. Plus, they are required if you are someone who likes to unlock every trophy

I think the best side quest though is finding newspapers. Throughout the cases in the game, there are a total of 15 newspapers hidden at crime scenes or areas of interest. Again, while these are not required to finish the game, I strongly suggest you find them. They add a ton of information to the cases throughout the game, and you also learn more about the seedy characters that you get mixed up with at various points. Plus, unlike the film reels and badges, the newspapers are hidden in key locations during cases, so you don't have to hunt all over the city for them.

Now, onto the technical aspects. While the story is great and the controlling is very easy, it's the graphics that truly set this game apart from others. Never before have graphics been so detailed. The reason for this is extensive motion capture work was done for all of the characters in the game, using real actors and real facial expressions to make each character. If you've ever said that you wished your game character showed more emotion and looked more like a real human, this is the game for you. Within 10 seconds of starting this game up and watching the opening cinematic, I was blown away. I had read that the graphics were incredible prior to release, but I still wasn't prepared for them until I actually saw the game in action on my LED TV. While there are games out there with better game play or better stories, I have yet to see a game that can match L.A. Noire in the graphics department.

Still, despite all of the praise I can lay on this game, I do have a couple complaints. While the interrogation aspect is amazing thanks to the revolutionary mo-cap work done here, it might also be the game's biggest fault. While it can be easy to misread people and get the wrong answers from a suspect, it really doesn't matter. Aside from your overall ranking at the end of each case (which you need to 5-star all of them to unlock a trophy, for those of you that need to get all of the trophies), you will still finish each case no matter what. You can literally get every question wrong and still wind up sending the right man or woman to jail. While I appreciate Rockstar making it so you should still be able to finish the game no matter what-that's the most important thing, after all-it kind of kills the whole purpose of being able to read the body language and demeanor of the suspects.

My second complaint is with the ending of the game. While I absolutely love the story and appreciate how much work Rockstar and Team Bondi put into making a compelling story with compelling characters (and they are definitely compelling), the ending is a major letdown. Honestly, it felt like those involved in the game were running out of time and just haphazardly threw the ending together in order to make their release date. I'm rarely let down by the endings in the games I play, but this one makes that short list. It's especially disheartening when you not only consider the effort put forth in every other aspect of the game, but all of the hype behind the game as well. In recent memory, the only other game I can recall that had a more disappointing ending was The Saboteur, which featured what could be the single easiest boss fight in video game history.

Aside from these couple of complaints, L.A. Noire is overall a great gaming experience. It's a beautiful-looking game with a great 40's soundtrack-including actual radio shows from the decade, including Jack Benny-and it features a great cast, great voice acting, and a game setting that truly feels like a living, breathing city. It's a shame that more development teams can't do the extensive level of research that Team Bondi did when working on this game, as it truly looks and feels like you are cruising the streets of Los Angeles during one of the most corrupt and mysterious decades in U.S. history. If you are a fan of open world games, detective stories, Rockstar Games, film noir or all of the above, you should definitely check this game out.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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