2011-06-02

L.A. Noire – The Dark Side Of 1940’s L.A.

by Yo Snyder

If the makers of Batman: Arkham City really want to improve detective mode, theyd do well to take a few notes from L.A. Noire.
Why? Because this game really makes you feel like a detective by giving
you the opportunity to actually do some detecting. You have to canvass
a crime scene for clues, and when you find them, the game doesnt
arbitrarily move you on to the next sequence, you have to make the
connection between the clues and the suspects, between the clues and
what you should do next. More than that, you also have to make judgment
calls on whether the people you interview and interrogate are being
truthful or are withholding vital information. In short, you get to be
a detective in L.A. Noire, making it one of the more unique gaming experiences available today.

Of course the thing that has everyone buzzing when it comes to L.A. Noire is its unique use of motion capture. The
reason you can make judgment calls on whether or not a character is
telling you the truth is because this game captures every nuance of a
characters face. From shifty eyes to a pursed mouth to nervous
swallowing, every subtle movement and expression is on display,
allowing you to decide how truthful a suspect is being. Its hard to
describe just how impressive this all is, but it really is a big step
in bridging the gap between games and movie. More than many games (with
the exception of ones like Heavy Rain), at its best L.A. Noire feels like an interactive cinematic experience.

However, there are constant reminders that you arent watching a
movie but actually playing a game. Youre scored on how well you do
during an interrogation and receive experience points to help you rank
up accordingly. You can of course try to get everything right by
repeating cases or loading from your last save, which again can ruin
the cinematic effect but appeals to the gamer side of things by
allowing you to get a better score. And while the facial animations are
truly impressive, the way your character moves about the environment is
less so. Your movements are often very robotic, especially as you try
to get into the right spot in order to examine a certain piece of
crucial evidence. So despite those brilliant moments that let you get
caught up in the whole its like an interactive movie, youll have
plenty of reminders that you are in fact playing a video game.

And the issues dont end there. This game has a very specific story
to tell, which can cause some problems. You may finish one case with
your captain chewing you out for being so incompetent and then start
the next with him praising your brilliance. Another point of
frustration is the fact that no matter how well or how poorly you do in
interrogating people and finding clues, the outcome of the case often
turns out exactly the same way. Granted you get more experience points
for finding the clues and getting the right answer to your questions,
but itd still would have been nice to have some of that change the
outcome of your cases.

That being said, L.A. Noire is still an incredibly fun experienceif you dont mind its slightly more involved and slower paced gameplay. Like Red Dead Redemption, this game does a great job of really making you feel like a detective in 1940s Los Angeles. Much
that comes from the incredible attention to detail in the game world. 
Everything you see, hear and interact with feels very authentic. The
version of L.A. you drive around in is about as close as you can get to
being in L.A. in 1947. Even the way the characters talk and act rings
true to the period. For those of us who enjoy the adventures of Bogart
and Tracy and Cagney, this is a real treat. Add in to all of that the
fact that much of the story the game has to tell is very intriguing,
you have a great, pulp detective adventure. Based on some real unsolved
murders from that time, the narrative gets intricate and fascinating
about a third of the way through. Although the conclusion isnt quite
as satisfying as one might like, and despite the fact that not
everything ties together quite as well as you might expect, the story
and the setting of L.A. Noire help make it a truly fun and unique experience.

However, that experience doesnt come without a few warnings. L.A. Noire
is true to its genre and therefore is a pretty dark and gritty game.
While never on display merely for the shock value, this game can be
pretty gory (you are investigating murders, after all, some of the
pretty grisly and you need to check the bodies for clues). Youll also
come across some pretty sick people in this line of work, many with
little or no shame over their depravity and who are willing to share
far too much information if pressed properly (or at least, it was stuff
I wished they wouldnt have shared as I think Id just have been better
off not knowing). And
yes there is nudity in the game. One of the killers you track likes to
display his kills like trophies, leaving them lying on the ground
completely naked. All in all, the experience is like watching a
particularly gritty episode of CSI where you might say, I
cant believe they showed all of that on TV, even if she is corpse.
Finally, the characters in the game can be pretty foul-mouthed, and
while many of the other elements lend to the overall setting a story,
there were times when I wished I at least had the option for some sort
of language filter thats at times offered in other games.

If youre still willing to dive into this experience, you should
also know that nothing is ever quite what it seems.  Everyone has
something to hide in this seedy world, and most would rather that the
truth just wouldnt come out, no matter how just it may be. Then again,
thats really just a reflection of the real world. We all have
something to hide. There are certain things that wed just rather never
see the light of day. We often put on a facade and present only the
best parts of who we are to the world at large, keeping the real us
safely hidden away from prying eyes. Its easy to forget, however, that
although we may be able to hide from people, theres One we can never
hide from. Proverbs 20:27 says The lamp of the Lord searches the
spirit of man; it searches out his inmost being. Basically, God knows
everything about us and everything there ever will be to know about us;
we cant hide anything from him. Scary prospect, isnt it? However, the
good news is that God knows everything about us, and he still loves us.
In fact, he loved us so much he sent his son Jesus to die on cross and
rise from the dead in order to free us from sin, give us a hope and a
future, and to help us become all that we were meant to be. Basically,
theres no reason to hide from God. I get that people naturally want to
hide some things, but know that with God we cant do that, and dont
really have to, which I find as somewhat of a relief.

As for the rest of L.A. Noire, well its pretty much all
standard stuff. The driving is adequate, and certainly feel better and
more responsive than in any GTA game. The action is pretty basic, with
controls similar to Red Dead or GTA for shooting and taking cover. It
gets right what so many open world games get wrong with interesting
side missions and random street crimes. There are lots of hidden
bonuses to find like special cars and landmarks around L.A., and its
all pretty decent stuff for a game. However, like I said, this game
shines the most when it feels less like a game and more like an
interactive cinematic experience. Theres a thrill and satisfaction to
correctly deducing a clues usefulness or correctly reading a person or
properly solving a riddle left as a taunt by a killer. I like that this
game lets me be the detective, even if it isnt quite bold enough to
let me fail at that. I like that I have to do the work (which some
gamers may not enjoy), but I dont like just how on-rails the story
can feel at times. L.A. Noire uses some amazing technology to
make a game unique game experience, but isnt quite willing to let go
of some of the more game-like elements. If you can handle gritty
detective thrillers set in the 1940s, this is one experience you dont
want to miss. If you shy away from crime thrillers and shows like CSI because of their dark subject matter, then youre probably better off skipping this one.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 5 – The face mapping technology is amazing, but some
textures can be a little blurry. Animations can at times be a bit
stiff. Overall, though, this is a good looking game with some
fascinating new technology being put to work.

Sound: 6 – The authentic soundtrack, the music on the radio, the
slang of the dialogue, the solid performances from actors; it all makes
for a great sounding game.

Controls: 5 – Its easy to get around and do everything from driving
to fist fights, everything works well, though the controls for the fist
fights, since the happen so rarely, were tough to remember, but
eventually I go the hang of it.

Gameplay: 5 – Your handy notebook is a great mechanic to help you
keep track of things and set locations for you to travel to. The
brilliant need to do actual detective work is a lot of fun (though not
for everyone as its methodical and slow) as doing interrogations and
questioning suspects. A nice mix of random crimes offer shoot outs and
car chases to keep things from being to slow.

Story: 5 – There are some intriguing elements to this story, and
some that just dont quite click. Also, it doesnt really flow very
well at times, and I wish it could be shaped a bit more by your actions.

Content: 3 – This is a gritty, dark, brutal world. Crimes can be
gory, and at times naked corpses are found lying on the ground.
Language is pretty rough, and just some of what is talked about can be
pretty gnarly. Take the M rating seriously, but also know most of these
elements serve the story and setting and arent just there arbitrarily.

Final Score: 5 – Were it not for some of the content and a
few technical flaws here in there, I would have scored this game
higher. For those who are old enough and love the crime genre,
especially the old, pulp detective stories, this is an experience not
to be missed. The technology in this game could help change how stores
are told in games going forward, but only time will tell. Still, you
got give credit for the makers being bold enough to do something
different and original.