Everyone wants to be a gangster. There’s just something about walking around in a 3-piece pinstripe suit with a Tommy Gun robbing banks and being public enemy number one. Video games have put you in control of mobsters before. Now, Rockstar Games and Team Bondi give you the opposite. LA Noire allows you to become a detective in the underworld of illegal gambling, narcotics, and murder. Let me just say, after playing this, you’ll never want to be a gangster again.
You play as Cole Phelps, a decorated World War 2 hero who has returned to the US and is trying to make his way up the ranks in the Los Angeles Police Department. Phelps starts out as a small-time beat cop and quickly, through his intelligence and deductive abilities, becomes a detective for the LAPD.
The game revolves around cases that Phelps takes on during his career as an LAPD detective. Each case is taken at one of 4 desks that Cole works. He starts out in Traffic then to Homicide, and followed later by Vice and Arson. Each case has its own unique feel and plays out much like an episode of an old 1940s television show. Each desk has Cole partnered up with another detective that helps him out during investigations. They all have different personalities and traits that keep each case fresh and offer up some good dialog during the game.
There are three aspects of LA Noire: investigation, interrogation and interviews, and the occasional combat scene. Investigation will be where most of the game play takes place. You will go to a certain crime scene and search for clues that may help you out during your case. This can include checking a body for certain things, looking for items in and around the crime scene, and speaking with first responders. This portion is crucial to solving the crime. If you don’t gather enough evidence, it may become difficult to get information out of possible suspects when conducting interviews. Everything goes hand in hand when doing an investigation. While examining a crime scene, if you come across a possible clue, there is a small music cue that will sound to let you know you should investigate. You can pick up items and manipulate them for a better look. Being very thorough is rewarded during the investigations.
The second part of the game comes in the form of interviews and questioning witnesses and suspects. This is where the game really shines. Team Bondi has developed a new system of motion capture technology that allows real life actors to be filmed and placed in the game itself. This is a major step in the game’s interview pieces as the player has to figure out if the character is lying or withholding information. While asking questions, you have to watch the character’s face and mannerisms to identify telltale signs of a person lying. It could be a nervous twitch, shifting eyes, crossing of the arms, or many other cues that can show Cole if the person is not being truthful with him. During the interviews, after asking a question, you can choose to believe the person is telling the truth, doubt them, or if they are straight out lying their faces off. If you think they’re lying, you will have to come up with some proof for your accusations, much like a Phoenix Wright game. You will have to go through your case notes and choose a piece of evidence that proves your accusations. If you are correct, the person will come clean, if you are wrong, they clam up and dismiss the question.
During interviews, you can also gain more evidence if you are successful in your questioning. These pieces of evidence can be in the form of testimonies and new locations. Doing well and gaining better information for the case will reward Cole with experience points that will level up his detective rank. With each level gained, you are rewarded with an intuition point. Intuition points can be use to help eliminate one answer from Truth, Doubt, and Lie or give you a percentage of what other players playing the game chose. Think of it like your lifelines in Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I found that sometimes during the interviews Cole would go from asking a simple question to threatening to lock a person up for obstruction of justice. One minute he will be calm and the next furious that someone withheld information from him. It just feels a little unnatural and jarring at times.
The last part of the game is, of course, the combat. The combat can be very diverse in LA Noire. As you can imagine, not all criminals will just allow themselves to be arrested. Some will try to shoot their way out; other will go at it with fisticuffs. Both the shooting and the fist fights play out in epic ways that really give the game that old 1940s charm. During the shooting scenes, you can take cover behind walls, objects and other things around the area. The game has an auto aim feature that will help out players not familiar with shooting. The only thing I don’t like is the fact that most enemies will take a good three shots to the chest from a standard pistol before going down. Granted, Cole seems to be able to absorb bullets as well. You always start off with your pistol, but can pick up shotguns and sub-machine guns from fallen enemies. The fist fights are very simple. You can punch, dodge, and grapple enemies with a simple button press. If you get in a few good hits, it will sometimes daze the enemy and you can go in for a grapple or finishing move.
There are also chase scenes both on foot, as well as in a vehicle. During the vehicle chases, you can attempt to spin out the driver of the other car, or your partner can try to shoot out a tire. The foot chase scenes are the really amazing parts. Chasing after a perpetrator is both fun and entertaining. In some cases, you can aim your gun at the fleeing suspect and a meter will fill. If you can hold the aim reticule on the enemy long enough, you will fire a warning shot. This will make the person stop in fear of you shooting him in the back. Other times, you’ll just have to chase them down and tackle them when you’re close enough. The combat itself is never really difficult. You can tell Rockstar was hoping to have non-video game players playing this game due to the fact that all the combat and chase sequences can be skipped after a few tries.
Some cases will have you choose who you think the criminal is from two suspects. After grilling them for information, it will be up to you to decide which to charge with the crime. This can sometimes be difficult, especially when you have two suspects both with incriminating evidence and a possible motive. You can’t really lose at this, but you can choose the wrong person. If that happens, you’ll get a nice chewing out from your captain. Sometimes, if you charge someone with a crime without the proper evidence, you get into some trouble as well for circumstantial evidence.
At the end of each case, you are graded on a one to five star rating scale based on how many clues you found and the number of correct answers you chose during your interviews. You can hurt your ranking if you incur property damage, vehicle damage, and citizen injury.
The game does suffer from the “Grand Theft Auto syndrome” where some of the controls are a little sluggish. I sometimes had trouble lining up Cole to a certain item to use or pick up, and the foot chase scenes, while epic in scale, can become bothersome with the wonky running and character control.
The cases aren’t the only thing you can do in LA Noire. After all, Cole is a cop, so you can do the 40 street crime events that range from bank shootouts to trying to chase down a Peeping Tom. Completing these give some experience points as well as keeping the gameplay fresh. The only problem I had with these was the fact that some calls are clear across the city. You’ll be driving for 5 minutes before you arrive at the scene. Granted, you can opt for your partner to drive and automatically get there, but for some that like to drive around the city if can become bothersome. There are hidden cars to collect as well as many locations to find around the gigantic map that give a little information on the re-created 1940’s Los Angles.
LA Noire is a very linear game that is more story-driven than anything else. Grand Theft Auto players expecting an open world do-whatever-you-want game may need to look elsewhere for their sandbox fun. This game is strictly a new take on adventure games. The story is thought out and well acted with some pretty big talent including the likes of Greg Grunberg, John Noble, and many others. In between the cases, you’ll get back story into Cole’s past in the Pacific during World War 2 and finding newspapers around the map will give a side story into a drug trafficking case.
LA Noire is full of plot twists, great dialog and acting, and an experience that is like nothing I have ever played before. It may drag on a little towards the end, but each case is different enough and the characters are so believable and entertaining that you can’t help but to do “just one more case.” There is so much to be had in this game. There is no denying the fact that a lot of work went into making this game a top tier must-have. LA Noire is unlike any game I have ever played. The game wouldn’t be half the success it is without the facial animation technology. This is one game that everyone out there should play. No questions.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3 but both versions tested.