L.A. Noire is the most recent release from Rockstar Studios, and was developed by Team Bondi. The story follows an up and coming detective named Cole Phelps and his rise through the ranks of the LAPD. L.A. Noire has had the most hype of any game to come out in 2011 thus far. But can Rockstar and Bondi deliver and follow in the footsteps of other Rockstar titles like GTA and Red Dead Redemption?
Cole Phelps is a former marine, freshly returned from fighting at Okinawa. While there, he was honored with the Silver Star for his bravery in combat. Cole returns to his wife and kids, and becomes a member of the LAPD. The game follows his trials and tribulations while working on the Patrol Desk, Traffic Desk, Homicide Desk, and Arson Desk. There are a total of 21 cases that Phelps will work, in addition to 40 street crimes he and his partner can respond to at any time during the game. In addition to the cases there are other collectibles throughout the game as well, 95 cars that can be driven, 50 golden film reels to be collected, and 13 newspapers as well.
Gameplay and Controls
The game feels very good. The controls are all very responsive, and playing the game is very fun. Whether you're driving a car, involved in a gun fight, or chasing suspect down the alleyways of LA, everything handles very nicely. I remember in GTA IV, driving cars for me was like puling teeth. The same does not hold true with L.A. Noire. Driving is actually quite fun, and even when you don't feel like driving, there is a fast travel option that will allow your partner to drive and skip to your destination (much like the fast travel system in Red Dead Redemption). However, the core gameplay is not anything new or innovative. It feels like a Rockstar game, which is in no way a bad thing. But, it's also not extremely new or innovative until you get to experience the new interrogation/interview system that has been added to this game.
The interview system in L.A. Noire is, to me, the highlight of the game and one of the most interesting game mechanics that has been added to any game ever. Being a detective, it is your job to successfully interview and interrogate various suspects who hold vital information for your investigations. With every question you ask there are three options with which you can respond to their answers: (1) Truth, you accept their answer and assume they are truthful. (2) Doubt, you feel that they are lying but have no hard evidence to support your claim. (3) Lie, you know that they are lying due to the evidence that you have collected. Assuming that you pick the correct response to their statement, they will tell you more information that will lead your towards your ultimate goal: the truth. However, L.A. Noire's biggest triumph also carries some of its biggest flaws.
The main problem with the interrogations is that the results of your interviews don't really matter. Yes, it is true that not getting all of the correct answers can leave you with a feeling that you put the wrong person behind bars. But, it in no way impedes your progress through the game. All of the story's twists and turns, the good guys and bad guys, everything that occurs is going to happen no matter how well you perform on a case. Your commanding officer normally doesn't even care as long as you found someone to pin the crime on and put behind bars. It's just kind of disappointing. With games being developed where your every action affects the world around you, L.A. Noire seems to be well behind the times. It would even be more satisfying if you completely failed the case and were forced to start over rather than just being given a pat on the back and allowed to continue on to botch the next case.
The other innovative gameplay aspect of L.A. Noire is the evidence collection process that you conduct at every crime scene. Whether you're collecting an actual murder weapon, or a pamphlet that will lead you to your next suspect, nearly everything you examine in someway pertains to your case and can be used at a later point in time to prove that your suspect is lying. Once again though, this fun new mechanic also has some issues with it. The main problem is the fact that finding the clues is very simple. Most of the time, based on your case, you are going to have some notion as to what you are looking for. That's not what makes it easy though... What makes it easy is the fact that there is music that plays in the background whenever you arrive to the scene and this music stops once you have found all of the clues. Not only that, but every clue vibrates and chimes as well whenever you pass over it. You can turn this option off, but then finding every clue is too hard. There's no happy medium here. It's just kind of weird.
Another gameplay mechanic that I'm not a fan of is the fact that you can skip any "action sequence" if you die multiple times while attempting it. This includes gun fights and chase sequences that may be vital to progression. I just don't like the fact that you can skip over something just because you die a few times. Games are supposed to be challenging, but some of the features of L.A. Noire take away any type of challenge at all.
Visuals and Sound
The graphics, soundtrack, and voice acting present in L.A. Noire are impeccable and are light years beyond some of the games that are coming out on the market. With the new facial recognition technology that Team Bondi used, the player is teleported into an immersive and stunning world. The only reason this game works as well as it does is this new technology that Bondi used. The interrogation system is clearly the game mechanic that relies most heavily on it, and it’s amazing. From a furled brow to a shifting sideways glance, L.A. Noire perfectly captures the human experience.
The soundtrack is a perfect compliment to the visuals created by L.A. Noire. The developers did an amazing job creating a soundtrack that really enhanced every environment that you enter. With varying audio tracks for crime scenes, car chases, shootouts, and interrogations, the soundtrack of this game can really draw the player into the world.
In addition to the soundtrack, the voice acting in the game is also great. Team Bondi did a great job casting the various players for the story that they were creating, and the voice acting further enhances the amazing world that L.A. Noire delivers to the player.
The game has a total of 40 achievements, and they’re pretty fun to try to collect. There are none that are overly hard, but some of them require the same diligence that’s been seen in other Rockstar titles. I’m mainly referencing the achievements for getting all of the collectibles, 5-starring every case, and 100% game completion. My favorite achievements this game had were the ones that involved a specific action or a specific clue while working a case. Total there were 5 of these, but given the context of the game, I just thought they were really cool additions to the regular achievements. The other nice thing about this game is that none of the achievements are technically missable. The achievements may require you to play a specific case again, but it never requires a fresh playthrough of the entire story, which is nice.
When I say worth, I’m assessing whether or not L.A. Noire is worth the original price of $60 for a new XBox 360 game. L.A. Noire definitely passes the test. Depending on overall thoroughness, the first playthrough of L.A. Noire should take somewhere between 20 and 30 hours of gameplay. After that, there is still a lot to be done. Getting the game to 100% achievement completion definitely takes some time between gathering all of the collectibles, driving all of the cars, and 5-starring all of the cases. There’s a lot to be done in L.A. Noire, and it exceeds well past the initial playthrough. With DLC on its way and more sure to come, L.A. Noire will have a lot for everyone.
Overall, L.A. Noire is one of the best games that has been released so far in 2011. Team Bondi and Rockstar put together an amazing title, that was a joy to playthrough. The major successes of the game are due to the amazing new technology that was incorporated into the game. The human experience comes to life in L.A. Noire, and it is a treat to be a part of it. However, L.A. Noire does also stumble along the way. Aspects of the game can be too simple and easy at times, and your actions overall do not bear any weight towards your overall progression through the story. Were L.A. Noire to be coming out towards the end of the year with the other heavy hitters of 2011, it still would have been a hit, but not nearly as much as it is now. Due to it’s release, L.A. Noire, Team Bondi, and Rockstar have at this point released the best game of 2011. With the eminent DLC for L.A. Noire on it’s way, L.A. Noire will definitely be one for everyone to keep in their library.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5 (5 since I can't put 4.5)
Gameplay: 4 out of 5
Graphics and Sound: 5 out of 5
Achievements: 4 out of 5
Innovativeness and Creativity: 5 out of 5 (not normally a rating, but I found it necessary for this title)
Worth: 5 out of 5