|Developer: Rockstar Team Bondi
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One, Rockstar Social Club case tracking, DLC
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.