After years of upsetting parents and lawmakers with the infamous “Grand Theft Auto" series, Rockstar games finally takes a shot at exploring the other side of the law. In "L.A. Noire," you play as Detective Cole Phelps, a World War II vet who joins the force and soon finds that not all Los Angeles Police Department officers are morally watertight.
To weave this gritty tapestry of crime and corruption, the game utilizes groundbreaking facial animation technology to create the most lifelike characters ever seen in a game. Unfortunately, not every aspect of the game is so impressive.
“L.A. Noire’s biggest step away from the “Grand Theft Auto” series is that the story is set in 1947. The game is inspired by the hard-boiled pulp detective stories of yesteryear, and does justice to the source material with period-authentic dialogue, costumes, cars, and weapons. The most impressive aspect of the story is that it doesn’t sweep the tough issues like war trauma and racial tensions under the rug, but rather weaves them into the story. It’s exciting to see that video game narratives are beginning to evolve to the point where they can tackle real life issues in a mature and thoughtful way.
The fantastic facial animation and voiceover is what sells the story. It’s hard not to become engrossed in the tale when every character you interact with is so lifelike. However, the bodies are not animated with the same groundbreaking techniques as the faces, so it ends up looking like a human head has been glued onto a robot’s body. It’s not enough to destroy the immersion completely, but you’ll notice it more than once. Rockstar claims that they will address this in the sequel.
Gameplay consists mainly of searching crime scenes, bodies, and objects in the environment for clues. After you land a juicy lead, you take to the streets to question suspects and witnesses. This is where the game’s most interesting gameplay feature comes into play. As you question someone, you must decide whether or not they’re lying by watching their facial expressions. Then, you can call them out on the lie or alter your line of questioning accordingly. It makes you feel like a real sleuth when a subtle twitch of the lip changes your perception of a suspect, but sometimes the game goes overboard with the facial cues. This results in lying characters biting their lips, stuttering, and quaking like Jello when you ask them where they were last Thursday. While it’s true that in real life some people are better liars than others, most of the game’s unintentional laughs stem from these over-the-top reactions. It’s a fascinating gameplay element that needs some refining, but is still a lot of fun.
The running, gunning, fist fighting, and car chase scenes are not as inspired. The controls are clunky and unresponsive, and everything done here has already been pulled off more effectively by another game. If you’ve played “Grand Theft Auto” or “Red Dead Redemption,” you will probably find much of the non-investigative gameplay monotonous. Also, don’t expect the freedom to wander and create chaos as in other Rockstar games. “L.A. Noire” is definitely the most linear game they’ve made to date.
The game’s presentation is impressive with great voice actors giving life to characters and a seedy, slightly sinister jazz soundtrack that really pulls you into the action. The dimly lit alleyways and nightclubs reinforce the noir setting, but daytime environments fail to impress.
“L.A. Noire” is a major triumph in video game storytelling, but the gameplay doesn’t quite match the pace set by the narrative. It’s by no means bad, but it plays a little too similarly to past Rockstar games. However, if you are willing to overlook the game’s few weak spots, you’ll find an engrossing experience that will satisfy all of your mystery-solving needs.