Quick Review: L.A. Noire

It was a dark and stormy night, the scent of blood in the rain, and I found myself huddled in front of my XBox. 

In the gaming world, bringing out a new IP can be tricky. If you have a great design team and a fantastic story, sometimes players will gravitate to it. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady/Eidos/WB’s Batman: Arkham Asylum are great examples of a new IP that actually managed to stand on it’s own. EA’s Mirror’s Edge, though one of my favorite games, didn’t garner enough interest to keep EA/Dice from shelving any possible sequels. I believe the problem with Mirror’s Edge was that it was a niche game. If you loved parkour/freerunning and dealing with puzzles, it was a fantastic game. If you were nauseated by first person movement, you never touched it.

And this is the danger that Rockstar’s L.A. Noire faces. It’s a detective story, and it’s going to be hard pressed to pull the Halo and Call of Duty shooter crowd (myself included) into its web. Unlike other Rockstar Games, you don’t spend too much time trying to cause mayhem to the city or roaming around. You can play in the sandbox, sure, but you also have a purpose in trying to stop crime. In a sense, you could compare it to the Spider Man games, sans web shooters and sticky fingers/feet. Know this, if you don’t at least watch someone play this game or try it yourself, you are seriously missing out on something grand.

Let me repeat: “You are seriously missing out on something grand, if you don’t at least try it.”

In L.A. Noire, you play Cole Phelps, fresh out of WW II with a Silver Star and logically moving to a role of a officer in the L.A.P.D. Quick to make a name for himself, Cole takes the initiative to further his career by solving the crimes he comes across. This moves him through the ranks and brings him to some of the more high profile cases in LA during the 1940’s. You can move through five different styles of investigations, ranging from Homicide to Vice to Arson. The case system in L.A. Noire is very cool, and requires you to walk the perimeter of a crime scene to examine the clues that are around. The music in the game helps to let you know if you’re moving too far away from the crime scene (the music will stop playing), if you’ve stumbled onto a clue (a chime), or if you’ve managed to collect all of the clues in an area (an uplifting melody). What’s important to note is that gathering evidence isn’t as easy as picking up an object and adding it to your inventory. You have to sometimes turn the object around in Cole’s hands to make sure that he sees (he sees, not that you see) something of particular about it. It takes the Detective Mode of Batman: Arkham Asylum up a notch in that even you may find clues and info in both games, L.A. Noire lets you choose how to incorporate it in your interrogations. It would be interesting to see if Arkham City has a similar approach along the line. The Interrogation features of L.A. Noire introduces a new technology to Rockstar’s arsenal called MotionScan. This tech, similar to what was used in The Social Network allowed them to map the actors facial movements. This becomes a key part of the interrogations in that you can effectively ‘read’ a witness and tell if they are lying to you or possibly have some doubts to what they’re telling you. I haven’t seen anything like this since Intrigue! For the Commodore 64, so it’s pretty refreshing to encounter the system here.

The one problem I do have with L.A. Noire so far is that the Interrogation System (at least in one of the first 3 cases I handled) seemed to run in a loop. When I fouled up an Interrogation, I was forced to redo it until I got it right. I believe it was because of the case I was working on (it was literally the introduction to Interrogating), and that other cases may not do this. If all of the interrogations have that style, that could become a problem. The whole “do it until you get it right” is great in a game like Mirror’s Edge, but it would be nice to see a case slip from your fingers because you botched something.

You’ll also find a number of cameos from various actors in L.A. Noire. Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight) is the narrator of the story, and you’ll also run into Courtney Gains (Memphis Belle, The Burbs) and many others (including Fringe’s John Noble), which adds to this.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rockstar Game without the Sandbox to play in. The Sandbox here is Los Angeles, 1947. I can’t comment on how realistic it looks, as I’ve never been to L.A., but for the purposes of this game, it makes sense. From what I’ve played so far, it’s not as rich and picturesque as Red Dead Redemption, but it does definitely fit the atmosphere of a noir story. Shadowy corners, dark alleys, it’s done quite well. Add to that the music of the story, a mixture of Jazz and action paced tunes, and you’re pretty much in a detective story all your own. Overall, L.A. Noire breaks a lot of new ground in what it achieves. You won’t get the Grand Theft Auto experience in that you’ll go crazy shooting and crashing through the city, and it might not be for every audience out there, but for those who love detective stories or crime dramas, it’s a definite gem.