Get L.A.’d Tonight with Rockstar Games’ Mystery Epic
Monday, June 13, 2011 Leave a comment
From the same company that brought you the Grand Theft Auto series comes L.A. Noire. It’s a homage to film noir; think Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, or even the 2005 film Sin City. The game is set in 1940’s Los Angeles and you play as Cole Phelps (played by Mad Men’s Aaron Staton), an up and coming detective with a dark past. You follow his career as he works his way up through the ranks of the police department.
One of the greatest assets of the game is the recreation of 1940’s Los Angeles. It may sound cliché, but the city itself is a character. There are several famous landmarks and neighborhoods that are represented. I’m a former Los Angeles resident myself, and as I drove throughout the city in-game, I could sense which neighborhood was which. From the dress of the characters, to the songs and programs on the car radio, to the cars themselves, you can tell that the game designers went to great lengths to create this historical representation of L.A. They even include real cases like the Black Dahlia Murder as a backdrop for some of the cases in the game.
Another key feature of the game is the facial motion capture system. The game developers had real life actors act their parts and implemented their performance onto their character models. This technology is especially prominent in the witness questioning part in the game, where you have to discern whether someone is honest, lying, or maybe withholding information from you. You have to study their face and look for telltale signs, such as shifting eyes, hard swallows, smirks or other facial quirks.
The gameplay tends to lend itself to the following formula: investigate crime scenes, find evidence, interview witnesses, and in some cases, interrogate suspects. The game is divided into cases, and you’ll find yourself moving through four different “desks” throughout the game: homicide, traffic, vice and arson. Despite having a different backdrop, these cases play out more or less the same, and usually involves a dead body or two. You drive from location to location, searching for evidence and interviewing suspects.
There are also side missions called “street crimes” that arise throughout the course of the game. These missions tend to be much more action-oriented. They can consist of fistfights, gunfights, car chases, and more. These missions provide a nice change from the slower pacing in the investigative part of the game.
The comparisons to GTA are inevitable, however, this is not a sandbox game. There’s little incentive to explore the world outside of the locations required for the cases. You are forever stuck playing the role of good cop. Your weapon is always holstered, and you cannot draw it unless you are in a designated gunfight sequence. You can’t even change weapons or ammo on the fly. You always start with a handgun unless you pick up a different one from someone you shot. This resets every time you enter the gunfight sequence. You have to be a good driver, avoiding all other cars and pedestrians. Any damage incurred is tallied at your end of the case report. What’s frustrating is that it feels like an open world game like GTA, but it’s mostly a facade. This game is unflinchingly linear.
I found it difficult at times to invest myself emotionally in the game. During my playthrough I felt that the story unfolded a little too linearly for my liking. The first time I encountered a hostage situation I was gripped. I really felt the potential consequences for my actions. However, this was quickly lost as I soon found that there was little to no room for failure. I found myself not caring about what happened because certain situations can be replayed if they are not completed satisfactorily. Either you complete the event as scripted, or the game does not continue. This isn’t always the case however, as it is possible to miss clues or falsely accuse people.
The controls can be a bit frustrating at times. Rotating and moving your character can be a cumbersome affair as he awkwardly pivots and turns about. Gunfights can be especially irritating due to the cover system that is implemented. It’s especially apparent in tight spaces, where I found my character gluing himself to the wrong wall, and as a result, exposing himself to a barrage of bullets.
The historical setting is a crucial element of the story, and reminded me a bit of Mafia 2. Both games are set in the aftermath of World War 2. In Mafia 2, Vito turns to a life of crime, while in L.A. Noire Cole does the opposite. One of the key plot points is Cole Phelps the war hero, struggling to come to terms with Cole Phelps, the rapidly ascending crime fighter. Flashback scenes are strewn throughout the game, and they help set the backdrop for the narrative, essentially filling in details for the gamer. These include scenes from the war, as well as events that unfold throughout the game. One qualm I had about the flashbacks were that they are usually told from an omniscient third-person perspective. I would have liked these parts to have been more seamlessly woven into the narrative, but all the different threads wrap up nicely in the end.
Overall, despite its flaws, L.A. Noire is a really solid game. I have to give credit to the developers for trying something new. There really isn’t another game out there that’s like it. There is replay value to be found in the game, but the real meat of the game is in the main story.