L.A. Noire PS3 Review

Publisher – Rockstar – Developer – Team Bondi – Genre – Adventure/Action – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – Xbox 360

Maturity and innovation are two things that should be definitely encouraged in games. Most mentally mature adults probably grow tired of the amount of faux mature games that seem to be pandering towards a teenage audience as opposed to the truly grown up gamer. Innovative games are also a good thing to see, as playing something different is definitely regularly welcomed by those not particularly used to it.

Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire is both mature and innovative, which is a fairly rare concoction. The story picks up towards the end of the 1940’s – the war is finished and Cole Phelps is branded a hero. At the beginning of the game, Phelps is a uniform police officer looking to become something more, eventually rising from lowly patrolman to Traffic and Homicide, before ending up in Vice and Arson. But don’t get too attached to any of your colourful partners, as you’ll receive a new companion with each promotion.

The story is definitely a point worth spanning out in this review. Phelps is the typically flawed noir protagonist, although the game doesn’t really get personal enough to the character to fully reveal some of the reasons for his actions. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a likeable enough creation and flashbacks do help flesh him out, but the game doesn’t delve deep enough into his family life and things like that. Phelps has a wife and kids, but, as the game gives them such little attention, their presence feels close to pointless, and, because of this, one of the later events lacks any true weight.

Even on static screens, the faces look amazing. Add in some facial movement, and the characters suddenly become a lot more realistic.

Team Bondi’s 40’s Los Angeles is full of interesting personalities, some of which are righteous in their actions, while others are unsavoury types that shouldn’t see daylight for the rest of their lives. The writing and performances are excellent, and the story feels dramatic and grown up. Team Bondi managed to fill a Blu-ray disc with this PS3 version, such is the reams of dialogue in the game.

Numerous actors were drafted in, not only performing the tremendous voice work but also having their faces captured at the same time, and the results are really quite eerie. True, these aren’t the best character models seen in a game in terms of polygons, but they truly come alive when their faces become animated with various emotions – laughter, smiling, crying, questioning looks, guilt and anger, it’s all here and is definitely on another level to anything else in a game thus far. You’ll see characters with expressions that you’ve never seen in a game before: Adam’s apples moving, eyebrows raising and faces creasing. It’s not only for show either, but I’ll get on to that later on.

L.A. Noire has its action elements, but above anything else this is a game that takes its inspiration from adventure games. As an ambitious policeman you’ll be doing your utmost best to solve crimes and earn promotions. After receiving a brief of a case, you then drive to a crime scene, and have a careful look over it, searching for clues of which could give you a break in the current investigation, possibly leading you to more areas to comb over, or witnesses or suspects for you to question.

Searching for clues will certainly make you feel like you are an actual member of the police force: there are corpses to study, bloodied cars to search, and objects will begin to mount up as evidence. You can have the controller vibration turned on to determine when a clue is nearby, although, other than this, these are clues that generally try their best to be objects in the environment that are waiting for a savvy policeman to discover as opposed to objects that glow or sparkle, indicating that they can be interacted with. Objects can be further studied by turning them around in Phelp’s hand, and it’s best to be as thorough as possible to come up with as much evidence as you can. Jazz music plays as you investigate a crime scene, and if you manage to find all the clues the music will come to an end, and obviously you’ll have more evidence at hand than someone who failed to find the lot. I realised in my time spent in the game that, despite being able to interact with them, carrots were rarely clues that were going to help me catch the culprit. Sadly though, the investigation element could have definitely been taken even further, as it does eventually feel too well tread, a little too shallow, and lacking in any real surprises.

When you unearth a suspect or witness, paying them a visit will bring about the questioning portion of the game. Faces are so lifelike that it’s possible to pick up on whether a character is telling the truth, and it’s here where you’ll realise that the revolutionary facial technology was used for a lot more than simple show. The interrogations have you running through a list of questions and then determining if the man, woman or child opposite you is telling the truth. It’s a very simple case of choosing from the options of truth, lie or doubt, but you’d better have some evidence to back you up if you come to the conclusion that someone is telling white lies, otherwise you’ll be left red faced when forced to back out of your accusation. Some of the facial expressions look overly exaggerated, but others require more of a careful eye to detect. It’s sometimes too difficult and slightly unfair, though, and you may feel caught between two answers, wondering which one is the right one to go with. It’s never possible to outright fail, although the more answers you get correct the more evidence will become available to you, with every little lead helping you get closer to cracking the case.

Intuition points can assist if you’re really struggling, removing an answer or asking the community (one has got to wonder if someone at Team Bondi is a fan of Who Wants to be a Millionaire) during interrogations and highlighting missed clues during the moments when you are looking over a crime scene. You can only earn intuition points by ranking up, which means that being wasteful should be avoided.

The visuals are decent enough, although slow-down every now and again does spoil what is generally a very immersive game.

Cases can rarely be failed and each one can also play out differently, although sadly there’s just not enough freedom. If you determine someone is guilty earlier on for example, in no way is it possible to arrest them when you feel like it, and there’s also a lack of variation, with individual cases more a less playing out like the last one, so much so that it came as quite a shock when something a little bit different turned up later on. More freedom would certainly be appreciated if a sequel was ever to be developed, and I feel that even more inspiration taken from the adventure genre would be beneficial.

If you want loads and loads of action, then L.A. Noire is hardly going to get your heart pumping for any length of time. There are shooting, fighting and foot and car chase sequences, but action is definitely not a focal point. With a reliable lock-on system and cover system, the shooting does the job, while the driving is fun, and the fighting, well; it’s not actually all that great.

The city of Los Angeles is an atmospheric place, but the open-world aspect does feel a little wasted. There are side missions, but these are regularly brief, frequently involving car chases and shoot-outs, but there’s little else of actual interest in this city. It’s open-world in the sense that you can follow various lines of inquiry in whatever order you decide, but this is hardly what you could call a proper sandbox game.

L.A. Noire is a good game, but in no way is it a great one. There’s a lengthy and well told story here, but there’s too little variety and too little freedom to raise the game to the height that the long development cycle should have produced. The maturity, compelling storytelling, stunning facial capture, and innovation are most welcome, but this is still one of the biggest gaming disappointments in recent memory, and an improved sequel is definitely something that deserves to happen. In fact it needs to happen: there’s so much unfulfilled promise here.