LA Noire

LA Noire review: Approach this game as an interactive movie, not as an open world

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Rockstar Games LA Noire
  • Rockstar Games LA Noire
  • Rockstar Games LA Noire

Pros

  • Facial expressions on characters are extremely convincing
  • Excellent storyline and script
  • Cutscenes leave you wanting more

Cons

  • Lack of freedom
  • Evidence gathering and action sequences can sometimes be a bit bland

Bottom Line

LA Noire is a groundbreaking game with a gripping story and beautiful presentation that should be appreciated more as an interactive movie than an open world game.

Would you buy this?

When I began this review, I was ready to let it rip and rant on about how disappointed I was with LA Noire. It had not met my lofty expectations for a detective game despite using new gaming technology in a groundbreaking way.

I was hungry for a game where I would spend hours roaming the city, sniffing out clues and somewhat obsessed with the idea that LA Noire did not provide enough of the “open world” fun I was yearning for.

But a comment from a friend made me approach the game in a whole new light.

“I think you’ve missed the point,” my friend said. “LA Noire isn’t about being an open world game. It’s first and foremost an interactive movie.”

Having been a fan of the GTA series, it was hard to imagine Rockstar producing anything but open world games with ample amounts of freedom. But my friend’s words struck a chord. Because I did think LA Noire was a fantastic interactive movie.

Not only does it feature some of the best graphics technology to make it into a game, it also features better acting — yes, not just voice acting — than most movies, let alone games.

The facial expressions and natural body movements of characters in LA Noire — which have been heavily marketed — are truly captivating. Often I would find myself going “Wow” while watching a character’s face muscles twitch while trying to remind myself this is just a game. I was utterly sucked in by how convincing it was and found myself longing to watch the next cutscene.

With that in mind, I decided to embark on a second attempt at reviewing LA Noire.

LA Noire is set after World War II, in 1947. You control Cole Phelps, a decorated war veteran with a strong sense of justice who has returned home and joined the LAPD. Starting off as a patrolman, you quickly ascend the ranks, eventually working in the Homicide department in pursuit of a serial killer dubbed “The Black Dahlia”.

Phelps is determined to wage a war on crime in LA. But soon realises that some wars just can't be won.

Team Bondi and Rockstar have done a great job with creating 1947 Los Angeles. The environment feels visceral and it was as though I had stepped back in time. The often misogynistic and racist lines uttered by some characters also help with that.

I would expect nothing less from Rockstar. Red Dead Redemption has certainly upped the ante when it comes to immersive worlds.

In terms of graphics, it is hard to fault LA Noire. It doesn’t shy away from the gory details, especially in the homicide missions where Phelps is confronted by stark naked female bodies with blood on their faces. In a lot of ways, LA Noire is reminiscent of Heavy Rain; both games are very much about hunting down clues and chasing down leads to solve a mystery (well in LA Noire's case, mysteries) punctuated with some action sequences. In fact, there was even bit in LA Noire featuring paper cranes which instantly made me think of Heavy Rain's Origami Killer.

A case in LA Noire usually follows the same pattern: A crime is committed. Phelps investigates the scene to collect evidence by interacting with objects pertinent to the case. You can’t miss them since the controller will vibrate when Phelps is close to the limited number of objects he can pick up and inspect. Important points are recorded in a notebook that players can access at any time.

This will then lead to finding people of interest to interview. Players have to determine whether an interviewee is lying by reading his or her facial expressions or through presenting irrefutable evidence. The three selectable options are Truth, Doubt and Lie. Picking the right option will determine whether an interviewee will give you more information that can help with a case.

Intuition points earned through solving cases and can be used when you need some help with interrogating witnesses that are hard to read or if you have hit a wall while hunting for clues.

Team Bondi has done an excellent job replicating the human face and its nuances through MotionScan technology. It seems every muscle on the face have been carefully programmed to mirror a real human countenance.

In other words: Holy crap, it looks like a real human face! You might see some recognisable faces as well, such as John Noble, Erika Heynatz and Brian Krause — Phelps himself is based on the face of Mad Men actor Aaron Staton.

Being able to observe the nuances of people’s faces is the highlight of the crime solving aspect of LA Noire. The rest of the gameplay is fairly straightforward and not too challenging.

Take evidence gathering for example. Sure you can inspect a corpse, but you are restricted to looking at three to four points on the body. Objects Phelps can interact with are limited to the ones he’s allowed to pick up.

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