Game Review: L.A Noire (PS3)
Release: 17th May, 2011
Developer: Team Bondi / Rockstar
Available Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Website: L.A Noire
The first thing to keep in mind when playing L.A Noire is that it is not another entry in the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s something quite different, in fact it’s something very different to anything you may have played before. Set in 1947 Los Angeles, L.A Noire tells the story of the rise of LAPD Officer Cole Phelps from beat cop to detective in traffic, homicide, vice and finally arson. Each department gives Cole a new partner and plenty of cases to solve using clues that you have to find at the crime scene and your own intuition about whether your POI’s (person of interest) are telling you the truth or just lying through their teeth. Some of the best facial technology I have ever seen in a video game is used to help you ascertain the truth from the lies and it really does work. When someone is making a statement you get three choices to branch out your line of questioning, truth, doubt and lie. There’s no better feeling that knowing someone is lying and being able to pull out evidence and throw it in their faces. Needless to say, if you ever fancied yourself as a detective then this is most definitely the game for you.
Every single character is brilliantly portrayed. From the main characters to the smaller, incidental roles, I didn’t see any bad performances. That’s what they are, by the way; performances, not voice acting. Recognizing actors and trying to remember what shows they’ve been in is a fun little side game. Most of the cast seemed to be from Mad Men, so much so that it probably should have been called Sterling Cooper Noire. There were actors from other shows though, such as Greg Grunberg from Heroes and John Noble from Fringe. The cast really is fantastic and the animation is so beautiful that the actors are easily recognizable. I’m actually surprised that the box art isn’t more like a DVD cover with the actors names on it. I actually think that if this kind of technology becomes more widely used in games then maybe that’s in the future of box art.
So, once the initial amazement of the technology and acting is over – is the actual game any good?
The consequences for getting interviews wrong are virtually non-existent. It seems that no matter how much you may screw the investigation up, you’ll get a phone message or something equally fortunate which leads you right to the perpetrator of the crime. The final score is marked down for bad detective skills and it’s not the smoothest of investigations but the game rolls on regardless. It all felt a little too soft considering you’re supposed to be in the shoes of a detective investigating some pretty hard hitting cases.
Which brings me to the cases themselves. Apparently they’re all based on real cases of the era and you will not forget the first time you look down at a corpse and then have to examine it. Team Bondi pull no punches and the crime scenes are realistically cold and unflinching. The most interesting cases were during my time in Vice. Finding clues is a simple affair as the gamepad rumbles when Cole is near a clue and if that isn’t enough of a hint a distinct sound plays in the game. Again, this felt a little like being led by the nose but after looking through the menu options it’s possible to turn those clue hints off for a more involved experience. As you drive to your destination you often get unrelated crimes to deal with from the police radio, there are 40 of them in total and at first they were fun but after a few they all seemed to end the same way – some kind of chase which usually ends with the criminal dying. Disappointingly, they felt more like an afterthought that was just tacked on than a real part of the game.
The city of Los Angeles looks amazing and has been faithfully reproduced using maps from the 1940’s. Driving around it is a real treat but it’s a bittersweet experience as there’s so little to do. At the beginning of this review I said that this was not Grand Theft Auto, and it doesn’t try to be, BUT it’s such a shame to have created such a brilliant city and not use it. There are a few things to collect but that’s where it ends. It would have been better to just take us to the crime scenes and other places that we need to visit via a short loading screen than tease us with what could be a top rate sandbox experience. I fully understand that this was a design decision but I definitely believe it to be an error on the part of Team Bondi and Rockstar. Mainly because it doesn’t offer any replay value. Sure, you can five star the cases, hop into 90-odd cars and hunt down some film canisters but after that there’s nothing left. An easy platinum, at least.
So even with all the hype, L.A Noire does have its faults but that doesn’t stop it from being a great experience and one well worth taking part in. Anyone who has read Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy will be enamored with Team Bondi’s attempt at a real detective experience (minus the donuts). The real star of the show is, of course, the facial animation technology. We all know to some extent when we’re being lied to and L.A Noire takes full advantage of that by giving us the opportunity to use that skill in the game. It’s a totally new element of gameplay and one that I hope to see more of from future titles. I really cannot express enough just how great the technology is, and it’s the perfect accompaniment for this game. It just works. I felt like I was taking part in gaming history while playing, sorry, experiencing, L.A Noire.
- Fantastic animation
- Compelling story
- You’re a detective!
- Fascinating cases
- A historic step for video games
- Too easy
- Open world is wasted
- No replayability
8 out of 10
Even with it’s faults, it’s a must play game.