Review: LA Noire

Review: LA Noire

What’s this I see? A Rockstar game, where you’re on the right side of the law? Surely mine eyes do deceive me? Well, apparently they don’t, as Rockstar’s latest outing is a severely different beast from other games from the famed publisher – but is LA Noire truly as good as Rockstar’s previous efforts?

A New Breed of Rockstar Title

Set in Los Angeles, 1947, the story of LA Noire puts you in the shoes of rookie cop Cole Phelps, a mysterious war veteran with a checkered past (you didn’t think he’d be a goody two-shoes, did you). The story chronicles Phelps’ rise from lowly street cop to investigator extraordinaire, dealing with various different trials and tribulations along the way that will test his mettle, your own investigation skills and your ability to make judgements based on the evidence before you.

This is exactly how LA Noire differs from other Rockstar games – if you’re a fan of Rockstar for the mindless shooting in an open-world, LA Noire might not be for you. Being a policeman, Cole cannot just go out and shoot people in the face like Nico Bellic could whenever he so desired – instead LA Noire only lets you draw your weapon at appropriate moments, which are, to be honest, few and far between.  Instead of mindlessly shooting people, Cole’s weapon is his mind. You’ll be scouring crime scenes, locating evidence, frisking perps for answers, and making deductions based on the evidence on your notepad/your own intuitions. Whether you succeed or fail miserably to solve a case rests on how well you interpret evidence that has been presented to you, and the cases within the game are often quite complex and require the player to focus extensively and explore the environment.

One of the most impressive things about LA Noire is Rockstar’s new facial technology. You may have heard about this already, but when you see it in action it really is quite special to behold; real actors’ faces have been totally super-imposed into the game, including their own distinct character traits and mannerisms that bring faces to life like never before seen in a videogame. Seriously, playing LA Noire makes you realize how wooden and innacurate game faces can be – the presentation levels here are absolutely top-notch, and the entire face moves with an eerie similarity to real life. For example, you may well be able to tell someone within the game is lying by their facial movements; a look to the side, shifty eyes or biting the lip may be your call to decide whether the character is telling you the truth or a complete bag of screaming lies.

LA Noire

‘Either Tell Me What You Know, Or I’ll Draw On Your Face’

Face Obsessive

Studying faces will rapidly become routine, as you need to do it carefully in order to succeed in interrogations. In these scenarios, Cole can ask questions based on evidence already found, linking it to the criminal in front of him. You will then get a response from the criminal, and you will have to decide whether he/she is telling the truth, doubt their claims, or instead accuse them of flat-out lying. This final option can only be used if you have sufficient evidence to back up the claim, without it, you could lose valuable pieces of further evidence that could lead to a conviction of the felon you are interrogating.

The interrogation and evidence mechanics work extremely well for the most part, however I would often find I’d missed a single scrap of evidence that meant I couldn’t go further in a case in an intelligent way, or I would also find it incredibly difficult to judge whether I should be doubting the claims of the character I was talking to, or whether I should be accusing them lying. It can be extremely hard to tell – sometimes you know they’re lying, yet because you haven’t got the evidence, you have no choice but to select your doubt option, sometimes leading to an incorrect judgement, thus hindering the case.

Whether you like LA Noire or not basically comes down to two things. You either will love it because you love the different, more interrogative style of gameplay, or you’ll hate it because you’re hindered by not being able to fully utilize Cole as a character (except in certain situations). Personally, I’m somewhat on the fence – I enjoyed the crime scene investigation mechanics, but I found the game to be significantly lacking in action at times. The game does a lot different from previous Rockstar games, and while this isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it makes one long for the mechanics of Grand Theft Auto where you can explore the world and do pretty much exactly what you please. I would therefore say this game isn’t going to be for everyone – despite the stellar levels of presentation and the new technology, LA Noire is a very different beast of game that is more narrative driven than gameplay driven.

LA Noire

‘Stop!’….murder time.

Lovely Los Angeles

Speaking of presentation, Rockstar, as usual, has done it again. 1947 Los Angeles is brought to life with an extreme amount of polish and detail; everything from the cars on the roads to the dress/hairstyles of the many NPC’s roaming the landscape reeks with an incredible amount of extremely impressive visuals.  The facial technology is superb, the world is well realized, and there’s a massive amount of Los Angeles available to explore with a range of different environments including an old movie set, several interiors and even a number of side missions that branch off from the main quest.

The story, meanwhile, is a bit of a hit and miss affair. For the most part, the majority of the cases are interesting, but I found it extremely hard to care about the backstory of Cole Phelps, who often comes across as quite whiny and annoying. You’ll learn more about his past as the game goes on and it all boils down to a quite lackluster ending piece as the game goes on, but it was extremely hard to care about Cole’s problems when they’re only briefly mentioned between cases and you’re instead spending 45 minutes to an hour on one case where they’re never mentioned again until after you’re done.

At the other end of the narrative spectrum, however, is the cases themselves. These are excellently presented – each one will play out differently depending on your actions, and they’re extremely varied. Very few of the cases are uninteresting, the homicide plot in particular is one of the true highlights of the game and will have you gripped at every turn as you chase down a serial killer, coming up with several dead-ends only to once again delve into the case as new evidence surfaces. The cases themselves take place across several different ‘desks’ in the LA Police Department, which include normal street crime to begin with, before moving up through things such as arson and homicide. There’s also a brief Vice desk, where you’ll be scouting LA for drug barons.

Thankfully, there’s a lot of these cases to keep you going for a while. Rockstar never makes a short game, and LA Noire is absolutely no exception to the rule. There’s plenty to keep you hooked and see this title through to the end, a lot of varied cases, different cars to find, street crimes, and a whole collection of DLC content that has been released since the game’s release.

The ManaVerdict

So should you buy this title? It all comes down to whether you think you’ll like a less action-oriented Rockstar game. I would recommend you at least try it – you may be pleasantly surprised and find the experience very fulfilling. However you may also find it unsatisfying, so you have to balance the scales here.  LA Noire isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination – it just could of been better than it is.

Score: 8.5/10

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