Sunday, April 8, 2012

[Game review] L.A. Noire

One thing you'll begin to notice on my blog, is that I like to highlight older games and films with a review. Mostly for the games and films that provoke a wide spread of varied opinions.

Back in 2011 (Quite a long time ago), Rockstar Games launched L.A. Noire, a Team Bondi production, on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Like every new Rockstar release, leaked copies could be found amongst the internet as game launch was right around the corner. Illegal live broadcasting of the game kept evident on websites like People had surprisingly already beaten the game, and acquired a crystal-clear grasp of what the ending contains.

I knew to stay away from the internet for at least the next two weeks. There was no way I'd let spoilers cross my path. Not for a linear, story-driven game such as this.

And so I picked up my reserved copy from GameStop at midnight. Had no strength to keep my eyes alert for more than five minutes, so I decided to be a patient bastard. Off to sleep I went. In the morning, I'd be playing the most refreshing game out on the market.

   L.A. Noire is essentially a homage to all things including Los Angeles and dark crime. In Los Angeles, crimes seem to be darker than the color black. The Black Dahlia Murder is still insanely provocative to this day. In L.A. Noire, you mainly control LAPD detective Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton, known for his role as Ken Cosgrove on the hit TV show Mad Men), a new guy on the force. Throughout the game you learn more about his character and what made him the way he is.

The game is episodic, in the way that each case stands mostly on its own. There's an overarching storyline, one that is meant to keep you playing until the game's conclusion.

Right off the bat you'll notice how cinematic of a game L.A. Noire is. Probably not worth mentioning given the amount of attention it has already received, but L.A. Noire makes use of a new sort of technology, MotionScan, allowing for actors to bring their facial performances, matched with their vocal performances, into the game. Many believe the outcome to dive deep into uncanny valley territory. I myself only find the majority of women characters in this game to look peculiar. That being said, I think any new piece of technology will be iffy and cause some skeptics.

   Despite how cinematic you think L.A. Noire is, it is a game. You're playing a game. That's pretty clear, once you're given control of Cole Phelps. Movement of Cole can be a bit awkward if you've never played a modern Rockstar title before. I find it similar to Red Dead Redemption's character movement, and not as awkward as Grand Theft Auto IV's character movement.

In the game you find yourself looking for clues spread out amongst nasty crime scenes. And by nasty, I truly mean nasty. You're feeling mauled, bloody corpses. Every substantial clue you discover is added to your notebook. Unless you want to be the shittiest detective on the planet, it helps to review your clues and progress.

The evidence you find will be of use to you during interrogations, L.A. Noire's biggest highlight regarding gameplay.

Such as every interrogation, in the game your goal is to obtain truth. Some interrogations are easier than others. Let's say you're interrogating a suspect back at the station. He gives his side of the story relating to a piece of information you want. Using the MotionScan technology, you're forced to analyze his facial features closely. Was he telling the truth? Do you doubt that story? Or do you absolutely know he was lying, and want to accuse him of that?

There are three buttons for each of those choices. Pick one, and you'll find out whether or not your judgement was correct, indicated by a jingle.

It's a fun experience, but also a difficult one. It has you putting extreme mental effort in an honestly simple piece of gameplay. Some characters are better at hiding the truth than others. There are a few instances where it'll be too easy, thanks to a poor performance given by an actor or actress. Overall I found many of the MotionScanned actors to be quite excellent, excluding the child actresses. Though, good child actors in games are hard to come by.

   The tone isn't calm for too long, you'll realize. The game is called L.A. Noire for a reason. There are car chases, gun fights, and fistfights to keep things a great deal more exciting.

Driving can be ultimately frustrating to some, given the light feel of the cars. I mastered driving quickly, though it can be quite a challenge when initiating intense car chases that occasionally happen out of nowhere. For casual driving, you can always skip to destination by letting your partner drive. Crucial bits of car chatter are spewed before the screen fades, bringing you to your destination.

When in a shootout, cover is usually always available. Handling a gun is nice, though the developers had to make it so, since shootouts make few appearances.

Fistfights feel really responsive. And fun. The combat is nice. Admittedly I want Rockstar to adopt this system of fighting and use it in Grand Theft Auto V, somehow. I wouldn't mind being able to beat the hats off of random civilians in the same manner presented in L.A. Noire.

If you prove to be quite terrible in these action sequences, dying multiple times, you'll be prompted the choice to skip the action, and move forward. It's amusing for us gamers, but there is probably an admirable amount of gamer-turned film buffs who tried this game, thanks to the plethora of surprisingly well-known faces in the game.

   The big question: Is it repetitive? That's a question I can only answer for myself, so I'll do just that. I'm a huge fan of film noir, I love the genre. The game features tons and tons of references, going so far as to include collectible golden film reels spread across the map, each representing a classic film. Obviously I'm fond of the game for being a bit like L.A. Confidential, though some may consider it to be a ripoff in game form. The game enthralled me. I liked the visuals, the colors reminded me of early Technicolor. There's a bit of pop-up, but I saw past that (probably not so apparent on the PC version, I played on the Xbox 360). The music is excellent, my personal favorite of 2011.

Besides that, I found myself immersed with the gameplay, I liked it. I wasn't shooting things constantly. The story kept my attention. I wanted to see who committed the crime. I wanted to learn more about Cole Phelps. Felt like I was playing the most cinematic game ever; probably because I was doing just that. When I completed L.A. Noire, I thought that I had just watched a movie. It was obvious though, I had been playing a game all along. Everything seemed to flow just like a movie. It was a great experience.

There's a good bit of replay value in L.A. Noire, but probably for the wrong reasons. There are collectibles and clues to find. There are multiple ways to complete a case, but you can't really "fail" a case. If you screw up an interrogation, you move right on. I was pretty good in my first playthrough, but the idea behind that is kind of iffy. That is my biggest issue with the game: you're not prone to failure, besides death in the action sequences. I'm not extremely upset, but of all things implemented to make L.A. Noire feel like a game, failure should be a part of it.

Overall it was one damn good experience. Like every game, I eventually got bored of it. Soon, like every other game and movie, I'll feel like heading back to it. Reliving the experience all over again.

L.A. Noire is out now for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.

Rockstar has hinted that a successor to L.A. Noire is extremely possible. Can you imagine? Obviously Team Bondi is no more, but Rockstar themselves handling an L.A. Noire title? That's what wet dreams are made of.

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