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Game review: L.A. Noire

Updated on July 5, 2011

After allowing us to explore the virtual reproductions of New York and the Far West, Rockstar plunges us into a new world of great charm: the Los Angeles of the 40‘s. All this thanks to the ambition of the Australian Team Bondi, which, with L.A. Noire, attempted to further decrease the distance between video games and movies.

The Game

Los Angeles 1947: veteran of the Second World War, Cole Phelps enlists in the Police Department to try to redeem himself from the horrors of war. Starting as a simple policeman on patrol, his analytical skills and readiness of mind will lead him to a distinguished career within the department.

Our goal in the game is to lead Phelps in his rise within the LAPD whilst investigating crime scenes, searching for clues, interrogating witnesses and suspects, and including a good dose of fistfights, shootouts and chases.

L.A. Noire is structured as a sort of TV series in which each episode is a case to follow. We are basically dealing with an investigative action-adventure game, featuring the exploration of key locations for every crime and the interrogation of suspects and witnesses. During the stages of investigation, we are taken to the crime scenes where we can examine the many objects (including the victims' bodies) to see if they can provide clues.

After the analysis phase of the crime scene, we pass to the interrogation of witnesses and other people involved in the crime, where we can ask questions directly. Phelps has a notebook in which he logs all the most important clues and information obtained, he can then refer to these notes to question the person. This suspect or witness will respond in a more or less sincere way and will react to us based on whether we think he is lying, telling the truth or believe that he is hiding something from us.

We can therefore conduct an interrogation either based on what we know about the suspect and the consistency of his words, or by the evidence gathered so far, such as observing facial expressions to understand if he is telling the truth. Reacting to the suspect in the right way, will make him reveal more information and clues, and if we make wrong accusations, he will cut the dialog short by refusing to continue on that topic. In addition, if we accuse him of lying, we will have to support this allegations by providing proof from all the clues collected so far.

To help us during the search for clues and the interview phases, the game gives us a system of "points intuition", basically, as we solve cases, we obtain these points which can be spent to get help in these activities. For instance, we can reveal the location of all relevant objects on the map, ask for the removal of one of the three available responses to questions or interrogations, or, if connected to Live, use the "ask the community" feature to see how other players reacted in that same situation. The points intuition options, however, are not that frequent, so it is wise to spend them only when really necessary.

We will spend a good 60-70% of the time in the game to search for clues and talk to other characters, while the remaining time will be occupied by other activities such as shootings, fights, car-pursuits and pursuits on foot. At the end of each case, the game will then assess our performance by giving us a vote based on the number of clues collected and the right questions made. If we are not satisfied with the achieved score, we can of course go to the main menu and select a single case to play again.

The game gives us also several opportunities outside of the main cases. For instance, while driving in the car we can capture relevant radio communications relating to street crimes in which we can intervene to try to stop them, or we can simply try to find collectibles spread throughout the city of Los Angeles.

The innovative MotionScan, which has allowed developers to incorporate into the game the faces of real actors virtually reproducing any movement of the facial muscles, has achieved the desired result. The characters of LA Noire are as close to real people as we've ever seen in a game, sometimes enough to draw us into believing in the deception of looking at a person in the flesh. Even random pedestrians have unique and absolutely realistic faces.

Team Bondi has employed a large number of professional actors, mostly coming from the world of TV serials, to interpret the characters that we will encounter.

The outcomes of the missions will vary depending on the evidence and the outcome of the interrogations; this will lead us to experience each case differently.

Weak Points of the Game

The player should always be able to understand by the expression of the characters along with the evidence collected, if the person being interrogated is telling the truth, but often it’s not that obvious. Instead, it’s much easier to understand if someone is lying, because he contradicts the evidence collected, therefore, the line between doubt and truth is much more narrow.

Add to this the fact that, while we can re-start the action scenes from the previous checkpoint, this is not possible during interrogations. If we want to re-start questioning using different choices, we have to start again from the beginning.

During the interrogations, if we fail to ask the right questions, the game progresses anyway, leading us to the same conclusion, obviously with a lower final score.

Although the overall visual appearance of LA Noire is certainly pleasant, on a technical note it cannot compete with other titles released in recent years. We are talking in particular about the short distance viewing, which often gives the impression of exploring a Los Angeles constantly immersed in the fog, along with the occasional appearance of objects, and quality of textures ranging between good and mediocre. Rather disappointing are even the shadows, which despite being dynamic, cause slightly annoying effect.

In Conclusion

L.A. Noire is not a perfect game and a number of problems prevent it from being considered a true masterpiece as it deserves. For the progress made in the acting field and the digital storytelling, the game achieved a real milestone.

This is a must-have title if you are one of those who seek a game with plenty of stories and worlds to live in first- person, rather than a game full of challenges to test your hand-eye coordination. LA Noire meets the promises made in all these months. We have in front a great game that uses a free roaming feature, but of course with its own limitations. A well-balanced game play with good longevity providing about 20 hours of game play, but overall, stunning and at the same time a bit disappointing from a technical point of view.


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