Review: L.A. Noire (PS3)

Los Angeles, 1947. The City of Angels. A time when gasoline was 23 cents by the gallon, everyone wore hats and people were found murdered on every street corner. Oh, by the way, someone will need to clean up that mess.

L.A. Noire is not your average Rockstar Games’ game. It’s still an open-world adventure game, you can still get into cars and drive around and you shoot your gun at people. The key difference? You play a detective for the LAPD. That’s right. You’re one of the good guys, fresh out of the war and on the mean streets of Los Angeles, that is, the real, historically-accurate Los Angeles, not some parodic representation, and work your way as Detective Cole Phelps through various cases up to the traffic desk, homicide and so on.

Players seeking tough-as-nails action may be disappointed. While L.A. Noire has its share of action sequences, the game is mainly a logic-based crime fiction puzzler, needing you to fit the pieces together to bring the perpetrator to justice. You solve cases through two basic means. First, you sweep the crime scene which, in most cases, involve a gruesome corpse (some of which I wasn’t prepared to look at) in a crime scene littered with evidence and clues. The game will ‘ping’ to your attention any suspicious item around the scene can be picked up and observed, handing you addresses or names in order to take you on your next lead. Other times will have you interrogating suspects and witnesses, a key part in playing in L.A. Noire, if you ever want some answers. All this information is stored in your handy-dandy notebook, the most useful tool you’ll have in the game.

Rockstar Games picked up a new technology called MotionScan, a complex series of cameras used to capture every angle of an actual cast member’s face, producing accurate facial graphics not seen since games like Heavy Rain. Questioning involves your deduction of truth, doubts or lies. Missing any detail could lead to you giving a false accusation, which will irk your “interrogatee”. MotionScan then allows players to pickup any eye-roll or nervous twitch your suspect or witness may make, allowing you to deduce if they’re telling the truth or spewing a flat-out lie. Most of the lies come from looking at their eye movements, but you can never really tell for sure.

Failing to get your suspect’s statements straight can result in a deviation of the storyline, a poorer performance on your case or even lead to the arrest of the wrong guy. Be prepared for fist-fights and pursuits on foot, because some of the guilty ones won’t go down without a fight, or if necessary, a bullet though their body.

MotionScan is also great at doing something else: giving an uncanny resemblance to the cast member’s real world counterparts, like the one of Aaron Staton from TV’s Mad Men, who give a stunning performance playing the role of Phelps. There are plenty of other actors in this game, and all of them provide life to the fully-voiced cutscenes including flashbacks of Phelps’ past as a US Marine fighting in World War II shown in-between cases.

It’s also the little details that make the world of L.A. Noire come to life. Trams ply through the streets of L.A. as the people around you catch wind of your shining achievements. Fans of Film Noir will also be glad to know that the game is fully playable in a classic black and white filter. And despite being an open-world game, the actual free-roam mode is unlocked only when you finish your cases from the particular departments you get promoted from, but there’s no harm in getting distracted to go exploring, seeking out the 30 L.A. landmarks or attending to street crimes in progress, which range from shootouts to pursuit of suspects.

Unlike most Rockstar Games games, you don’t earn money (there’s nothing to buy), you don’t get to go home and time stays still (it progresses as you do with the case) and you don’t ever run out of bullets for your pistol. And as a cop, you can’t really go nuts playing cops and robbers since your gun stays glued to your chest, and the acrobatic pedestrians of 1947 L.A. will dodge your maniac driving and it will actually take some effort to maim them, but racking up huge sums in collateral damage will affect your final performance.

Each case will take you gradually longer then the last one, which can exceed up to an hour per case, which can rack to a total of 20 hours of play for the storyline alone. Replaying cases when you feel like you’ve screwed up (you haven’t, really, but I know how it feels) or when you want to explore the tangents to the case and calling everyone a liar is a chore for two reasons. There are no manual save points so when you want to do over a certain point in your case, you will need to restart your investigation from scratch (or commit suicide before the next autosave). Adding to that is the fact that some cutscenes cannot be skipped. Which slows down the pace a whole lot if you already know the story you’re trying to do over. Mafia II may find the long drives to your destination familiar, but L.A. Noire goes one up by allowing you the option to ask your partner to take the wheel. There are some minor performance issues when chasing perps down the busy street, but the game is otherwise smooth without any console overheating or game-locking issues.

As a fan of crime puzzlers like Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, L.A. Noire has been a delightful thrill-ride. The game’s several tangents allows the open-world narrative to be told in more ways than one. Rockstar Games and Team Bondi have produced a brilliant title that isn’t all about stealing cars and keeping a low profile. The idea is fresh and many cases will leave a lasting impression without having to resort to talking about cake or explosive lemons.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 10
Lasting Appeal: 8

Overall: 9/10

L.A. Noire is a Rockstar Games’ game developed by Team Bondi available for PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. With the PlayStation Network was still down in Asia, I was unable to give The Naked City DLC cases a go, much less utilise the “Ask the Community” Social Club features. Let’s hope Sony can plug the PSN back in soon.