Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: L.A. Noire

Full Review:
L.A. Noire

"Leaping technological boundaries."

Developed by Team Bondi
Published by Rockstar Games
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released May 17th, 2011

After a 15 year run of developing and publishing exceptional video games that take us to crime infested cities, terrain, and even schools, Rockstar puts us in the role of the law and takes us to the dark and corrupt setting of 1940's Los Angeles. Not only does L.A. Noire offer a unique style of detective gameplay and gunplay, it also brings an interrogation arrangement seldom pulled off right in modern games. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of L.A. Noire are the realistic facial expressions pulled off by the cutting edge Motion Scan technology. However, it all comes down to whether or not these mechanics are defined well enough to create a great gaming experience.

L.A. Noire tells the tale of World War II veteran, Cole Phelps, as he works up the ranks as a detective in the LAPD. In order to do so, the player must use a mixture of gunplay, detective work, chasing, and interrogating in order to solve every case and earn promotions (going from patrol to traffic to homicide, etc). All of these gameplay mechanics are blended perfectly as to not overly exhaust the fun out of one or another. So, hardcore players need not worry about spending hours just looking for clues as there is a fair share of gunfights to satisfy (or maybe pacify).

The biggest gripe I had with the gameplay was how much the game holds your hand throughout the cases. In car chases, if the car is too far ahead, it will actually slow down until you catch up to it, then the bandit will speed up. While searching for clues, there will always be text telling you that you should turn a watch a certain way to see a name engraved or press A to look behind a picture frame to read a message. The ability to skip action sequences and use intuition points (the ability to show where all hidden clues are on the map) would have been enough hand holding but changing A.I. to lower the difficulty is unnecessary.

The gunplay is taken straight from Red Dead Redemption (same engine, no duh). The biggest difference is that you cannot collect and upgrade your weapon. Rather you start off with a pistol and can pick up a variety of weapons that enemies drop. The player cannot, however, keep these weapons and use them on the next case. That's the major problem with the depth of the gunplay; it seems as if it only touches on the shooting and quickly switches to something else. The dodging, aiming and firing, however, are just as you remembered in Red Dead Redemption.

The clue collecting is straight forward; search an alleyway or a home, and walk Cole until you hear a chime to signify a clue is nearby. Pick up the clue and see how it will aide your case. You can use these clues to build up your case against interrogating a suspect. A suspect will respond to a question that Cole asks in their own way. It's up to the player to decide whether he is telling the truth or lying. In order to do this, the player must take notice of the facial expressions and body movements that the suspect does (nervouse twitches, worried expressions will always reveal a liar). There are three options; truth, doubt and lie. If a person is lying but you can't prove that he is, you doubt him. If he is lying, and you have hard evidence, you outright accuse him. You then have to search through all the evidence and choose the right one that corresponds to the response given. This is an amazing gameplay mechanic that intertwines unique gameplay with the Motion Scan technology in an almost flawless way.

The musical score fits the game perfectly. From chase scenes, to crime scenes, to interrogations, the music and chimes take the player to 1947 and keep them there until they are done playing. The radio plays classic 40's jazz and big band hits that'll keep your foot tapping whenever your patrolling the streets looking for gangsters to ruin their day.

The acting is phenomenal. I say acting because it's no longer just voice acting. L.A. Noire's technology brings the actor into the game itself. These actors bring the player an unparalleled emotion by using both voice and expression. Aaron Staton of Mad Men brings Cole Phelps to life. I didn't find any of the actors unbelievable in their delivering of the characters. It's all the reason why L.A. Noire is such a story telling power house.

The facial animations that Team Bondi and Rockstar have been promoting are gorgeous. It's amazing how the actors have to provide not only a voice but must react to real situations presented in the game. It is a real shame that the beauty of the faces really bring out the flaws of the body animations and environments that would have otherwised gone unnoticed. The body animations are puppet like and sometimes do not cooperate with facial animations. A lot of the environments' textures are bland or do not load properly during cutscenes while shadows are laughably pixelated. In any other game, these would be minor flaws but in a game where the facial animations are a definite step forward in graphical technology, it's a shame that everything else is somewhat lacking in quality.

The lack freedom of L.A. Noire is a definite setback compared to games like Red Dead and GTA. The player is able to select the option of simply exploring L.A., searching for badges, uncovering landmarks, and answering dispatch calls. Unfortunately, the player cannot make Cole go on a trigger happy happy rampage or even throw a few punches on unsuspecting civilians. The player cannot draw his weapon or fists while on duty (hell, Cole can't even run over pedestrians with their ninja-like reflexes). The player is left upholding the law with no other choice. (We want to at least HAVE the option to cap a few innocents, right?)

L.A. Noire is very story driven. In some aspects this is a good thing and in others this is not. Rockstar provided a riveting tale and intriguing cases taken from actual crimes that hold its own in entertaining the player even if the gameplay falls short at times. The story, being as appealing as it is, can take away the focus of the gameplay and aim it directly at the story. (i.e. skipping action sequences). It's evident that Rockstar wanted a unique gameplay experience and they definitely have one but with certain instances during the game it seems they wanted to rush the player out of brilliant action sequences so they can sit back and relax to watch the cutscenes. It's incredibly unfortunate that such brilliant gameplay and potential exploration was sacrificed at the cost of story which should never be the case for a video game. Other than these apparent flaws, L.A. Noire is an incredibly deep and unique experience that any gamer should at least try. The game, although lacking in replay value, definitely offers players an unforgettable experience even if you'll find yourself spending a significant amount of time watching rather than controlling.


Fun:  3/5
Lasting Appeal:  2/3
Controls:  5/5
Graphics:  1/2
Sound:  2/2

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