Due to the lack of new material to review at the moment I thought I would start doing some reviews on some older stuff that may or may not have gotten the recognition it deserved. I’m going to call these ‘Throw Back’ reviews even if some of them won’t be that much of a throw back. For my first throw back review, I’d like to take a look at the game LA Noire which came out all the way back in the spring of 2011 released by Rockstar Games and developed by Team Bondi. Now I didn’t get to play it till earlier this year in 2012 and I found myself regretting not playing this game when it came out because it totally deserved a place on my top 5 games of 2011. At first glance, this game looks like another GTA clone but it is far from it. It is a deep and immersive game that truly makes you feel like a detective in a film-noire crime movie. It received high scores in reviews and rightfully so but I still know lots of people who have never played this, myself almost being one of them. This is one of those games that anyone who considers themselves a gamer needs to experience.
STORY: Set in Los Angeles in 1946, you play mostly as Cole Phelps, a Battle of Okinawa veteran and new beat cop with the LAPD. Phelps’ keen problem solving skills get him noticed by the police chief and heads of the detective desks in the police department and after while (four missions that act as the game’s tutorial) he is promoted to detective. Throughout the game, you work multiple cases from the traffic desk, homicide desk, vice desk, and arson desk. Not to go into any spoilers but you will deal with murders, insurance frauds, serial killers, the mafia, drug rings, and scandals including Phelps’ hurtles as he rises to become one of the most well known and feared detectives in LA. One of the things that makes this game work is how painstakingly detailed Los Angeles is. Team Bondi put in a lot of hard work to recreate 1946 Los Angeles, not just in physical appearance (you can go anywhere in the city as it was during that time) but also in the social issues that were going on at the time. Racism, sexism, and veterans adjusting to peace time create some of the strongest images I’ve ever seen of post-WWII America and it all just sucks you deeper and deeper into this game. Be warned: the murder scenes in this game are brutally realistic but once again it just adds to the feeling of being a detective. The gameplay, acting, and sound also greatly play into making this game an unforgettable experience.
GAMEPLAY: Like I said before, it looks and generally plays like a GTA game however the best aspects of the gameplay does not focus on running and gunning like most similar games before it. Let me make this clear, if you pick up this game expecting an action game you will be very disappointed. This is a thinker’s game and that’s what makes it so great. You will be rattling your brain trying to put together the clues you’ve gather and trying to figure out who is lying and telling the truth. This is the core of the gameplay and it gets really tricky as the game progresses. Each time you visit a crime scene you will need to make sure to explore every inch of the area and examine everything. You have a notepad in which notes are made through your investigations and you’ll want to use them during questionings and interrogations. The more clues you’ve gathered, the more you’ll have to work with. Interrogations are the other big part of the game and you will be racking your brain with some of these. As you ask your questions, you must determine whether or not they are telling the truth, lying, or give doubt to what they are saying. You’ll probably notice how realistic everyone’s facial animations look in this game. That’s not just to make to game look good, it’s a gameplay mechanic. Part of what you will be using to judge if someone is telling the truth or not is by watching their facial expressions. This gets really tricky but is so satisfying when you’re able to catch someone in their own lie.
Now like I said, getting interrogations to come out the way you want them can be really hard but there is help. You gain intuition points throughout the game by successfully questioning someone and/or getting a good cop grade when completing a case. You can use these during interrogations to take away some of the options to help you deduce if someone is telling the truth or not. I found myself trying to use these as sparingly as possible mainly because, while this gameplay mechanic is challenging, it is very rewarding and fun to try and figure out which, once again, plays into the immersive feel of this game and making you really feel like a detective. Help also comes to you during your investigations in the form of the partners that you get throughout the game. While some are more helpful than others, you can always go talk to them about what you should do next. The game missions are actually very linear however you don’t really notice it since the entire city is there to explore but you will feel driven to go to your next objective and what not which makes the missions feel more open than they really are. There is a lot of replay value to each case as they can have multiple outcomes based on how well you do with your investigation. However, the outcome, no matter how bad, doesn’t really affect the overall story at all which is a shame because this was a game that could have used more than one ending.
Driving is another big part of the game. There are nearly 100 actual car models that would have been on the road in 1946 that you can find and drive. Like in similar games, you’ll want to go as fast as you can all the time and end up crashing into everything because no one else is driving like that. In this game, that’s not the best idea as it can hurt your case performance points though there is a free drive mode where driving like a mad man won’t count against you and it is fun for mindless road rage. Of course, you do find yourself in car chases throughout the game and they can be frustrating at times. Not knowing your way around in a case can lead you into a dead end or getting caught on the corner of a wall or something as your target speeds away that can lead to a failure of the mission and restart at the last check point. However, this is something that is common in open sandbox type games so it’s nothing unique to LA Noire. There are also foot chases where you have to chase down a suspect. This tends to happen a lot and it gets kind of annoying each time it happens. Much like with the car chases, if you get lost and lose your target, its game over. The action segments in general in LA Noire are not handled too well and hard kind of rare for what you’d expect from a game like this. They are there but they are much more spread out throughout the game. The shooting mechanic is pretty bare bones and while it is simple enough, it doesn’t happen so much so I was usually taken back when I had to try and remember how the shooting worked because you just don’t use it that often. There are even some platform action segments which can be pretty difficult as well. This game does let you skip past these action parts if you die too many times but I personally find that kind of cheap though I did find myself using it once. Like I said, action is not what this game excels at, this is thinker’s game and that is what sets LA Noire apart from other similar games and what it does so well and makes this game so memorable.
GRAPHICS: What you will notice that stands out the most is the facial animations for all the characters in this game. MotionScan technology was developed for completely capturing the faces of the game actors, capturing every single movement of someone’s face. What we get is true acting in a video game, not just voice acting over the animation of a game character. Something like this has never really been done before. The sites of Los Angeles such as landmarks and other locations were recreated for this game and look amazing. The crime scenes, apartments and houses are very well furnished and look like someplace someone would actually live instead of just decoration for the game. Like I said the facial animations will steal the show but there is a lot to look at when you’re not too busy with investigations.
SOUND: The music in this game is just great. The jazz and big band type music from the time period makes for a beautiful and fitting soundtrack and is the icing on the cake. The sound effects all sound great and work into the gameplay as well. When doing investigations of crime scenes, as you walk past a clue, a piano chime will play by the object letting you know to check that object out. It helps you inspect things that do not appear as obvious some other things at the crime scene. The voice acting, my god, this is flat out some of the best voice work for a video game I’ve ever heard and works so well with the facial acting. It really feels like you are part of a movie.
Overall, this is a game I feel has sadly become rather underrated since its release. It truly makes you feel like a detective and really makes you exercise your mind trying to solve these cases, especially if you want to go through and try to get a perfect score on all of these. If you’re only into action with games like this, then I’d recommend Sleeping Dogs or a GTA title then. But if you’re like me, something like this is a great change of pace from just running around and shooting bad guys. The game has dropped in price a lot so it shouldn’t be too hard to find this game for $20 or less if you look hard enough. I highly recommend this game.