L.A.Noire is a very unique experience. Blending open world elements with an almost Phoenix Wright-style investigation and interrogation mechanic was definitely a brave experiment by the developers. L.A.Noire combines things never seen in a video game before and the outcome is definitely something Team Bondi can be proud of.
You play as Cole Phelps, a cop in the late 1940’s who has returned from the war and is looking to make a difference at a time of America’s highest recorded crime rates. The story is told over the course of five desks: Beat cop, Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. As you progress through each of the 21 cases, the plot thickens as Cole becomes more and more adapted to his detective lifestyle. Cole starts off as a fresh-faced beat cop looking to improve his higher-ups through a bit of detective work; eventually, you’ll find yourself investigating crime scenes, questioning suspects and chasing dudes like a pro.
In the beginning, the cases you are tasked with seem to be completely unrelated, but the further you dig your way into the game, Cole will question links between crimes that his colleagues would rather ignore. For every desk, you get a different partner, some nice, some nasty, but all more experienced than Cole. As Cole becomes more experienced, he questions the judgements of his partners, creating a divide between him and some of the other characters. Cole’s back story is told through flashbacks of his experience in the war. It’s here that the player learns about Cole’s personality and how he has changed over the years. There is also a third story playing out in the form of newspapers found all over the city; each time you pick one up, you are shown a small snippet of an overall larger story which bleeds into the main game.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the story and the game play itself. More than a couple of times, Cole must run and gun his way out of a situation. While, from a game play perspective, this is probably necessary to ramp up suspense, it creates a strange juxtaposition between Cole in cut scenes, a mild-mannered detective with a heart of gold, and Cole in-game, gunning down literally dozens of gangsters with a rifle.
That being said, the journey L.A.Noire takes you on is a very enjoyable experience for the most part. Sadly, it is very typically noire even down to the abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying ending. The story is thoroughly entertaining (albeit with a few plot twists you’ll see coming) but the ending may leave more than a few gamers wanting more.
L.A.Noire is only about 15% action. The majority of your time will be spent searching crime scenes and talking to people. Investigating crime scenes is quite an intuitive mechanic. When you arrive on the scene of the crime, you can talk to several police or other officials to get an idea of what has happened, but you’ll spend most of your time walking around trying to find clues or examining evidence. You do this by scouring the scene looking for anything that might be related. Even if you walk past something you didn’t see, the controller will vibrate to let you know that you’re standing near something important. You can pick up any potential piece of evidence with a tap of the action button and inspect it by manipulating the object with your left thumb stick. You collect all evidence in a notebook which then becomes useful later during interrogations. It really is quite a fun and easy way of investigating a crime scene that Team Bondi has created here.
[pullquote_right]… the game rarely puts you in a fire fight. But when it does, it’s one hell of a fight.[/pullquote_right]If there were any problems with it, you could say it sometimes makes it a little too easy. The vibration to let you know that you’re standing over a piece of evidence lets you find all evidence by blindly walking and waiting for the game to tell you when you’re near something. Also, sometimes Cole decides that some things aren’t evidence for seemingly no reason. For example, when investigating the murder of a young woman, you can find a battered golf club in the bushes about 10 feet from her body, but Cole somehow automatically knows that it is unrelated. Cole is the one who records the evidence, not the player. Cole decides what’s important, not the player. Certain small things like that makes you feel a little less in control and therefore a little less immersed in the drama.
The interrogation system allows the player to ask questions of suspects and witnesses using the evidence from the crime scene. It is a very functional way to get information out of a person and it is genuinely difficult to spot a liar sometimes. When you ask a question and receive an answer, you have the option to either take what they said as truth, doubt what they said, or outright accuse them of lying. One of the three options is deemed “correct” and gets you more information while the other two block off that specific piece of information. It generally works in immersing you into the world and is a good use of the motion capture technology. Also, there is inherent replay value in wanting to replay cases and get all the questions right which the game caters to by letting the player go back and play any case again if they so choose.
The downside to the interrogations is that Cole’s tone can become inconsistent and jarring. For example, if you are unsure about what a person said and want to express doubt, there is no way of knowing how Cole will react. In a game like Mass Effect, you always know that the top answer will be generally polite or clever while the bottom one will be rude and aggressive. In L.A.Noire, you can be screaming accusations at a person one minute and politely agreeing with them the next. It just seems odd at times.
The downside to L.A.Noire is the action sequence. Every case has at least one drawn-out chase sequence either on foot or in car. One case springs to mind: as soon as you finish one long chase sequence, there is a short cut-scene and then another one right after, and they get old fast. The sheer amount of chase scenes in this games is mind boggling. It’s as if Team Bondi only know two ways to make action: running and gunning. Not only are the chase scenes very numerous, but the vast majority of them are purely scripted. If you fall behind, the target slows right down and if you get too close, they’ll speed up. Some of the chases allow you to stop the target by shooting into the air, but this option is sadly missing from most of the chases.
As for shooting, the game rarely puts you in a fire fight. But when it does, it’s one hell of a fight. The slow, cumbersome controls make navigating in and out of cover a chore, so you’re better off crouching near a wall than locking to it. The shooting itself is quite satisfying. The guns react well and the characters all have satisfying animations for being shot. Also, the fire fights themselves are usually on quite a grand scale; most of them have you fighting against very large numbers of enemies in small waves. And while it does seem quite jarring considering the story, there’s no denying it’s quite fun.
Presentation is L.A.Noire’s biggest selling point. Team Bondi used state-of-the-art motion capture to record the faces of the actors, and about 90% of the time, the characters in-game look terrific. However, there are a couple of faces which look absolutely hilarious and/or horrifying, the most prominent being the doctor in the newspaper stories who looks like an old man with cellophane wrapped around his face. Unfortunately, all of the hard work Team Bondi put into making the faces look as good as possible means that the world itself is lacking in graphical fidelity. The evidence and people all look great and the detail is nice, but the textures on the walls and the smaller details all over the world are shocking. It’s a shame, because the game was obviously made with a lot of love and care and yet you can still walk into a person’s house and find wallpaper that just looks like green porridge. The game also provides a very professional looking black-and-white option in the pause menu which just adds to the overall authentic noire vibe you get from this game.
L.A.Noire is an incredibly unique game. The closest you will have come to it before is an old-style point-and-click game. It really is worth your time, and while there may be a few problems with the action here and there, that isn’t what the game is about. If you don’t mind sitting through long sequences without any action, if you want a unique story-driven experience, and if you’re intrigued by how well you can spot a liar, this game is for you. The game is designed to cater to both the hardcore and the casual audiences and succeeds almost perfectly. A truly great game worth remembering.
Crime scene investigations may be too easy | Cole's tone during interrogations can be inconsistent and jarring | Repetitive chase sequences | Drab textures
A staff writer for Default Prime, Joe is one of the youngest on the team and perhaps the youngest person ever to exist. Starting his gaming life back on the Sega Megadrive he has ploughed through the last 21 years of gaming despite being born in the 90's. Other interests involve film-making, word-writing and occasionally getting drunk enough to attempt "The Descent" at parties, don't ask.
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