By Logan Senn
L.A. Noire – the newest installment in a long line of genre-defining games from Rockstar Games and Team Bondi – fuses a sandbox-style, open-world, first-person detective game with the gritty and compelling backdrop of post-WWII Los Angeles. This daring venture, from the gaming think-tank made famous through the Grand Theft Auto series, has broken into uncharted territory with the first game ever to seamlessly blur the lines between gaming and cinema, doing so in near-perfect fashion.
As the opening cinematic sequence beautifully displays the glitz and glamour of golden-age ’40s Hollywood, we are introduced to our leading man Cole Phelps (Aaron Staton of “Mad Men”), an LAPD Detective who was thrown into his position headfirst after a brief stint as an officer in the war. The storyline follows Phelps as he climbs the ranks and battles over a seemingly unending quest to tackle cases of corruption, drugs, arson and murder, all the while fighting with his own brutal conscience and his decisions about morality.
It sounds more like the plot of a twisted noir novel than that of a multimillion-dollar gaming endeavor, but I assure you that every possible facet of this cinematic journey has been overly developed to the point where you can hardly discern between the enveloping story and the gameplay itself.
L.A. Noire is the first game on record to use Team Bondi’s new MotionScan animation-capture technology. With MotionScan, the game’s producers were able to capture actors’ facial expressions and body language with an accuracy never seen before on any gaming console. More to the point, it asks players to use every aspect of their intellect to evaluate and engage with the in-game characters’ physical actions and reactions.
This is a groundbreaking game on many other levels as well. The size and scope of the game are completely unmatched in anything I’ve ever come across on a console system. Everything from the scenic Los Angeles backdrop to the rich and enthralling soundtrack have been fine-tuned to deliver the true feeling of the dark and twisted world around you.
As far as the gameplay goes, there is little available on the open market to compare it to. The game delicately walks the tightrope between beautiful CGI and actual interactive gameplay. There are times in which the player has trouble figuring out when it’s actually time to pick up the controller and start playing. The cinematics are breathtaking, and the new sandbox engine far exceeds the greatest expectations of the most seasoned gaming veterans.
I would compare it to the GTA (Grand Theft Auto) series, but that would be doing L.A. Noire a serious injustice. You could spend countless hours exploring the rich scenery of a Los Angeles long forgotten. Angelinos may take particular interest here in that it’s pretty darn fun to explore your neighborhood as it looked nearly 70 years ago. With more than 60 model cars available, the driving is authentic and the shootouts feel realistic but not overwhelming.
The most interesting aspects of the game, however, are the deeply layered interrogation scenes. Each one of the dozens of cases comes with its own cast of characters, offering hundreds of unique and diverse plotlines. It’s up to the player to read and interpret the facial expressions and body language of the suspects, and the outcome of the story depends on your ability to do so accurately.
Some people may find the interrogation sequences a bit cumbersome or tedious, as an incorrect interview may draw you down a path that leads nowhere, or even worse, force you to start over completely and re-watch the same CGI over and over again. This was the one drawback of the game, if I had to name one. Well, that and the subtle racist undertones, which might offend the sensibilities of some gamers. But, in fact, these were very real themes during the 1940s.
To sum it all up, the game simply leaves you wanting more (it was very difficult to put down at times, as you become ever more wrapped up in the dark and seedy storylines). More wonderfully charismatic stars, more shady plot twists, and more stories of a different yet somehow eerily familiar Los Angeles, where the limelight meets the streetlight, and gangsters mingle with celebrities.
But, knowing the traditions of Rockstar and Team Bondi, you can bet on some DLC (downloadable content) coming much sooner rather than later. So, final score, for those keeping count, is 9/10: BUY IT! This game is a keeper, and will no doubt go down in history as the first of a long line of similar titles. L.A. Noire successfully delivers on the promise of a groundbreaking and vivid vision of 1940s Los Angeles, and does so with a wide spectrum of visually stunning gameplay that should appeal to almost every type of gamer, from rookie to veteran.
Only time will tell if the game goes down as one of the greats, but I for one am hooked. For all of those dreamy-eyed noir fans out there, do yourself a favor and set aside a couple of hours to take a dive into this gritty thriller of a game. See you on the coast!
Logan Senn is an account executive at SteelHouse In Los Angeles.