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Game Review: L.A. Noire
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The Movie God   |  @   |  
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L.A. Noire
Xbox 360 I PS3
DEVELOPER: Team Bondi
PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games
RELEASE DATE: May 17, 2011

Of all the many exciting titles being released in the year 2011, L.A. Noire has easily developed one of the biggest buzzes of them all. With game-changing (literally) performance capture technology being used and some intriguing new crime-solving gameplay, folks have been lining up to get their hands and eyes on this one for some time now.

As far as whether or not the game lives up to all the hype, we’ll get right into the down and dirty truth: yes, L.A. Noire is an impressive accomplishment with many elements worthy of praise. The world is huge and detailed, the performances from an awesome cast of recognizable character actors is phenomenal, the music is fitting and sets the tone wonderfully, and the cases are complex and often times brutally realistic. In this game you get to be a detective more so than you ever have before, and that, my friends, is pretty damn cool.

The first thing most will wonder about is the performance capture effects in the game, called MotionScan. Quite frankly, it’s near perfect. And one can only assume that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that these technologies will only continue to get cleaner and more realistic as time moves forward…but for now, the facial features, natural reactions, and mouth synchronizations of L.A. Noire are simply stunning.

It’s this wonderful step forward in video game production that allowed the game to work. Without these technologies, interrogating the suspects in the many cases you will work—an absolutely crucial aspect of this game—would be impossible. And speaking of the interrogations, that’s exactly what I was personally most excited to see in action. I must admit: at first, questioning suspects could be a little bit troublesome. A mixture of getting a feel for the game and a tutorial system that feels like it passes by a little too quickly while you’re trying to play through the first couple of cases (I missed a few important tips; you may not) led to things being a little more tricky in my experience. But if this is the case for you as well, fear not—it does get better as you get the hang of things…though not necessarily easier. The best thing about this feature is when you successfully interrogate a suspect and make a big breakthrough in the case; everyone enjoys a nice sense of accomplishment.

Another thing that takes a little while to get moving is the story in L.A. Noire. After a few cases, I got the feeling that there wouldn’t really be a story, and the game would play in more of an episodic fashion as you move forward case-by-case (in color OR black and white, if you really want to go all-out noir). Eventually you begin to see things subtly starting to connect, which will gradually evolve into a full-blown storyline. The way that developer Team Bondi brought everything together is impressive and enjoyable when you look back on your game.

Mixed into the storylines you’re following is 40 different street crimes, which were one of my favorite things about the game. For those who don’t know, as you’re driving to your next suspect or location sometimes a call will come in over the radio for something that needs immediate attention, and you can then choose to take the call or continue on in what you’re doing. I really loved these little “side quests,” if you will. Most of them end up being either a brief shootout, a car or foot chase, or a fist fight, but they all have their own little mini-story and most of the chases can be incredibly intense. They won’t take up much of your time, either, and often times you’ll see some recognizable faces from cases you’ve done previously in the game. Sometimes people you’re chasing pull off “in the blink of an eye” escape moves on foot or in their car that would make a magician weep, but apart from that they’re a fun little way to mix things up and keep the gameplay fresh.

There were a few things that may bother you a little, as well. All of them are minor details and don’t affect the game itself much, but as always we like to make sure we try and cover everything you may be looking to know about.

If you play on PS3 the game will fit on one Blu-ray disc and may work better overall. I played on Xbox 360, where the game comes on 3 discs. Unfortunately this would be the 360’s one big flaw, and even on 3 discs there’s still times where the backgrounds and textures of L.A. Noire take a little longer to load (I’m unsure if this is also the case on PS3). But as far as changing discs goes, it’s not a troublesome task. Ideal spots in the game were chosen to have you move on to the next disc, and you never have to go back to a previous disc in order to continue your game. Some may see this as a problem, but all things considered it was handled well.

My personal least favorite thing would have to be the driving and A.I. of other drivers. For all I know this is just how things were back in 1947, but the amount of times my vehicle jerked off to the left, or another car randomly cut me off or turned in front of me causing a wreck is alarming. Yes, these things happen in real life, but it seems to happen constantly in the game and can become frustrating beyond words. I also can’t help but be sad at the lack of a first-person driving option—my preferred view when driving in games and something that always makes the world feel more realistic.

Lastly, your car’s siren is activated with the left analog stick, and because you also steer with the left stick, there were many instances where I would be in an intense chase and would accidentally shut it off a few times. If it were the right analog stick it would have worked better, but there’s no way to change it, unfortunately. The siren is important because it gets people to move (always to the right, so stay in the middle of the road).

Once again, none of these things negatively affected my game…not in the very least. Consider them just a few minor details worth noting for those of you thinking about playing the game.

With all of that said, L.A. Noire is one of the most ambitious games ever created, and it without a doubt gives us an ecstatic peek at what the future of video games can and will look like. It’s a game made for people who loved playing “cops and wobbers” as a little kid, and have always had a love for detectives and solving the case. Many have tried to do something like this in the past (C.S.I. games, mainly), and none of them have come even close to what has been accomplished here aside from maybe a Heavy Rain. And the most exciting thing for gamers is that this could be the start of a great franchise of games using the same detective gameplay in different parts of the country, different time periods, and with many different characters.

With a long, hot summer just having entered our collective doors, this is a game you must get your hands on and experience for yourself…especially if you have a love for noir and/or the aforementioned cop/detective sub-genres that dominate our TV screens night in and night out.

Trailer

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