Playing L.A. Noire feels like taking a tour thru the classic American detective movies. Players will progress by moving from case to case, from crime scene to crime scene, performing police tasks that involve examining dead bodies, talking to witnesses, and discovering relevant evidence on the crime scenes. There will be blood-boiling car chases, foot chases, as well as plenty of shooting and fighting to fill up your detective agenda.
You play, for the most part, as Cole Phelps, a world war veteran who has earned a silver star for his contributions in Okinawa, Japan. You start off the game as a traffic policeman, and through a series of successful investigations, you rise up through the ranks within the LAPD justice system. As you work through the game and the depressing streets of Los Angeles, you will begin to realize the amount of effort and research that have been invested into this game by Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. The developers have done an outstanding job in recreating a very believable atmosphere of the post world war Los Angeles to back up its complex yet satisfying plot.
This game has many similarities to other Rockstar games such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Besides the 21 cases that drives the main plot, players will have the option to answer to dispatches to deal with 40 street crimes, discovering landmarks, unlocking new vehicles, and similar to other Rockstar games, collecting Easter eggs (in the form of film reels this time around). But unique to L.A. Noire are the aspects of examining a crime scene and questioning P.O.I.s (person of interest). As you move to a crime scene or a suspect's home, you have the ability to discover evidence that attempts to explain what has taken place, or evidence that can be used against P.O.I.s later on when you try to catch them in a lie. The biggest step forward in the gameplay however, is the aspect of questioning P.O.I.s and interrogating suspects by reading their facial expressions and body gestures, which turned out to be a huge success. The realistic facial expressions on nearly all the characters you meet throughout the game allows you to observe how people in the game react to you and to what you have to say. That is not to say you're stuck in a pattern of recognition mode where every time a suspect blinks would suggest that he or she is lying, but this system encourages players to think carefully about a situation, the evidence, combined with the P.O.I.'s reaction to carefully choose the appropriate response. In fact, choosing the right response will not be easy once you pass the early tutorial section, this not only makes every interviews and interrogations in the game fun, but the facial details allow players to see very realistic reactions.
In a game like L.A. Noire, being able to differentiate characters becomes very important not just because you meet tons of them, but they are in a storyline that becomes quite complex. Being able to associate faces when someone is namedropping allow players to connect to the story in a way very few games have been able to accomplish. The improved facial details make the game feels more realistic, making players sometimes forget about the fact that they're playing a game, but watching a movie unfold.
L.A. Noire deserves a lot of credit on how well the plot and subplots are connected together. Be warned, the story is long, and packed with a lot of content that requires you give a conscious effort to keep track. A playthru focusing on the main storyline can take you anywhere from 15 to 20 hours. You will encounter clichés of your average detective movies such as murder, drug heist, arson, but all these cases tie very well to a much deeper conspiracy beneath the surface. Just as you think you've gotten a grasp on what is to come, the story takes a dramatic turn, putting you in an unfamiliar position. L.A. Noire also raises some social and philosophical questions such as the psychological torments that the war veterans have to bear and the ethicality of treatments that have been forcefully administered, these issues will quickly become a central theme to the game. The clever writing of the story calls for players to pay close attention to the characters seen during cases, in flashbacks, film reels, and in newspaper articles that you will read about. Even the seemingly random interactions early on in game would make a lot more sense later on or even unnoticeable until a second playthru.
To further enhance the story telling, there are mechanics set out to prevent distractions caused by the gameplay. For example, while interrogating suspects, you don't always have to choose all the correct responses in order to solve the cases, which lead to the possibility that you might sometimes get through cases without fully knowing the story behind them. But this also means that you're unlikely to get stuck in a situation where you're just trying to remember all the right responses in order to solve cases. The game also allows players to skip action sequences such as tailing a suspect or a shooting sequence if a player has failed them three times in a row. All these mechanics serve to enhance the player's experience with the storytelling.
The brilliant storyline is backed up by the creation of a very convincing Great Depression Los Angeles. The jazz music, the bootlegged bars, the hillside mansions mixed with suburban households, homeless war veterans wondering around corners of the streets, the trams that run on center of avenues, chasing suspects through a motion picture set, are all the details that come together to set the tone for a crime riddled era. Pedestrian and other characters will even react differently to you as your status changes throughout the game, making the world around you feeling organic. Driving through the city remains to be a pleasure as in other Rockstar games, you'll be able to discover landmarks and enjoy the view to the streets of Los Angeles during the early 1900's, all the while listening to Miles Davis playing on the radio.
L.A. Noire will not knock your shoes off with its gameplay, but its focus on delivering its rich plot and the new face capturing technology mean players will be able to sit back and enjoy the intelligent story telling few games are able to do. And with its star studded cast, L.A. Noire gives us a glimpse of what next generation gaming will offer.
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