Monday, June 27, 2011

LA Noire Review

L.A. NoireWhen I first heard about LA Noire, I paid it no mind. I thought it was just Grand Theft Auto 4 in the 50s, and I tuned out—I had liked Grand Theft Auto 4, but I became bored with it quickly. The week before the release of LA Noire, however, I happened across a gameplay video and my disposition did a complete 180. I saw all of the interesting mechanics and what looked to be an intriguing story. I saw next to no trace of GTA4 in LA Noire, so I rushed out and picked it up on release day. Was I right in buying the game after seeing one good trailer, or was I duped by marketing people like everyone who forked over hard-earned currency for a ticket to Pirates of the Carribean 4?

I’d like to talk about the story, gameplay, or controls first, but if there’s one thing that sets LA Noire apart from every other game, it’s the facial animations.

After playing LA Noire for five minutes, you start to realize just how poorly animated faces are in nearly every other game. I found that spot-on facial animations were absolutely essential when interrogating an uncooperative witness. Even the cut scenes were vastly improved by accurate facial expressions and they added believability and depth to the characters.

Okay, now that the faces have been covered, we can focus on the story. You take control of Cole Phelps, a rising star cop quickly promoted to detective. Throughout the game, you’re expected to solve mysteries, collect clues, interrogate witnesses, and ultimately, convict the criminals. Most of this is a pretty standard story, but the personalities given to the characters through their faces, words, and body language allow you to more easily care about the outcome of the game. Team Bondi most certainly did a smash up job getting the player emotionally invested in the characters.

Another outstanding aspect of LA Noire was the gameplay. Standard actions like moving, shooting, and driving aren’t the main focus here, as they are all identical to Grand Theft Auto 4. What really makes LA Noire special are the ways in which you solve cases—by interrogating witnesses, collecting clues, and drawing conclusions. 

When interrogating witnesses, it’s your job to determine if they’re lying, telling the truth, or simply being deceptive for unknown reasons. If you select the wrong option, the game notifies you as such, but the case keeps progressing and Cole loses potentially valuable information. The game also lets you know if you’ve collected all the clues in a certain area, but doesn’t require that you do so. All of these decisions culminate in prosecuting the criminal, though sometimes you aren’t quite sure about the identity of the guilty party. Whether you have all the clues or not, it’s up to you to decision who to send to jail for the crime, be they guilty or innocent.

Another interesting feature in the game is intuition. When interrogating someone, you can choose to use intuition to assist you. One of the options is to remove an incorrect interrogation response and eliminate some evidence. The other, and more interesting choice, is to ask the community. This option displays the percentage of people who made what decision and the percentage of players who got the question right after using intuition. It’s a very useful tool for acquiring information, and it makes perfectionists feel better about their decisions.

There’s only one bad thing I can say about this game and it’s a matter of the side missions. In them, Cole must stop bank robberies, or catch thieves, or run down escaping criminals. Cole Phelps is supposed to be a good man, someone who lived through the war and has a strong moral compass, yet he kills 95% of all lawless individuals he comes into contact with. I would have preferred to have the option of chasing them down and having them arrested, instead of going on an LAPD-sponsored murder spree.

LA Noire is a fantastic game, certainly worth a buy whether you’re a fan of the action/detective genre or not. The wonderful graphics and gameplay make for an engrossing, tense experience that will have you drawn to your television until the very end.
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