Four months late to the party though I was, I did manage to complete LA Noire last week; and finally feel comfortable enough to write a review. My hesitation about reviewing this game before I finished it mainly came from the sense that, at every occasion, it’s constantly building to something bigger; bigger set-pieces, bigger story twists etc. It’s a game that leaves you wanting more and I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I reviewed it before the last credits had rolled I was bound to miss something. In hindsight this review may have turned out even more full of praise for the guys at Team Bondi (r.i.p) if I hadn’t waited till the VERY end, but I’ll come back to that.
To start with I’d like to point out just how good this game looks. From its abandoned movie sets, dingy sewers and glitzy streets the game’s style never gets lazy or boring. The attention to detail we’ve come to expect from any game with Rockstar on the box is also maintained; for instance, boxes of washing powder have their own little brands and the cars all seem to have been crafted with love and care.
The elephant in this review-shaped room however, is those faces. Picking up the game for the first time it’s impossible not to be struck dumb by how convincing and often eerily life-like the faces of all the characters appear. On at least 3 occasions I’ve had to call people, flatmates etc., in to check that the things on the screen are real, and not just my over-active imagination.
These graphical leaps are not the only things that separate LA Noire from many other games; moreover it is the way in which they are tied in to the sound track and the characters to build a totally engrossing atmosphere. The music especially deserves recognition; the original score is good, if fairly standard, but the use of songs from the period is what really stands out. Hop in any car in the city and you’ll hear Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and many more classic artists that all add to the prevailing sense of place the games displays.
Gameplay-wise LA Noire is probably unlike any other game you’ve played in the past 5 years. If you’re expecting the gung-ho, guns-a-blazing approach that you saw in Red Dead and GTA then you’re in for somewhat of a shock. The action is not based on large gun fights, instead there are usually longer periods of meticulous poking and prodding- investigating various cleverly designed crime scenes, followed by short bursts of chasing and shooting.
I found that although the gun-based combat was solid it didn’t excite me in the way that the rest of the game did, apart from one or two very well crafted set-pieces, and on some occasions felt flat. However, in contrast, the third major mechanic after investigation and combat in LA Noire is one of the most ground-breaking experiences in the game- the interviews. These sections of the game are frequent and often very varied; you’re presented with questions to ask and you have to allocate the interviewee’s response in to three categories; truth, lie or doubt. This puzzle-like element is fascinating and it’s a joy to watch the actor’s faces as they squirm under questioning.
My only criticism would be that sometimes the three categories are too broad, more often than not you’ll have selected DOUBT after been 100% sure only to have the ‘fail’ tune play. This is partly do with the fact that the game encourages you and pushes you to notice any twitch in an actor’s face, regardless of evidence. In this sense it feels that the technology itself is complete but the presentation and mastering process is not.
Finally, the story. The plot and characters of LA Noire are, as a whole, well written and excellently portrayed. This is true for all characters apart from, in my opinion, Cole Phelps himself. As the game reaches 2/3 of its completion many of the choices and actions of Cole feel unnatural, as if they exist solely to add more ‘depth’ to the character- but in an entirely unsubtle manner.
The ending also for me was a huge disappointment; again it felt thrown on to add more ‘drama’. However it must be noted that many of the peripheral characters are what bring the game's story to life. In particular all of Cole's partners are imbued with true personality, from the steady old-fashioned Rusty Galloway to the scheming, flashy Roy Earle. Deserving special mention also is most certainly John Noble in his fantastic turn as LA property-mogul Leland Monroe. Noble (most recently of FOX's 'Fringe' fame) portrays this villain with suberb charisma and 40s style.
Ultimately the look, sound, atmosphere and NEW mechanics of LA Noire are outstanding. The game then only feels cheapened by a downward turn in the quality of the story telling, somewhat boring combat and, on another note, somewhat clunky AI. Despite these niggles, the game happily merits an 8/10 from me.