Review: L.A. Noire
Developer: Team Bondi (with Rockstar Games) Publisher: Rockstar Games Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Release Date: May 17, 2011 Current MSRP: $59.99
L.A. Noire is set in Los Angeles, 1947. You play as Cole Phelps, a World War II hero who was awarded the Silver Star as a U.S. Marine for his actions at Okinawa, Japan. Returning home Phelps begins his new life as a street cop for the Los Angeles Police Department.
As Phelps works his way up the ladder of the LAPD, he tries to be the straight and narrow cop while corruption plagues the city and even the very police department he calls home. Phelps works cases across five desks; patrol, traffic, homicide, vice and arson. Throughout each case he slowly uncovers a conspiracy that goes from the common man all the way to the elite of society, and no one can be trusted.
To get it out of the way, L.A. Noire is an adventure game. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto in the ’40s. L.A. Noire is like a modern version of an old title like Deja Vu.
Faces Tell a Thousand Stories
The facial animations in L.A. Noire are simply incredible. The game uses something called MotionScan technology. As soon as you begin playing, you’re immediately drawn to the character’s faces. Characters in L.A. Noire actually look, talk, and act like real people. It may sound silly to say, but it’s never been more true.
The characters in L.A. Noire all feel human. The look of the game’s characters is shocking. The technology really makes the game, and sets L.A. Noire apart from anything else before it. This jaw-dropping effect lasts on the player for several hours. You won’t look at other games the same way after seeing the characters in L.A. Noire.
The technology also allows so many emotions to come through the characters. The wide variety of emotions displayed is unprecedented; anger, sadness, shock, nervousness, hopelessness, joy, laughter. These are just some of the real emotions that come across so well in the characters. The emotional intensity is exemplified early in the game when you interrogate a suspect involved in a shooting. When you’re close to convicting them, the rage shown in their face is amazing and frightening at the same time.
Even simple activities like cigarette smoking look amazingly authentic. The way the person holds the cigarette to their mouth. The way their lips forms around it and the way they casually blow the smoke out. These activities replicate real human actions and don’t feel awkward in the process.
Famous faces take on suspects or interviewees in L.A. Noire. There are dozens of recognizable people throughout the game. The actor who plays Phelps is in the television show Mad Men. A few others include Greg Grunberg (Heroes), Eric Nenninger (Malcolm in the Middle), William O’Leary (Home Improvement), Bob Clendenin (Scrubs), Andrew Connolly (Lost), and John Noble (The Lord of the Rings). These actors and actresses bring real credibility to the game’s storytelling.
The City of Dreamers
Described as the city of dreams and the city of dreamers, Los Angeles vibrantly comes to life in L.A. Noire. The game calls Los Angeles, “A 20th century city that will become a model for the world.” L.A. Noire replicates the era well.
The game’s environment is fairly large. L.A. Noire makes the player feel they’ve time traveled to the late ’40s. Trolly cars move around the city. Old school advertising billboards fill the rooftops for products like Cola King, which is the game’s version of Coca-Cola. Store fronts are filled with old fashioned goods and appliances. The food shops have classic Corn Flakes boxes in their windows. Suburban homes and vintage cars fill the streets. The old “Hollywoodland” sign brightly shines over Los Angeles.
Important landmarks can be discovered by driving around the city. When they’re found, the game gives a brief history and their importance in the map menu. You can even play L.A. Noire in only black and white by selecting that option in the game’s menu.
For an era that’s largely been forgotten to the history books, it’s fantastic to see it preserved in a game where the player can experience and explore the time period.
Search for Clues
Examining a crime scene or area of interest involves finding all the necessary clues. The controller vibrates when you’re near a clue. Music plays in the background when you still have clues to find. When all the required evidence is found, a jingle plays informing you that the search is over.
If you’re feeling hardcore both these settings can be turned off in the options menu, allowing you to go it alone with your own skills.
When you pick up a clue, you can rotate it around to pinpoint the exact area you need for the case. The controller will vibrate when you find the spot. Some clues need further examination which will give additional details. In L.A. Noire you’re often examining dead, bloody bodies. The murders are often committed in a brutal fashion. The crime scenes can get pretty graphic. There’s even charred bodies during the arson cases. The bodies have a certain weight to them. When you examine the corpses, it feels like you’re actually searching them yourself.
Intuition points can be used if you’re stumped and can’t find that last clue on the scene. You can carry up to five at a time. Intuition points are earned by increasing your rank. The intuition point will reveal all remaining clues for that particular area.
Some items around the scene look suspicious, but don’t necessarily mean you need them for the case. Sometimes you’ll be examining a beer bottle or household appliances when they’re not needed. A wrench at the crime scene or money laying around might be sketchy but it won’t have anything to do with the investigation. There’s a few puzzles within a clue you need to solve to gain full access to the item. These puzzles are pretty simple to figure out. One case has Phelps on a chase to solve one giant puzzle, but it’s not too difficult to get through.
Sometimes you need to use a phone to call the police dispatch for an address or additional info on a clue. Police phones are posted up around the city near the street lights. Some phones can be used in the home or building you’re currently investigating. However you can miss clues if you’re driving in the wrong car. During one case I asked dispatch to send me information on a taxi cab. For the rest of the case I never drove a police car, so I never got the call through the radio. Apparently it was some crucial info, because the game made a note of it during the case’s evaluation.
Finding newspapers is one of the game’s collectable side quests. There’s 13 in L.A. Noire. These are usually hidden somewhere at the crime scene. When you find a newspaper, a cut-scene plays showing the action behind the headline. It’s odd that they’re optional, because you actually need to find the papers to understand the main storyline revelations better. You could miss several of them if you’re not looking close enough. The cut-scenes are somewhat vital to the game’s storyline.
Get the Answers
Conversations are one of the strongest points of L.A. Noire.
During questioning or interrogations, you have to choose between truth, doubt or lie. You choose truth when you have no reason to believe the person is deceiving you. Doubt comes in when you don’t have the clue needed to prove they’re lying, but know they are. When you select lie, you must provide a piece of evidence you’ve found to prove they’re hiding something.
Cole can back out of a lie before preventing evidence, but usually says something awkward and totally out of character when doing so. You can back out of the lie with no penalty. Backing out of a lie can further help you decide if you have the right piece of evidence, as the suspect will often say, “What proof do you have I was at X or did Y?”
Questioning people is all about looking for reactions. If someone isn’t being honest, they’ll look around nervously, fidget, bite their lip, or do something that gives away their credibility. In real life, you can usually tell when someone is full of crap by examining their facial and body expressions. The same applies to L.A. Noire. The language they use is also important. For example, someone’s significant other just died; shouldn’t they be using words that show a little more grief? The person’s reactions are different for truth, doubt and lie.
Phelps carries around a notebook with all the information you’ve found like clues, people and locations. Besides being a war veteran and great detective, Phelps is also a magnificent artist. The drawings in the notebook are very detailed. You can check the notebook any time during questioning. The pause menu also has a Log section of every word uttered during that case. This is actually a great feature because you can cross check a person’s story with someone else’s and see if the stories match up.
If you get a question wrong, you simply move on to the next one. There’s no second chances. The correct line of questioning earns you experience points to increase your rank.
Intuition points can also be used during questioning. They eliminate the wrong choices and pieces of evidence. A neat feature is with Rockstar’s Social Club, although the game needs to be connected to the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live to work. It tells the percentage of people who got the question right. By using the Ask the Community feature, you can see if truth, doubt or lie is the most popular choice made by L.A. Noire players. You won’t need to constantly use them, but intuition points come in handy towards the end of the game.
You don’t need to question everyone to wrap up a case. I was supposed to go question a husband suspected of killing his wife. Instead I went to another suspect’s house to question them. I ended up arresting that suspect and the case ended. I never got to go interview the shady husband. You can’t go back and further question somebody once you leave the scene, even if you gather more evidence at a different location. If you find more evidence while still on the same scene after questioning them you can ask them for further details though.
Many times the person you go to question will flee the scene. You have to chase them down either by foot or car and then question them. The game chooses whether the chase will be done by foot or car.
When you arrest a suspect, sometimes further interrogations take place at the police station. Conversations can get pretty heavy during these interrogations, as tempers flare and you’re forced to make certain decisions regarding that person’s fate.
One problem is when you press someone on a lie, sometimes they’ll change the question on you so the evidence you originally wanted to present is no longer valid. You probably won’t have the evidence for their new claim. This gets really annoying because you can’t present the evidence that would have fit in the first place.
It’s very distracting when text telling you what to do appears in the top left corner of the screen when you’re analyzing evidence or a suspect’s face. Another annoying problem is selecting a piece of evidence during a lie but it’s not the one the game wants to be chosen. It might be a perfect fit to prove the person wrong, but the game wants another item selected. Other issues arise where you shouldn’t need to provide specific pieces of evidence to the suspect because Phelps is a detective for the LAPD. Why wouldn’t he have knowledge and access to this information?
Sometimes the faces are too obvious the person is lying. For example, their neck tweaks too much or their eyes zoom wildly like they’re watching a fly buzz around the room. No one in real life would be that apparent if they’re being questioned in a murder investigation. It might be a case of the technology not being fully perfected or the game being too easy on the player, but it’s definitely noticeable at certain points. However this doesn’t happen every time you talk to someone but it’s goofy nonetheless.
L.A. Noire works best when you’re forced to choose between suspects to charge one of them with the crime. There’s several cases where there’s two or more main suspects. You can question both suspects before officially charging one with the crime. Often the evidence looks really good for all the available people. These situations are intense and are the highlight of the culmination of the detective work.
You will get stumped plenty of times throughout L.A. Noire. There’s no shame to admit you were bested by a cunning suspect. When trying to get the right answers you’ll have to be on your feet. The conversations and interviews are just a lot of fun to experience and are one of the biggest draws to L.A. Noire.
L.A. Noire’s combat is definitely one of the weaker aspects of the game.
Hand to hand fights aren’t that detailed. The fighting is pretty basic, with punching, dodging, a grapple throw, and final blows. You can’t kick a person when they’re on the ground. It doesn’t take long to knock someone out. Fights generally last less than 30 seconds. The fights usually occur after you chase down a suspect. You can’t initiate them by yourself.
You also can’t go around Los Angeles killing random people by gunning them down. You can’t even draw your weapon unless it’s during a specific mission.
Gun fights aren’t that deep either. There’s not a lot to them. Shootouts are basic like the melee fights. You can pick up a few different weapons from dead enemies like assault rifles and shotguns. There’s no ammo count though. Phelps will just say, “out of ammo” and start using the handgun again. When you’re shot, you can see bullet holes appear in your suit. The screen fades grey when you’re close to dying.
LA Noire’s shooting is further hurt by a bad cover system. You can move around in cover, but it’s so awkward and totally ineffective. You can only move around the same cover you’re in, like around its corner. You can’t quickly run or roll to the opposite wall. It’s really just a poor cover system. You’re better off not entering cover but instead just standing behind the wall to avoid getting shot.
The enemy AI is pretty dumb too. Often they stand completely out of cover, allowing you to easily fill them with a few slugs. Sometimes they’ll even run behind your own cover and attack you. When you shoot someone dead, there’s oddly no puddles of blood near their body. I’m pretty sure people in the ’40s bled like pigs if filled with bullets just like they do today.
The body movements aren’t as detailed as the facial qualities, so characters often walk and run somewhat stiffly and unnaturally during fights or on the city streets. However little details like picking up your hat and putting it back on after it gets knocked off in a fight are neat. Depending on the suit you wear, you can get perks like damage protection or increased weapon skills.
When chasing down a suspect, you sometimes can fire a warning shot. You must aim your weapon and keep the dot sight on them for it to fully load and fire. A cut-scene will play of Phelps shooting his weapon in the air and the suspect will stop running. Unfortunately the game doesn’t allow you to always fire a warning shot at every suspect.
The combat is fairly easy so you won’t die a lot. These action scenarios don’t happen often but when they do they end rather quickly. The combat really needed a lot of improvement because it’s too basic and not very good.
One Response to “Review: L.A. Noire”
I have to pick this up and play it again. Seems like it could be game of the year.