Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L.A. Noire

L.A. NoireL.A. Noire is Rockstar's next leap in the realm of open world gaming with help from Team Bondi. Rockstar is known in the gaming world for primarily one thing, incredible open world story-telling. The company's last two projects, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, were massive breakthroughs in the genre that brought immense, open world environments together with gripping storylines and truly engaging and wonderful characters. However, despite all the similarities to these two games, L.A. Noire takes a slightly different approach. No longer are you a vigilante who is free to do pretty much whatever he wants. No, this time you are an L.A. police officer, hell bent on making the streets of the city safe.

L.A. Noire places you in the shoes of Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran and Rookie beat cop for the LAPD. The story takes place, if you didn't gather it from the title and everything said up until this point, in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Your job as Phelps is to investigate crimes and work your way from lowly beat cop to top notch detective. In order to do that, however, you will need to have all of your wits about you as you investigate crime scenes, look for clues, follow leads, interrogate suspects and ultimately make an arrest, you had just better hope that it's the right one.

The style of this game is unlike anything I have ever played before and that is all thanks to a little piece of technology called MotionScan. Every actor in the game was recorded using 32 surrounding cameras in order to capture every single facial expression from every angle. This is where L.A. Noire really shines. These are seriously the most realistic faces seen in a video game to date, but they are more than just something pretty to look at, they are also crucial to you in solving cases.

Cases in L.A. Noire are multi-level, in a manner of speaking. You start off by investigating the crime scene and looking for clues. Then you follow up on any leads you may have, look for more clues, interrogate suspects and ultimately make your decision of "Who dunnit?". These core gameplay mechanics are very smooth and intuitive and are also very easy to pick up.

L.A. Noire screenshot

Music, reminiscent of those old 40s and 50s beat street crime dramas, plays in the background when you enter the crime scene. You are then notified when you are near a clue in two ways: an audible chime happens in the game and the controller vibrates slightly. You pick up the interesting object and inspect it by rotating the left stick all around. If you find something interesting, then you can hit A to examine the object further. Use the left stick to move your hand from object to object and press A to pick it up and examine it. After you are done, anything of note is automatically updated to your notebook.

Your notebook has everything you need to make your way in L.A. Noire. It gives you all the clues you have found, all the people and places of interest, and all the questions you should ask each person. It is also a vital tool in interrogations as well. You select questions to ask suspects or witnesses from your notebook and then make an assumption based on the character's response. You can choose to believe what the character says, doubt it, or flat out call the person a liar, though you better have some hard evidence for the latter.

To determine which response to pick, you have to pay attention to inflections in the character's voice and changes in facial expressions. The changes are made extremely noticeable thanks to the MotionScan technology.

L.A. Noire screenshot

Each successful interrogation and closed case grants you experience. Experience allows you to unlock things like new suits and intuition points. Intuition points are like little "Help Me" tokens. You can use one to do a plethora of things to help you during a case. Having trouble finding all the clues? Just use an intuition point and all the clues will be highlighted on your radar. Can't determine if a suspect is lying or not? Use an intuition point to either remove an accusation (i.e. Truth, Doubt, Lie) or to poll the community on which answer they think is best. Think of it as a lifeline from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Removing an accusation is like using the 50-50 and Asking the Community is like Asking the Audience.

What would a cop drama be without combat? Nothing, I say! But, thankfully, L.A. Noire has that too. Combat in L.A. Noire is very satisfying. You will engage in everything from high speed pursuits on foot or in a car, dramatic shootouts with criminals and gangsters and hand-to-hand brawls with feisty suspects. Shooting is made easy thanks to an auto-lock feature and you don't have to stand there and get shot. Quickly duck into cover by running up to it and hitting LB. You can then move from cover to cover or pop up to take down the bad guys.

On foot pursuits are heart pounding and extremely satisfying. The music and quips from your character, mixed with the realistic interactions from the environment and your foe make for some truly pulse-pounding chases. The same goes for high speed pursuits. Take the wheel and try to tail-whip the criminal or get close enough for your partner to shoot out the tires. The one gripe I have about the combat is that the cover system can be a bit difficult at times, especially when your suspect takes off. Hopping in and out of cover could be smoother but it is an extremely minor flaw.

Graphically this game is stunning. The open world 1940s Los Angeles is a truly breathtaking environment and one heck of a game location. Lighting is very well done and the physics engine gives the game a very real feel. Rockstar isn't known for having the best graphics around so expect some pixelation here and there but nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.

L.A. Noire screenshot

What I like most is the presentation. When you transition from case to case, you are greeted with a cut scene that plays off of the old 40s and 50s cop drama, gum shoe films which gives L.A. Noire a very cinematic feel. Couple that with the incredible soundtrack, stellar voice acting and disturbingly realistic character models and you ave a recipe for awesome.

If you are not a patient person, then L.A. Noire probably isn't for you. However, if you love open world games, gripping storylines, intense characters and an all around incredible gaming experience, then this is one game you will not want to miss. L.A. Noire brings so many new things to the table that they will undoubtedly affect gaming in the future. L.A. Noire is definitely kicking off the summer gaming season with one helluva bang.

L.A. Noire is out now for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

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