L.A. Noire - PS3 Review
So here it is, 2011, three years after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and despite rumours we still haven't seen a squeak from GTAV (that may change at E3 in a few days mind you). But at the moment Rockstar, and developer Team Bondi, are putting a lot of their efforts behind L.A. Noire a game set in the 1940's and inspired by film noir. Set up by Brendan McNamara, the former Director of Development for SCEE’s Team Soho Studio, and the writer and director of The Getaway this is Team Bondi's first title, but under the guidance of Rockstar was there really ever any doubt of a misfire?
|Discussing the crime at the station.|
Amid the post-war boom of Hollywood's Golden Age, Los Angeles in 1947 to be precise, Cole Phelps is an LAPD detective thrown headfirst into a city drowning in its own success. Corruption is rampant, the drug trade is exploding, and murder rates are at an all-time high. In his fight to climb the ranks and do what’s right, Phelps must unravel the truth behind a string of arson attacks, racketeering conspiracies and brutal murders, battling the L.A. underworld and even members of his own department to uncover a secret that could shake the city to its rotten core.
In a move quite the opposite of many other Rockstar titles, L.A. Noire sees you playing a good guy, a cop, but that's not dull and boring as there's still plenty of violence, plenty of car chases, gunfire and chasing people down. Indeed during the main game as Cole Phelps you'll move from a lowly traffic cop you'll soon move up the ranks in the police force. With that in mind, while this is a free roaming game in parts, you certainly can't cause all manner of mayhem so you'll need a bit of a mindset shift from the norm to play this game. It's fair to say too that this game isn't one for kids with adult themes, visible gore, swearing and sexual references so bear that in mind, but for me, that made this game all the more realistic and gritty.
|Interrogation sequences are superb.|
While L.A. Noire is an open world game in that you can travel around anywhere, and do plenty of things - but disappointingly you can't jump into a plane at the airport and fly around - the storyline is very linear. The game contains 21 main cases to solve which while starting out as fairly easy, one or two people and locations soon become much more complex with many people to interview, multiple locations and evidence to be collected across the city as well.
Fortunately during this process you also have access to your case book which stores details about the POI's (Person's of Interest), Locations relevant to the case and most importantly any clues which you have discovered during the investigations. During the interrogation sequences, which makes this game so unique, you will need to watch the faces of the characters extremely closely as they will give visual clues as to the character telling the Truth, if you have some Doubt, or if they are telling a Lie. If the latter then you will need to back up your accusation with evidence collected during crime scene investigations.
|L.A. Noire can be quite brutal in places.|
While questioning suspects you can use an Intuition point to scrub out an incorrect answer from your choices be it Truth, Lie or Doubt. This can certainly assist in solving a tough case when you have two strong suspects. Without a doubt the interrogation sections of the game, and there are plenty of them, are the highlight and Team Bondi have set new benchmarks for games requiring extensive dialogue. Besides the interrogations you'll also enter on-foot chases (when suspects try to leg it), car chases (again, with suspects trying to get away), gunfights (when suspects decide to go crazy) and plenty more.
Beside the main storyline L.A. Noire also includes 40 street crimes which occur randomly in the city. As you're driving around you may hear a call over the police radio (assuming you're driving a police car of some kind) for a bank robbery, a shot cop, a pervert creating a public nuisance or any number of similar events. You can respond to these, or ignore them totally, however by responding and successfully completing the short side mission you’ll gain further experience points which then go towards your intuition points for the main interrogations.
|Hand-to-hand combat is also impressive.|
As with other Rockstar titles there is plenty more to discover including 30 famous Los Angeles landmarks (many of which become locations for various cases), 50 film reels, 95 different vehicles (from sports cars to fuel tankers) to find and drive around in, several of which are hidden around the city, and 13 newspaper articles which, when found, play back video sequences of major news events of the time.
Typical for a Rockstar title this game keeps track of all manner of stats including things such as the total number of kills, kills with headshots, shots hit, shots missed, hand-to-hand fighting stats, distances travelled on foot and in vehicles, vehicles destroyed and rolled, your number of deaths, total game time (which for the main storyline will run up over 20 hours) and the number of hints from your partner during the cases. It's comprehensive, and quite interesting indeed.
Sadly, despite the fact you play this entire game with an AI partner when searching for clues, or travelling around the city this is still very much a single player title. Not only is there no co-op offline mode but there is no online co-op either. It really seems like the biggest missed opportunity for the L.A. Noire developers at Team Bondi.
|Graphically L.A. Noire looks impressive.|
While an extremely impressive game overall we do have some more niggles that hold it back a little. First of all the facial animation system, while the best on the market by leaps and bounds, can be too easy to read when a character is being shifty. It's then up to you if you only have a Doubt or if you can catch them in a Lie with evidence. Another issue I have relates to the actual game itself. It's near impossible to not have a case solved. Even if you get almost every aspect of a questioning line wrong things still progress and while your case rating may not be a strong as hoped. Fortunately you can go back to replay cases at any point in time, but it does make the main game a little "pedestrian" at times.
Some of the clues are also a bit of an annoyance. One case in particular - and we'll keep the details light to reduce spoilers - sees a murderer leaving clues for you to follow. It takes you from one location to the next around Los Angeles however the clues are so cryptic that most of the time I just gave up before waiting for my partner to offer some advice for the next location. It would probably help if you were familiar with Los Angeles and the landmarks around the city. Another minor aspect is that if using the old SixAxis controller it's harder to pick up clues as the controller doesn't vibrate and the audio cues are very muted. It's minor but if you have both controllers at home certainly use the Dual Shock 3 to play this game.
One thing that truly surprised me were the visuals in the game. Now I'm not knocking the Australian games industry but we're not generally known for technically polished titles here in Australia. Team Bondi, based in Sydney, and with the help of Rockstar's technology developed for games like Grand Theft Auto have not only created a technically accomplished title, but more importantly have captured 1940's Los Angeles perfectly. Nothing looks out of place, and the attention to detail extends from the buildings, to the cars, to the clothing and, more importantly, the mannerisms of the characters.
|Another suspect in the interrogation room.|
Much has been made of the motion capture system, dubbed MotionScan, used to film the actors in this game, and indeed, these are probably as realistic as I've ever seen in a video game. Perhaps not in terms of modeling, I've seen better pre-rendered CG visuals of course, but in-game these characters come alive. It's not just the large movements, or camera placement either, but the smaller nuances which allow you to pick who is telling the truth, or a fib. A simple glance away, or small movement of the mouth can give someone away. It's this level of detail which makes this game so unique and besides a few frame rate hiccups - and we believe the PS3 has the edge over the XBox 360 in this area - this game is every bit what we expect from this generation.
Audio too is a highlight of this game. We simply cannot go past the voice acting which is nigh on perfect from start to finish. With thousands of lines of dialogue there isn't much repetition here, and only occasionally does the tone of an actor’s voice not quite seem in sync with the scene. Effects in the game including street sounds, car engines, tyres squealing, gunshots, pedestrians talking and, well, anything else you expect from a city are superb while the music dials in and out perfectly with the action in the game. When investigating a crime scene the music lingers until you have found all the clues - of course you can leave without finding every bit of evidence.
|L.A. Noire's developers at Team Bondi haven't held back on the blood and gore.|
L.A. Noire won't be for everyone, it often plays more like an interactive story then a game, but it really is second to none in the genre. Well, OK, Heavy Rain is also quite superb too. As a crime nut/fan this game really had me hooked from start to finish and while there are a couple of very minor issues Rockstar have another surefire hit with L.A. Noire which is sure to please gamers. We can certainly see this turning into another long-running franchise and hope a sequel comes out sooner rather than later (although keep in mind Downloadable content has already been announced). Superb.
Review By: Dave Warner
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|GRAPHICS||Brilliant visuals with realistic 1940's Los Angeles. The highlight is the stunning character animation.||90%|
|SOUND||Voice acting is superb, jazz music suits perfectly, and the effects are great.||94%|
|GAMEPLAY||It becomes a little repetitive but there are no other games like it. Still it may be a bit slow for some gamers.||86%|
|VALUE||The main game lasts for about 20 hours which is a little light for Rockstar, but it's worth a couple of playthroughs.||87%|
|OVERALL||L.A. Noire is everything we hoped, and then some. If you like crime thrillers with a great storyline this is well worth checking out.||88%|