Tuesday, 14 June 2011

L.A. Noire-Worthy of all the hype?

Games company Rockstar have seen themselves spawn several successful games over the past decade or so. Perhaps most known for it's Grand Theft Auto series, they have since gone on to produce the hit western shooter Red Dead Redemption last year, a game which managed to combine a compelling story with gritty action. Now, L.A. Noire, released in May 2011 has arrived for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 owners, which Rockstar are handling the publishing duties for (Team Bondi are the developers). Promising to up the story telling, and provide an intriguing and cinematic homage to the detective genre, or in other words the black and white film noire films which were hugely popular during the 1940s and 1950s in particular. Thankfully though, Team Bondi and Rockstar go above the expectations, and provide not only a hugely compelling game which betters the already excellent Red Dead Redemption, but a largely cinematic one also.

L.A. Noire for the Xbox 360 is spread across 3 discs. While this may seem like a lot, in reality, the game is actually rather short. Expect to complete the main storyline within 15 hours. This may seem quite long to a lot of people, but there have been a few games that are 3 to 4 discs long on the Xbox 360 which have taken a lot longer. For instance Lost Odyssey is a 4 disc epic that takes over 60 hours to fully complete. You will be pleased to know that for the most part the controls are very simple to operate, especially after you have been through the tutorial. The trickiest part for me was the driving, which luckily you get used to a lot more as you progress through the game (and there is always the option to allow your PC-controlled partner take the wheel instead). L.A. Noire focuses on Cole Phelps, an ex-marine who has just returned to the war. Phelps has been re-instated in his position in the police, and throughout the course of the game you steer him through promotions, demotions, grisly murders, drug crimes, government officials and police corruption, and turmoil in his private life. Although this re-imagining of 1940's Los Angeles may look glamorous, especially at night around the Hollywood area with all the twinkling lights, but this is far from the case. The game exposes the seedier side of life in this area, and Phelps finds himself being thrown deeper and deeper into it.

The game is split into five sections. You begin the game in a tutorial style level which has been set up purely to allow you to grab the basics of the game. After solving a brief case, you will be promoted to the Traffic police. Finish all the investigations in this section, and you'll then move up to Homicide, then Vice, and finally, Arson. The game handles the same in each section. You will have to investigate crime scenes, track down information, chase down criminals and look for crucial evidence which will help you improve your end of case rating. However, this does not for a second make the game feel samey. Each case is incredibly intriguing, and a rewarding feeling comes with locking away the correct suspect after painstakingly looking for vital evidence. The interrogation sequences are incredibly fun and also rather challenging. You will ask your suspect a series of questions, which they will then proceed to answer. Pay close attention to their facial expressions-you will be able to sometimes tell if someone is lying if they are not giving you eye contact! Once they have answered, you have the choice to answer with Truth, Doubt or Lie. If it is a lie you are accusing them of, you must have the evidence collected to back up your claim, otherwise it could all go horribly wrong. The game changes each time you play it, depending on if you guessed their answers correctly or not. You may even end up jailing the wrong person based on enough incorrect answers! This is a game which tests how much you pay attention to all the little details, and being logical helps a lot too.

Those expecting a 1940's version of Grand Theft Auto will be hugely disappointed. L.A. Noire is a game like no other. Playing as a policeman, you will be heavily penalised if you decide to drive around the streets running people over and damaging property. You will not have any access to weapons whilst you are driving around or walking down the street, unless you are currently making your way through a shoot-off either in the car or on foot. Shooting innocents will only make you fail the case, so you have been warned! People wishing to create havoc in the streets will be disappointed that this game is lacking in this department, but in all honesty, it is not necessary. There is plenty here to keep you entertained.

The game pays homage to hard-boiled crime stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler and Hammett, and fans of this genre may recognise the various recreations and nods towards some of the more well known works. Each case is based on a real-life crime which has taken place in America around the same time the game is set. However, the cases in the game are not totally accurate to the real crimes, as characters have been changed and some aspects have been changed to flow with the games overall plot, but it is interesting to read up on Rockstar's website about the real crimes and how they influenced the investigations in game. 

From start to finish, L.A. Noire looks and feels like a film. Thirty two cameras filmed every angle of each actors face, so the likeness, and their expressions are incredibly spot on. The game is full of celebrity names, including several members of hit US TV series Mad Men. For instance, Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove in Mad Men) leant his likeness and voice to the games protagonist, Cole Phelps, who looks and acts so much like him, you actually have to remind yourself that this is not actually the real guy! The attention to detail is very impressive, with 1947 Los Angeles faithfully being restored. According to Rockstar's official website, over 95% of the landscape in L.A. Noire has been based on original places in Los Angeles. The attention to detail increases when you stop and peer into house or shop windows in game. You will find that some of the time you cannot enter these places (unless you have to for part of an investigation), but yet the inside of each building has been decorated considerably, even down to flickering candles! These are aspects that people may not even think of looking in on, so it is very impressive.

Sadly, the main story is over within 15 hours, which, if I am sure many of you will find, or have already, is not very long, considering the game-play is very addictive. It is very easy to start off L.A. Noire with the intention of playing it for 30 minutes or so, only to glance at your clock and find four hours have passed in what feels like no time at all. However, after the main story is complete, there is plenty of other things to get on with. The obligatory Rockstar "collecting items" achievements are here once again, and this time around you have the option to collect film reels (named after real Noire movies), discover real Los Angeles landmarks and discover a multitude or authentic 1940s cars which are scattered throughout the city. Cases can be re-played again if you want to improve your rating, and you will get calls from the police radio via despatch to any street crimes in L.A. that you can solve. Fear not, after all this, there is still more! Downloadable content is currently available, which adds more cases, new un-lockable costumes for Phelps and another collecting achievement for all you hoarders. There is more downloadable content coming in the foreseeable months, so do not despair, you will get another crime fix soon enough. L.A. Noire does not contain an online play mode though, unlike most other games out for the Xbox at the moment. However, online play for this game would only feel pretty unnecessary, and I certainly didn't miss it when I played this. You get too wrapped up in the crime solving to even think about the possibility of playing against someone online.

L.A. Noire is one of the most engaging, and refreshing games I have played in years. It makes a change to play on the police side investigating crime scenes, rather than being the enemy who has to cause them in the first place. It is great seeing Los Angeles faithfully restored to it's 1947 state, and the motion capture technology they have used to capture the actors expressions and voice is outstanding. This is definitely a new technology that we will see a lot more in the future. The graphics are stunning, and are probably the best graphics I have seen in a game so far. Yes, that is a big claim to make, but the motion capture technology and attention to detail within really help to put this above the rest. The crime scene investigation is incredibly exciting, and the overall storyline is very compelling. The sequel to this already hugely successful game has already been announced, and I await with baited breath for this, as I am sure many others are too. 

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