This is the city. The Los Angeles of 1947 is the setting of Rockstar Games’ lates opus, L.A. Noire, and all of it’s post-war splendor is in full force. Junkies, thieves, hookers and murderers line the streets with reckless abandon and some even carry badges. The game strays a bit from what most fans expect from Rockstar’s titles, but how far? Does it manage to remain “thicker’n thieves” with its kin or should they be picking lead out of its liver by lunchtime? Most gamers will spend only a few minutes with L.A. Noire before they’ll be figurin’ that this doll “aint gonna be the one taking the fall.”
L.A. Noire has one thing going against it... its pedigree. There is a certain level of expectation that comes with simply being a Rockstar title, and although a great deal of it is present here in L.A. Noire, certain aspects have been “de-emphasized.” Yes, this is a sprawling rendition of Los Angeles in 1947 and yes, there is much to see here (many of today’s landmarks were present back then... perhaps a certain house on Franklin Ave? The Figueroa Hotel? What’s your favorite?), but a lot of the city is simply window dressing. You can enter buildings that have a gold door handle, but there will be nothing to do there unless said building is directly related to the case at hand. You cannot commit random crimes on the street as your character, Cole Phelps, is one of the rare “up and up” detectives of the time period and, in comparison to his peers, is practically a boy scout. You can’t even draw your gun unless it’s absolutely necessary.
There are side missions that come in the form of “radio calls” while you’re traveling about the city investigating your main case. This is where players get their “action fix,” as most of these missions consist of getting to a street crime in progress and either capturing or killing the criminal at hand. To put it plainly, the rest of L.A. Noire plays exactly like an old-school adventure game; investigate the scene, pick up anything that is not nailed down and then use said items when necessary. In short, L.A. Noire is a mixture of GTA, Heavy Rain and parts of the Phoenix Wright series. Those who can understand that will absolutely adore this title.
Players assume the role of Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran turned LAPD officer as he rises up the ranks in the department. Cole is as straight-laced and honest a cop as one would hope for and realistically expect to come across in that city at that time. The city is full of vermin who think they can get away with anything and Cole is there to clean ‘em out, or so he hopes. Cases are assigned at the station and after traveling to the scene, our hero must find (and go over) every detail and record them in his casebook. Eventually the investigation will lead to the arrest of a suspect and this is where the game’s brand new graphics engine comes into play.
L.A. Noire employs a new engine called MotionScan, which has enabled the developers to capture the facial expressions of their actors on a photo-realistic level. The main thrust of the interrogation gameplay involves players being able to tell when a suspect is lying by their facial expressions and ticks (or lack thereof), so both the technology and the performances from the actors had to be spot on and brilliant. Cole Phelps is played by Aaron Stanton of AMC’s Mad Men, a show known for some of the best dramatic performances in television today. (Actually, there are no fewer than four of the Mad Men cast populating L.A. Noire, so Rockstar really knew what well to tap for fine performances.) One look at the game in action and it becomes evident that Team Bondi and Rockstar not only succeeded, but have set a new bar for character design in video games. Get the suspect to confess, and Cole Phelps will rise the departmental ladder quickly. Accuse the wrong suspect, and Cole will suffer the wrath of the brass.
The sound design is also of the highest caliber. The sound effects are accurate to the time period and just sound “right.” The radio stations play programming that was true to the time, and the dialogue spoken contains that “Chandleresque” patter any game daring to call itself L.A. Noire would have to sport in spades.
All in all, an absolute treat for the eyes and the ears... that is if you can stomach the content. Anyone interested in L.A. Noire must understand that this is a game for an adult audience. The grisly crime scenes can be very off-putting to some, and considering the subject matter of the game is to solve serial killings and clean up a town notorious for being the Sodom & Gomorrah of the era, players should know what they are getting into beforehand. The dialogue is also quite strong and this title may actually be the first video game title to use a specific acronym for “see you next Tuesday” so liberally (or at all). If you are not a “lily-soul” and have had secret fantasies about stepping into the shoes of Sam Spade, then L.A. Noire is “the stuff that dreams are made of.”