Video game review: L.A. Noire

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Can one man stop the corruption in Los Angeles?

Wait a minute. Did you say stop corruption? Maybe I have the wrong game. Let me check…nope…L.A. Noire…I’ve got the right game. You understand my confusion. Rockstar is famous for bringing mayhem to consoles across the globe with Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and Red Dead Redemption. It’s their bread and butter. Well, L.A. Noire changes that. With the use of breakthrough technology, they’ve managed to create a game that looks amazing with a compelling storyline that’s a lot of fun to play.

You join the police department after returning from WWII to clean up corruption on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s an open-world, third-person action/adventure game set in 1947. Although there is gun play, car chases and action sequences, the focus of the game is more subtle. You collect clues, question witnesses, and interrogate suspects while solving each case.

Working your way through patrol, traffic, homicide, vice and arson, each desk has a number of cases available to play. You’re teamed up with a different partner at each desk and you have the ability to play each case as many times as you like to increase your experience, collect trophies and aim for a 5 star case completion.

Engaging one-on-one interrogations are the core of this title and its greatest strength. You’re forced to focus on facial cues to determine if a character is telling the truth, misleading you or outright lying by selecting “Truth”, “Doubt”, or “Lie”. If you accuse someone of lying, you’ll need to present evidence that contradicts their statement.  This can be quite challenging.

Often, positive someone was lying, I would present evidence to back up my accusation and it would turn out to be the wrong piece of evidence, or they were actually telling the truth. The line can be thin between truth and lie. Add “doubt” into the mix and you really have to pay attention. Although completion of the game doesn’t depend on choosing the right path during questioning, the more correct answers you select, the more information a person of interest or suspect will reveal – and the closer you’ll be to a 5-star case.

I loved questioning witnesses and suspects throughout the entire game. The experience was really brought to life with new technology called MotionScan. The game captures every expression on the face of real actors, adding a very human layer to an already unique experience. It’s not what the person says that gives them away, but how they say it. Paying attention to body language, facial expressions and the smallest character quirks will help you determine if someone is lying. This methodical style is different from what you’ve come to expect from Rockstar, but I think they pulled it off – a stronger focus on plot and higher level of immersion.

However, all is not lost for fast-paced action and shooter fans. You have a detailed sandbox to play in. You can commandeer pedestrian cars, interact (somewhat) with people on the street, unlock a variety of hidden vehicles and golden film reels, discover landmarks and cruise the environment. There are also 40 side cases that allow you to tail persons of interest, chase bad guys on roof-tops and kill bank robbers. It also has pretty smooth cover system that allows you to hide behind buildings, cars and other objects.

The side quests are fun – Especially in the free-roam option under each desk. You can explore 1940’s Los Angeles in all its detailed glory. However, the side quests occasionally felt a little one-dimensional. Most of them are quite short and could have been fleshed out. As with each of the desk cases being tied together with a common theme, it would’ve been interesting to see that with the side cases on each desk – giving you the ability to jump back-and-forth between cases, and aim for a larger goal.

Overall, L.A. Noire is a lot of fun to play. It has a solid story line, immersive game-play and enough replay value that make it worth aiming for a 5-star case completion.  There is a weird twist in the game closer to the end. Without spoiling anything, I didn’t feel it was a bad thing, although it left me feeling a little confused.

My biggest complaint with this game is I never felt a connection to the main character, Cole Phelps. In fact, I struggled at times to like him at all. I found his humour to be disjointed and his mannerisms rubbed me the wrong way. That could just be personal taste, but I think if they spent a little more time on character development, gamers would benefit from a higher level of attachment – especially with the ending. You don’t really learn much about Cole until numerous hours into the game. And even after that, there isn’t enough substance.

Despite the lack of character development, the majority of characters are detailed and interesting. They each have their own personality and the use of Motion Scan really sets it apart from regular animation. L.A. Noire is absolutely worth your time. The interrogations are a treat, and there’s enough action to keep you coming back for more.

It was interesting to see Rockstar come out with something a little different from Grand Theft Auto. I think they pulled it off – and I hope we see MotionScan in other titles soon!

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