L.A. Noire
Developer: Rockstar Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One, Rockstar Social Club case tracking, DLC
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Set in Los Angeles in 1947 Team Bondi’s noire cop adventure has been avidly awaited at Gamecell ever since we were first shown examples of how amazing the facial animation and lip sync were going to be. A long five years in development, L.A. Noire plays like a kind of cross between GTA and a traditional point & click mystery adventure, blending two hugely popular and disparate genres... but has it worked?

For the greater part of LA Noire you play as Cole Phelps, a rookie patrol cop just back from the war with a hero’s reputation and truckloads of desire and ambition to get on the fast track to promotion through the Police ranks. Wartime flashbacks fill in the backstory and explain a lot about Cole’s character and psyche; he’s definitely more ‘boy scout antihero’ than out-and-out hero, and these sepia flashbacks go some way to explaining why. Starting out as a uniform patrol cop you learn how to look for clues, use your notebook and question suspects and witnesses. Pressing ‘select’ opens Cole’s notebook which contains detailed notes on People, Clues and Locations related to the current case. The first 4 cases act as a tutorial and see Cole promoted and awarded his detective’s badge.

When interrogating a suspect you have three options when responding to their answer in the form of a choice of ‘Truth’, ‘Doubt’ or ‘Lie’. If a suspect or witness looks shifty and can’t hold your gaze, then you should pick ‘Truth’ or ‘Doubt’ for their statement and if this is correct they’ll usually proffer a little more information. The entire cast’s animation and facial expressions are quite simply like nothing you’ve seen before, and with experience you’ll be able to read when someone is telling it straight, or telling you “porkies.” If you choose “Lie” to accuse someone of being dishonest or evasive you better have the evidence to back it up, as an unproven allegation will alienate a witness or a suspect so they clam up entirely. You can even “fail” a case if you miss all the clues, just by getting too many responses wrong and thus failing to get either cast iron proof or a confession.

The whole questioning/interrogation thing is great fun and fascinating to play as it’s so different from anything else on the 360 at the moment. But witnesses can be a little misleading at times, some statements and reasoning seem rather illogical and also some suspects and witnesses appear to be better liars than others. You’ll also sometimes be frustrated by not having the option to ask the questions you really want to, but then, some criminals are very good liars, and I don't suppose that it would ever be possible to cater for every avenue of questioning without keyboard text entry or reams and reams of possible questions. Thankfully that's a thing that’s never likely to appear in a Rockstar game, so the questioning sessions never bog the pace of the game down too much. There’s an extraordinary amount of dialogue and listening required to be an effective detective in LA Noire, but if you do miss some speech there’s a handy text log of all the conversations-very handy when playing the game with an audience, and rather like Sony’s Uncharted 2, L.A. Noire does tend to attract one as it’s so cinematic.

Fortunately if you’re a bit ‘clueless’ you can get a little help during an investigation from Cole’s “intuition.” Intuition points are awarded every time you rank up (ranking XP is earned by completing cases, acing interrogations or finding landmarks and other collectibles), and can be used in one of three ways; ‘Remove An Answer’ (lessens your chances of getting it wrong by 33%), ‘Show All Clues’ (reveal the position of all the clues in a location) and ‘Ask The Community’ (this shows a percentage of which response other players logged into the Rockstar social club picked). These can obviously help greatly (although the “Ask The Community” ones are sometimes wrong, which is another indicator as to how misleading some suspects and witnesses can be) but you can only carry 5 Intuition Points per case so you can’t use them for every question and “cheat” your way through the game. At the end of the case you’ll be rated from one to five stars based on correct questioning, clues found etc.

On the whole I found the investigation side of L.A. Noire’s gameplay enjoyable and addictive, but I frequently got awarded a one star right after a four-star performance and don't really see what I did wrong or hugely differently. I realise it's all down to just asking the right questions and calling them a liar at the right time, but I think I must be too trusting. One thing’s for sure, there aren’t many gamers who won’t want to play the game through again to try and improve their star ratings on each case, and it was a smart move by Team Bondi to allow you to replay individual cases out of plot order at any time.

When investigating a crime scene or related location whenever Cole is near an active object there’s a two-tone “ting-ting” sound and a vibration of the joypad at which point you can press ‘A’ and manipulate evidential items by pressing ‘A’ to pick them up, then by carefully moving the left stick you can rotate them. Doing this may reveal an important detail (this causes the joypad to vibrate), at which point the camera will zoom in for a closer inspection. Other clues may be unearthed by searching a crime scenes or the residence of a suspect, and some objects (like bags, boxes, envelopes and purses) can be opened to reveal their contents. When you’ve uncovered all the relevant clues at a location you’ll hear a muted fanfare (this will become a very gladdening sound to hear).

L.A. Noire’s version of Los Angeles stretches from Hollywood in the West to Olympic Boulevard and the L.A. River in the East with dozens of real landmarks to find in the 8 square miles. The scenery changes noticeably from one district to another and it’s such a vast, believable, traffic-laden sprawl that it took me about 14 minutes to drive from one side of the city to the other! Exploring, I soon found that every shop window is properly modelled and has its wares on sale, the sidewalks are well populated with pedestrians and streetcars spark and grind as they clatter along. The detail lavished on clothes, fabric design, artwork, posters, adverts, architecture, scenery (plants and shrubs even move as you brush by them)-even things like worn grass and flaking paint in run down areas and the contrast to swanky houses in Hollywood and elegant municipal buildings with artworks and polished marble floors, gives the city real atmosphere.

L.A. Noire encourages exploration both by car and on foot and when moving around you find there’s no ‘Jump’ button, so Cole vaults onto or over a lot of obstacles automatically just by running at them. You hold the ‘R’ trigger to run, and Cole will perform some extremely complicated manoeuvres like running up or down a fire escape just by holding the direction stick up or down (and you probably know how fiddly this sort of movement has been in some games in the past.) Even doing something like clambering up a ladder (Cole also scampers up drainpipes almost as well as The Prince Of Persia or Altair and Ezio from Assassin’s Creed would) during a foot chase (and there are several of these) has been given some thought; climb a ladder or drainpipe too closely after a suspect and they’ll kick you in the chops and even knock you off if you aren’t careful!

The lack of a jump button works fine for the most apart but did result in a few problems including some obstacles that are inexplicably impassable, which was frustrating during some foot chases when I tried to get “creative” and take a shortcut to head a suspect off. I also managed to get Cole completely stuck on a couple of occasions which meant quitting and reloading the last checkpoint. Occasionally your omnipresent partner will follow you into a narrow passageway and make it difficult for you to leave, which is annoying, and their pathfinding capabilities also seem to be a bit lacking sometimes as they’ll occasionally get lost. If your partner he gets stuck or you leave him he’ll usually catch you up at some point with a caustic “ok wiseguy, what’s with the driving off and leaving me?”, or by simply reappearing at the next cut scene. You probably want your partner at some point though because if you’re stuck on a case you can press ‘X’ for a tip in the right direction (some partners are more helpful than others), and he will also drive the car for you, usually skipping straight to the destination, which speeds up those cross-city journeys.

Aside from the main cases the game also has 40 “Street Crimes” that may pop up at any time on the car’s police radio. These are usually short chases or exciting shootouts and break up the action nicely. They can be done at almost any time during a case, or be done when you’ve completed an assigned desk (Traffic, Homicide, Vice or Arson cases) and can break away from the story and enter free roam mode.

The game has plenty of shootouts and, dramatic they are with plenty of exploding objects and destructible scenery. A cover mode was vital (press ‘RB’ to stick to a wall.) and it probably works a bit better than GTA IV’s, but in a similar way to Red Dead Redemption or Mafia 2’s you’ll still find Cole unable to cover and aim in some places you want, but games with scenery this complicated will always throw up issues like this I guess.

From time to time you will have to fist fight with a suspect to subdue him and you enter the brawl mode by holding the ‘L’ Trigger, then use ‘X’ to block, ‘A’ to punch and ‘Y’ to grapple’. Sometimes a finishing punch prompt for a press of ‘B’ will appear too. Cole can get his hat knocked off during fights, but if you walk over to it he’ll replace it-another little touch in a game rich with them.

While radio hasn’t been given the same insane level of attention as the GTA games, in cars and on radios in various houses and shops you visit you’ll be able to hear the radio playing a constant stream of music and news of the time, and you need to listen out for an amusing comedy sketch show called “The Bickersons”, a real show from the ’40s and ’50s.

The cars, most of which carry real manufacturer’s names like Studebaker, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Cadillac, Plymouth, Desoto, Hudson, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Packard, Pontiac, Mercury, Nash, Ford, Duesenberg etc., (and many of which are based on real models) all look amazing, with shiny paint, realistic reflections, dirt and crash damage. There are also “Hidden” cars to find, the locations of which are surprisingly revealed with a question mark on the map every 5 levels you get promoted. The cars handle in a varied and predictable way, except when your partner’s driving, when it can get a bit jerky and unrealistic. The story involves just as many car chases as foot pursuits to test your driving ability, and the way these are realised makes them quite exciting, even though certain events and conclusions seem rather scripted.

In all there are 95 beautifully modelled, authentic looking period automobiles (sedans, vans and trucks) but because the game doesn’t have any facility to store them at Cole’s home GTA or Mafia 2–style (he doesn’t seem to have one) all but about 92 of them are kind of redundant, and actually no more than moving scenery that you’ll probably jump into if for nothing else just to see if you can drive them all and unlock the achievement. It’s unsurprising that there are no boats or flying involved in the game (although there are a couple of aeroplanes parked at the airport) but this reliance on automobiles for transport means the game lacks the variety and huge possibilities for exploration and adventure of GTA IV, but L.A. Noire is a substantially different type of game.

L.A. Noire also has the seemingly perennial city-based/open world game problem of disappearing cars. The city has a constant, heavy traffic flow that makes it feel alive, but the number of times I had vehicles disappear the moment my back was turned was just plain annoying, making you wonder why they included so many different ones in the game. This is particularly annoying when you’ve found one of the “hidden” vehicles, used it for one trip and then get dumped back in your boring old Cop car.

Apart from the vehicles there are 50 Gold Movie Reels dotted around to find, 30 landmarks, 13 Newspapers (that fire up a subplot told in cut-scenes) and an additional hunt for 30 Police Badges if you bought the game from a certain retailer (or buy it as add-on DLC.)

If you’ve watched any TV or movies over the last few years you’ll keep seeing familiar faces, as there are lots of real actors in the game, a lot more than I realised, and every other face you’ll see will look familiar, a thing that gives the game a real quality feel. Like stablemate Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire really does capture the period so darned well both in terms of the sights, sounds, phraseology and attitudes of the era, and top quality actors help in this immeasurably, as does a high quality incidental and dramatic score that could be straight out of the movies.

L. A. Noire is an unmissable gaming experience, but has a few problems other than the aforementioned Cole getting stuck in certain places and vanishing cars. Texture pop (the detail level of objects glitching in or out) is apparent, even in cut scenes, which is a thing that always amazes me. When driving, the game has a ‘steppy’ frame rate which seems more related to the other traffic than your vehicle. There are more than a few daft moments that suck credibility from the proceedings like when you respond to a radio call reporting a street crime and pass 10 other cop cars just cruising gently along in the other direction, or the way Cole and his partner sometimes leave dead bodies lying around unattended, or perhaps worst of all, at one point ineptly inform a child that her Mom’s dead and then ask her pointed questions! Although we didn’t experience it once ourselves on two playthroughs there are also widespread report of the game freezing, although this seems to be effecting the PS3 more than the 360... And finally on the gripes front, when the entire 20Gb game is installed to the HDD, should it really be necessary to swap discs? Surely it could get by just checking one? Isn’t this copy protection gone mad?

Coming from Rockstar you might be expecting an entirely different type of game; in GTA and Red Dead Redemption the cut scenes break up tons of shooting and driving/riding action, in this a bit of driving and shooting breaks up the lengthy cut scenes, evidence hunts and questioning sessions, so if you're after 'GTA LA 1946' then leave it well alone. It’s a massive adventure with plenty of replay value, and the period setting and core gameplay makes it a lot more like Mafia II from the Cop's end (but the city and the quality of the animation are much bigger and better.) The graphic depictions of violently murdered and sexually assaulted females (including the examination of dead, naked bodies) make this a definite 18 certificate. I think it'll be right up your alley if you're “noire” fan (Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, or even just liked LA Confidential a lot), and the way the writers interweave the story with the real-life “Black Dahlia” murder of Elizabeth Short, and include more plot twists than a Hitchcock movie it’s obvious that Team Bondi are fans of all the aforementioned. The way Cole acts sometimes also made me think that maybe Team Bondi were fans of the Police Squad TV series too, because Cole definitely has a hint of the insensitive, bumbling Frank Drebin (played by the late, great Leslie Nielsen) in him-or maybe that’s just the way I played the game?

Best Bits

- Benchmark facial animation and character models.
- Great cast, acting and dialogue.
- Sound and music are of the usual Rockstar standard.
- Engrossing story.
- 25-30 hours of gameplay, and DLC to come.
Worst Bits

- Texture pop and dodgy traffic frame rate.
- Some impassable obstacles that shouldn’t be.
- Disappearing cars.
- Hours of dialogue and having to pay attention won’t be to everyone’s taste.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2011