L.A Noire Review

 A collaboration between Rockstar and Team Bondi, L.A Noire puts players in the shoes of war veteran turned detective Cole Phelps as he tires to find some redemption on the streets of 1940's Los Angeles. Whilst this certainly isn't the first Rockstar game to feature a war scarred protagonist on a quest for redemption, L.A Noire is definitely not GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption circa 1944.  Sure, there's an impressive sandbox city in all it's glory, and there are exciting car chases and shootouts that borrow heavily from the aforementioned Rockstar titles, but none of these things are really at the core of L.A Noire.Instead the game focuses on the processes of deduction and investigation, utilising several gameplay mechanics that really make Cole Phelps feel more like a detective than just Niko Bellic 2.0.   

Cole Phelps is to clues what pigs are to truffles.
Instead of missions L.A Noire is broken up into separate cases as Cole progresses through four departments of the force: Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson, each with its own unique feel, and each with it's own wisecracking partner for Cole to work with. After a brief session as a uniformed officer Cole finds himself learning the ropes as a rookie detective on the traffic desk. Though the game holds your hand a little too much through these early cases, making them feel a little too simple at times, it still does a good job at guiding players through the mechanics that will take up most of your playing time: Investigation and Interrogation.

Each case begins with Cole and one of his partners arriving at the crime scene. Cole then proceeds to enact a modern rendition of a point and click adventure game and search for clues. This involves moving Cole around the crime scene looking for the key pieces of evidence that can make or break a case. When you come near a piece of evidence the game lets you know by playing a jingle and vibrating the controller - both of which can be turned off if you prefer your games on the more tedious side of challenging.

Well... this seems innocent enough.
Of course not everything you find will be relevant to the case. It takes a while to learn how to differentiate between what is and what isn't important. You'll probably pick up your fair share of empty beer bottles and discarded cigarettes before you get the hang of finding Cornell Mustard's candlestick amidst the junk. Whilst combing every inch of a crime scene until you feel your controller buzz sounds tedious in principle, in practice this is rarely the case.This is in part due to the great sense of atmosphere created by the games score and level design, and also due to the nature of the clues themselves which can range from the mandatory bloody tire iron, to a cleverly hidden stash of morphine. Once a clue is found Cole will pick it up, allowing the player to manipulate it and search for more detailed evidence such as the name of a bar on a packet of matches, or the size of a shoe. These clues are then cataloged in Cole's trusty notebook where they can be viewed at anytime to help you keep track of the case, but their more important use is during the second aspect of investigation, interrogation. 
'Hey, Fred! Velma! Look, I found a clue!'
After the each crime scene has been thoroughly scoured the next step usually involves interrogating witnesses, victims and suspects, not all of whom will go out of their way to be helpful. In fact  even the innocent ones seem to have some secret motive to intentionally mislead you. 

The interrogation scenes manage to be amazing and frustrating often simultaneously which is no easy feat. The amazement comes mostly from Team Bondi's new motion capture technology, used to capture real actors facial expressions and performances. It's hard to see from just a still photo but the motion capture technology is fantastic. Faces in video games have never seemed so real. These aren't fictional faces made up by an artist and rendered by an animator, these are real actors giving real performances, and their performances are crucial to L.A Noire. During the initial stages these performances aren't exactly subtle due to that hand holding process I mentioned earlier. Liars will avoid eye contact or pull villainous  smirks and snarls, whilst truth tellers will look you straight in the eye with blank faces. However, once the training wheels come off the performances become more genuine making the liars much harder to spot.Whilst the gameplay aspects of interrogation can make these 'conversations' feel stilted at times, the dialogue is superb nevertheless, and the motion capture tech is incredibly immersive.

''Charmed?'...Nope, never heard of it.'
During interrogations scenes players will work their way through a list of questions for each witness/suspect by selecting them from Cole's note book.  Once the witness/suspect gives their answer you're then given three choices: Truth, doubt or lie, only one of which is correct. This is where the frustration comes in. The truth option is fairly straight forward. Whilst some characters have shifty faces, it's usually pretty clear when they're being truthful. However, when they're not being truthful it's a lot less clear cut. Once you decide a character is lying you have two choices, doubt and lie. The doubt option is used when you can't explicitly prove that their statement is false. If you can prove their statement false, or you think you can, then you choose the lie option. You then need to back up your claim with a piece of evidence. For instance if a suspect claims he was at home all evening you select his rain soaked jacket proving he was out in last nights rain. In this example the system works fine and feels logical however, at times the game seems overly choosy about what clues do and don't disprove a statement. Often a seemingly related clue will result in you 'failing' the question despite it seeming to fit, leading to some frustrating gameplay here and there.

Stalking women, one of Cole's many pastimes.
The cycle of investigate/interrogate repeats itself throughout each case, and is intercut with more action orientated elements. Nobody in 40's L.A ever seems happy to go down without a fight, and there are plenty of shootouts, car chases and fistfights to balance out the game's more meditative moments. The fighting and shooting seem straight out of Rockstar's repertoire. Both are exiting and work well. There there are a range of 40's guns on offer to keep things fresh, and some hidden vehicles scattered across the city for those after 100% completion. In contrast, the fighting is a little bit stiff and awkward.  There's nothing too wrong with it in terms of functionality, it's just a bit clunky and  of all the action elements it's definitely  the least fun. 

All Cole wants is a hug.
Negatives aside there's still one more crucial aspect of this game I've barely  discussed and that is what really makes this game great - the tone. L.A Noire is dark, and gritty and often uncompromising in its depiction of gruesome events and despicable characters. The game effortlessly evokes the feel of the Noir genre from which it takes it's slightly misspelled name, and for those looking for even more of a Film Noir feel there's even an option to play in black and white. From the jazzy 40's sound track  to the hard-boiled pessimistic plot the game has style by the bucketful. 

L.A Noire is worth getting just to see the motion capture alone but thankfully there's far more than that. An appropriately mysterious plot filled with some captivating well fleshed out characters combined with a great film Noir tone and some truly innovative gameplay that requires players to actually think makes L.A Noire a unique game definitely worth playing. The lack of focus on action may put off some, but for those who are still intrigued it's  must play.