L.A. Noire is a Grade A Game
I’ll change up my scheme for reviews for L.A. Noire and tell you to play this game. L.A. Noire is decisively and thoroughly one of the best games I have ever played. This game gets 5 out of 5 and I’ll tell you why. This crime drama of a masterpiece molds gritty violent crimes of passion and mischief with the satisfaction of solving a complex puzzle that is a detective’s career. Rockstar Games remains one of the most diverse companies as far as franchises go and L.A. Noire stands out from the crowd with ease.

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You play as Cole Phelps, a Vietnam Veteran turned police officer, and your goal is to rise the ranks of law enforcement and stop crime in the late 1940’s of Los Angeles, California. You begin your career as a traffic beat cop rummaging through petty misdemeanors until murder strikes. Next you’re promoted to Homocide where you track the Black Dahlia Killer (Rockstar’s take on the Real life Black Dahlia murder.) After a long list of murders you are promoted to Vice to take down a wide stream of military-grade morphine dealers and finally you rank to Arson.

Cole Phelps’ background story is told from flashbacks in between cases and load screens of his time in the war and the effects of his tour. As you progress through the ranks you are placed alongside different partners, all of which have different personalities, motives, agendas, and standards. Conversations can bring up hidden memories of the War for Cole or let you into the psyche of your partner. All in all the story is the most important part about this game. State-of-the-art facial graphics are phenomenal, but the story; the grime of violent actions of guilty people create such an emotion and a need for justice that it is almost impossible to forget the crimes and put down the controller.

“Facial Mapping.” This is the technology that Rockstar Games and Team Bondi have created for the advanced gameplay of L.A. Noire. The term refers to the technique of Motion-Capture that can follow an actors facial movements to such a degree that telling the difference between a lie and the truth is one of the most attention-grabbing gameplay moments of all-time. The character acting and facial mapping definitely allow the player to feel closer to the story and apart of the tale. Plus, voice-acting is spot on and some of the best ever captured for a video game.

As in any game there are glitches. I have found two from personal gameplay. In certain instances running up a stoop to an inaccessible door can lead to Cole running up the walls and into the air, then slowing hovering down to the ground. This is more of a quirk than a glitch. The other was when I entered into a shootout in a small warehouse; I ran passed all of the bad guys to get the leader and the game lagged very badly. I assume bypassing the combat mechanic confused the AI which led to a slow output.

Vehicles of the 1940’s were heavy, cumbersome, and expensive. L.A. Noire proves that Rockstar still knows how to execute a well driving game. Although driving can be boring, tedious, and the maneuverability seems a little loose the gameplay is never unbalanced. Opting for your partner to drive is a lot safer (causing city damage, civilian vehicle damage, and civilian injuries lower your overall case ratings) and serves as a “fast-travel” option.

Los Angles is a great setting; full of life, lights, and hope. Hollywood is a major base of cases ranging from a murdered starlet to a drug ring hidden in a group of producers. The suburbs are filled with infidelity and lies. And the grid work of city streets make driving easy and fun while traversing the 8 square mile map.

If you’re feeling nostalgic there is a setting for Black & White mode. This feature is unique if you’re looking for a real “noire” atmosphere but you may miss out on the wide variety of colors at crime scenes, victim’s apartments, and suspects houses.

Gameplay is a very complicated subject when it comes to L.A. Noire so I’m breaking up each piece for easy reading.

Your heads-up-display is the bare minimum. The only thing you have onscreen in your compass. Your compass gives you traffic directions, shows the location of your primary vehicle and partner, and shows the destination you have chosen. Ammunition will never decrease so a weapon marker and bullet counter are non-existent. 

Your notebook is your “inventory.” This precious piece of information hold everything you need as an officer. People of Interest (POIs), Clues, Locations, Logs, Intuition details, and many other things. This notebook is used to question suspects, choose destinations for travel, review collected clues, and use Intuition. When all else fails; read your notebook.

This feature is awarded to you each time your rank increases. Intuition is used in a few key ways; removing an answer to an interrogation (think “50/50” in Who Wants to be a Millionaire),  or polling the Online Community for a “Most Selected” answer. Intuition is a great tool in the many times you’ll be stumped in an interrogation. 

Collecting Evidence:
Crime scenes are uncomfortably comfortable. Homes feel lived in with pictures of family on the walls, closets of clothes and dishes in the sinks. L.A. Noire pulls you into to each and every case by allowing you to be romantically close with the victims when you search the crime scenes. Vibrations through the controller and an audible chime in the games background hint to where notable evidence is. Simply pressing A(360) or X(PS3) will allow you to inspect the object. Turning the object with the analog can show the most detailed clues like blood stains, serial numbers, and other important nuances. Inspecting bodies is very similar; turning the arms and hands could show missing rings, track marks, wounds, and other key factors in an investigation. When all the evidence has been collected a cut scene will open or a closing crescendo of music plays. (There is an option to turn off music cues to make the gameplay more difficult.) 

Questioning suspects if a major part of L.A. Noire. Getting answers for unsolved questions left at a crime scene could make or break your case. Using what you have collected from the victim’s body, home, work, etc could answer all your questions or pose new ones. Interrogations are based on Truth, Doubt, and Lie. After asking specific questions to a suspect you have to decipher from their eye moments, body language, tone of voice, and the knowledge you have collected to know if they are telling the truth or lying. Doubt is used as a medium between minimal truth and lying (someone trying to hide all of the information.) Only with secure evidence will you ever be successful in calling out a suspects lies. Getting wrong answers, charging false claims, and misleading the suspects can hinder your investigation; sometimes even making you restart the case. 

Finishing the Case:
Most all cases end with either a gun battle, a fist fight scene, or a simple arrest. But the time, energy, and complete attention to detail you have to exhibit makes this game surrealistically satisfying. Charging someone with murder with clean clear-cut evidence, catching all their lies, and showing off your detective skills keep the player coming back for more and enjoying every minute.

Blood, Gore, and Nudity:
L.A. Noire has all three of these and more. The difference from other games and film (L.A. Noire won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival) is that L.A. Noire uses it to an advantage. Blood and gore show off the weapon type, the anger of the strikes, the ways in which the killer acted. Nudity is used in the Black Dahlia cases as a sign of sacrifice, torment, and an homage to Jack the Ripper. Most of the violence you see showcases the realism that is the crime world. The atmosphere of the crime scenes and coroner’s reports involve you and surround you with actual knowledge and intrigue. CSI, NCIS, etc fans will definitely like this game.

In summary L.A. Noire is a clear candidate for Game of the Year. Remarkable facial graphics allow a level of realism and gameplay never experienced before. Addicting gameplay that involves evidence searching, intense interrogation, dodge-and-cover gunplay that is fast and swift, engrossing storylines that weave a clever and exciting journey, and spot-on voice acting.

+ Fascinating Facial Mapping Technology
+ Perfect Voice-Acting
+ Addicting Detective work (Crime Scene, Clues, Interrogation, Conviction)
+ Intuitive Gameplay Mechanic (Moving up and over fences/ledges, scaling ladders/poles, cutting corners)
+ Great Story Presentation
- Driving is boring and traveling around an 8 square mile map seems too much
- No Multiplayer Modes

L.A. Noire receives a 5 out of 5.

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