Friday, June 24, 2011

L.A. Noire – Review of RockStar Games' Crime Action/Adventure Title

Adventure gaming is dead. That's what I've been reading in articles for over a decade. The days of experiencing an interactive story where items are collected, puzzles are solved and advancing a plot takes more brainpower than fast reflexes are gone, now the province of indie game studios. Whoops. Looks like they were wrong. At its heart, L.A. Noire is a classic adventure game, with sections of Grand Theft Auto-style driving and sandbox exploration and the occasional cover-based shooting gunfight, with even more rare quicktime-event fisticuffs. Not only is the genre not dead, from the critical and fan reaction, it has returned with a vengeance.

Rating ended up being M, drifting close to AO, not for kids.

The world of L.A. Noire will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen L.A. Confidential, as quite a bit of the Academy Award-Winning film is mirrored in the setting. Postwar Los Angeles with an LAPD struggling with an image (mostly deserved) in the press of being corrupt and violent, and recently shamed by the failure to solve the murder of Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia. The environments are at least as convincing as the James Ellroy crime novels and the films they inspire of a gritty urban California filled with men still reeling from the war. Hard-boiled investigators, mobsters, movie stars and crooked cops all have secrets, and it is Detective Cole Phelps job to root them out.

Technically, this game is an achievement. It isn't without its flaws, at least on the Xbox360, and I've encountered more than one crash/lockup bug and occasional framerate issues, but for the most part, it is gorgeous even on a standard-definition television. The face-capture technology is unlike anything we've seen in games to date, with subtle expressions on the actors faces modeled so perfectly that no small detail of a performance is lost. In a game where investigation requires evaluation of facial tics and details to determine whether or not a person being questioned is lying, this technology is being put to good use.

The actors, some of them with solid Hollywood credentials, really make the interrogation scenes work.

In addition to questioning witnesses and suspects, careful investigation of clues at various crime scenes turns up evidence that can support accusations of outright lies by providing contradictory evidence. In this manner, the true story comes out as a diverse cast of characters are put to the question, with the player having three choices for every statement a person makes. “Doubt”, or “You are lying, but I have no proof.” “Lie” or “You are lying, and this proves it.” Finally, there is of course “Truth.” The more correct responses are given, the more small details come out about what really happened. Scouring scenes for clues feels a lot like classic Sierra adventure games, and confronting suspects is most similar to the Phoenix Wright games.

The music, action sequences and overall polish of the game is great, but there are other elements that some people may not care for. Occasionally with chase scenes, the camera angle or lighting interferes with controlling Det. Phelps and ruins the tension and immersion as you watch him run into walls. Vehicles control exactly like their equivalents in Grand Theft Auto, which is to say that they corner like they have small buildings attached to the roof rack and go airborne at the slightest provocation. Running over pedestrians, crashing into cars and stealing... err... commandeering vehicles are in this game, but with fewer consequences, though there are no hookers to shoot, and in fact, you cannot randomly murder innocent pedestrians without use of a vehicle.

Careful scanning of crime scenes is much more exciting than shooting random hookers, anyway.

The story follows Cole, the last good cop in L.A. from his career's start as a patrolman (tutorial missions) through four departmental assignments, or “desks”. The game length is impressive, the story feeling about like two full seasons of a television show, and it ships on three discs for the Xbox 360. I haven't finished it yet, but I've seen enough threads on forums and discussion boards to suspect that the ending is less than perfect for many people's taste. Each case solved on the way to the conclusion is given a rating based on clues found, statements correctly evaluated and how little damage is done to people and property in the course of the case. Getting 5 stars on all of them is no mean feat, as you may not save and retry failed interrogations.

This game was great overall, and I hope that it is successful enough to encourage more of this sort of thing from developers. If there was more of this, and less of “Modern Shooter Clone 3” on my consoles, I'd probably use them a little more.
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5 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Good review, thanks for that and from a Modern shooter clone 3 lover I'm afraid.

Alpha said...

I'll take brains over twitch any day.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I've heard a lot of great things about this game. I'll have to pick it up when I get some time.

Jay said...

i might try this sometime. :)

Zombie Ad said...

Sounds good. Great review!

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