L.A. Noire would appear to be an open world action game, much like Red Dead Redemption: a sprawling world to explore, interesting characters, side quests that pop up as you move through the environment, outfits to collect and wear. However, what L.A. Noire really is is a return to the classic graphic adventure game, dressed in a fine suit of 3D graphics.
To be more specific, L.A. Noire most resembles Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in terms of puzzle mechanic: you scan an area for clues, and interrogate witnesses and suspects using the facts and their facial expressions to ask the right questions and call them out on lies with solid proof. Almost the entire game runs on this; the action sequences, which comprise roughly 20% of the game, are almost inconsequential, since the game wisely recognizes itself for what it is and allows narrative to flow by allowing the user to skip them if they fail three or more times. Skipping action sequences don’t affect the score or the outcome; the sequences are there merely to add flavor and a change of pace to the game, keeping it from becoming too cerebral.
The game relies heavily on the interrogation mechanic, and it’s a good one. Thanks to revolutionary motion capturing, facial expressions are dead one. The game narrowly avoids the uncanny valley with subtle facial tics and body movement, though at times it does veer close to “animated corpses talking”. The brilliant writing and voice acting helps avoid this, however. The game is also smart enough to know that some people are damned good liars, and you’ll be forced to pay attention to the story and the evidence to recognize when they’re being contrary.
The story itself takes place in Los Angeles circa 1947, so one can’t escape the comparisons to Chinatown, though the subject matter bring it closer to The Two Jakes and the unfilmed script Cloverleaf. The game recognizes this, since the incidental music is an homage to the original 1975 film.
The main protagonist Cole Phelps, however, couldn’t be more different than Jack Gittes. Phelps is a Lieutenant in the LA Police Department, rather than a private investigator, and your first few jobs are as a beat cop. Eventually, Phelps finds himself shuffled around the Department, going through various squads including Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Each squad has its own story arc, all of which contribute to the major story arc which, like the Gittes films, involve a scandal in the LA city infrastructure as the town is on the verge of exploding outward, determined to overtake San Francisco as the major city on the West Coast.
Phelps is a rarity for a Rockstar game – a protagonist who wants to be the hero. He is fully committed to truth and justice, but is tormented by his questionable leadership in a Pyrrhic victory in the Pacific campaign during World War II. He earned the Silver Star, but views himself as a failure, and constantly berates himself for his own weakness.
The story itself is quite mature, and intelligently written, with unflinching looks at LA society, and seldom ever gets caught up in some of the snarkiness and obvious political humor of other Rockstar games. (One character mocks, “Next thing you’ll know, you’ll accuse Richard Nixon of being a crook!”, which is an odd statement considering he was only a minor part of California’s House of Representatives in the late 1940′s.) If there is a problem with the game, it doesn’t seem to end so much as just stop in its tracks abruptly. While the storyline is concluded, it seems like Rockstar deliberately cut off a chunk of end content to sell as downloadable content.
Not that DLC isn’t wanted – the game feels like a sumptuous meal at times, making the game want to chew slowly as to not miss any of the nuances or minutiae of the game or the story. It’ll just be disappointing if the DLC released for the game is an epilogue that resolves some of the open questions left after the story has ended.
Overall, L.A. Noire is a wonderful adventure game experience that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners will enjoy, and is a way for new gamers to find out why adventure games were so popular back in the day. While not the be-all, end-all some have made it out to be, it’s a game that will be held up as one of the best games of the seventh generation of consoles.
Jonah Falcon is a blogger for TMRzoo and GameStooge.com and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Jonah provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.