L.A. Noire, the latest in Rockstar Games’ line of period-centric games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Red Dead Redemption, is a police epic set in post-WWII Los Angeles and is reminiscent of such films as “L.A. Confidential.”
The story centers (mostly) on the rise and fall of Cole Phelps, a WWII vet who begins the game as an LAPD patrolman. As the game progresses, you follow Cole through the ranks of the LAPD, working on traffic, vice, homicide, and arson cases. In between cases, the stories of Cole and other key characters gradually unfold. It is unfair to give away too much of L.A. Noire’s story, because roughly 50 percent of the game is in the story. L.A. Noire is played and watched in almost equal amounts.
At the beginning of the game, the cases are simple. As you progress and become more familiar with the mechanics, the cases become more complicated, and more difficult to solve. Generally, you are briefed on the crime at the police station, then you go to the crime scene, survey the area, look for evidence, interview witnesses, and then follow leads. As you follow leads, you may accumulate additional suspects and/or evidence. The cases are the framework of the game and will likely make or break L.A. Noire for you. I enjoyed the thinking aspect to the game. This is not a game where you run around blasting enemies; you need to think and pay attention. You may even need to *gasp* take notes. If the intellectual aspect of being a detective turns you off, then you probably aren’t going to enjoy L.A. Noire.
L.A. Noire’s true innovation is in the way the characters are used. The characters are not fictional, computer-generated characters who are voiced by actors, they are the actors themselves, rendered in computer-generated form. You will likely recognize several characters from various TV shows and movies. The characters look and act like real people because they are, in fact, real people. This comes into play while interviewing witnesses and suspects. In each conversation, you have three options – Truth, Doubt, and Lie. Choosing the right option can help you acquire information and evidence or even get a confession. You need to pay attention to the person’s body language to tell whether they are being truthful, because you won’t always have evidence to corroborate or refute their stories.
I enjoyed the cerebral nature of L.A. Noire, as well as the compelling story. However, I can see where those aspects will not appeal to everyone. I also appreciated the care that Rockstar put into recreating an immersive, realistic 1947 Los Angeles. You can kill a lot of time driving around and exploring historic landmarks. On the other hand, the combat elements leave a great deal to be desired. Too often I felt like a Terminator, blasting bad guys with reckless abandon and without any fear of being killed. Seriously, Cole is harder to kill than Steven Seagal. If you are looking for an immersive experience that you watch as much as play, then I strongly recommend L.A. Noire. If that sounds like hell on earth, then your money would probably be better spent elsewhere. I hear there’s a Larry the Cable Guy movie opening this weekend. — Pedro Moreno