He's a professional.
Actually, let me rephrase myself. This isn't a totally unique concept for a game. We've seen plenty of detective games in gaming, but none of this caliber. The tech behind this game is what makes it so impressive, but at its core, this is a game that will remind you of what gaming used to be for thinkers. Point-and-click games are obviously a huge motivation for what L.A Noire has to offer, and you find that out with in the first hour of the game. It's an old hobo dressed up in a very nice suit, but that isn't a bad thing. The core mechanics of such games are usually very solid, and they're expanded upon with L.A. Noire.
What are these core mechanics? Well, they're ones you'd find if you were a detective. Finding clues, interrogating, high speed chases, and the works. It's like a mixture of Grand Theft Auto 4 and the adventure genre (I.E, Sam & Max, Grim Fandango, etc.). It might appear to be a typical open-world game, but there's much more to it than that. A lot of what you see in the game is a result of technical advancements, with the facial expressions being the main draw of these improvements. It's a product that works, thanks to what is being offered on a technical level. This game simply wouldn't work if it had been on any other system prior to the 360 and PS3.
I could almost say the same for the story. In the 20 or so hour span of playing this game, you follow a detective that is rising through the ranks, by the name of Cole Phelps. He starts as a typical traffic officer, working for promotions and getting closer with each big case he solves. Throughout each of your promotions, you get a partner that seems to be different each time, giving different types of input and personal preference. And it's not just your partners; it feels like every single person you interact with in the game feels completely different from the last. I've never played a game where every single character seems to have a distinct personality all their own, which is highly commendable for a game that is as long as this one.
The overall plot is solid too, with plenty of twists to keep you on the edge of your seat. But what I love most about the story is the dialogue. There are so many lines in the game, and 95% of them feel so right. And the fact that all of them are so masterfully presented by their voice-actors makes me more giddy than a Korean at a Starcraft tournament. This has to be one of the best stories of this year thus far, both in presentation and in overall delivery. There are very few instances where characters repeat lines, most of what is being said is there and there only, which again, is very commendable of both the writers and the voice-actors.
Each of the games main 4 jobs has different objectives. One case may involve having to discover what caused a typical house fire, and another might deal with a murder. Some of the cases that people might talk about might not seem all too interesting, but trust me when I say that all cases offer something to look forward to. Along with your main quests you get your side quests, which seem to be a recurring theme in all Rockstar games. Most of what you do in these side quests relate to what your profession is at the moment. For example, if you're working homicide, chances are you'll find yourself running into baddies with guns, shooting people. These side quests don't mix up as much as one would hope, but they are usually pretty enjoyable.
As far as objectives go with each case, there is a good amount of variety. I've already mentioned that there are 4 jobs to experience within the game, but what you do inside of each job mixes up with each case. It certainly breaks up the monotony, but sometimes these varying objectives aren't all that entertaining. The game is at its best when you're interrogating people, because that's where the most depth is in the game. All of the events prior to interrogations lead up to the ultimate climax of most cases, where you charge someone with a federal offense (but again, endings do change up).
Interrogations consist of squeezing both clues and answers out of your target. A lot of what you depict depends on the look of their faces. Like I said, this game couldn't have been done well if the technology hadn't been up to snuff. Sometimes this interrogation system will piss you off beyond belief, and other times it will make you smile like a mad-man, but it all comes down to it being a very fair system, with plenty of rewards and punishments depending on your outcome.
When you're not interrogating or finding clues, you're usually traversing L.A., looking for crime and eventual gun-fights to partake in. The shooting mechanics are probably one of the only things that I'd consider under-developed in this game. There really isn't much to it. You can pick up different weapons like rifles and machine guns to swap with your pistol, but it really doesn't shake things up like you'd want. Comparing it to games like Mafia II, the shooting mechanics feel like they're there, just because they have to be. They aren't bad or anything, but they just aren't all that good. Driving is pretty much the same as any Grand Theft Auto game you will find, and it works pretty well. My problem is that a lot of the side quests that you encounter seem to take forever to get to, always. It gets pretty monotonous having to drive around constantly through the same roads over and over again. It kind of reminds me of Far Cry 2, but it's not as bad. The game is very enjoyable, for sure. There are a few under-developed elements to the gameplay, but they are far out-weighed by the sheer joy that you will have while experiencing each case.
Collectible wise, there is a ton of stuff to look for in Los Angeles. You can find up to about 90 cars in the city (which are all magically unlocked for you), newspapers, and famous locations. A lot of these collectibles contribute to a leveling system that you use to unlock suits, and advantages in cases. The leveling system is pretty much tacked on, but it does give you some cool things. You get experience by being a good detective, or doing some of the side things that I mentioned earlier. There isn't much to it, but it is nice always having something to increase, in this case a leveling meter.
One of the big things that took time while developing L.A. Noire was making sure that the world was as authentic as could be. As far as I know, they pretty much nailed it too. Everything about the game has class, and the L.A. is more evident of this than anything else. It is absolutely brimming with history and character, right down to the street lights themselves. The cars, the cloths, the houses, everything feels historically accurate and well presented. There's even an option to make that game all black and white, which is probably one of the coolest features I've ever seen for something like this. As far as style goes, it's one of the best in its class, standing right by the likes of Mafia II.
I do have to say that from a technical aspect, this is also a very nice looking game. The character expressions are the big hook, and rightfully so. The character models themselves look pretty good, with some pretty good animations (for an open world game, anyways). The physics are great too, especially when you accidently bump into things like toys and buckets, and how they move to how you interact with them. There are a few things that bug me about the performance that this game holds. There is a ton of pop-up in the game. And I mean a ton, like you can't go a single case without something popping up in either a very far away distance, or right in front of you. It can get pretty distracting. Some of the textures look pretty bland, and the shadows can look incredibly blocky (it's almost as bad as Lost Planet 2, almost). Other than those performance issues, this game looks great.
Now I have to talk about the sound design, and let me tell you, I felt like my ears were having orgasms the whole time I was playing this game. The voice-acting is terrific, and not just for the main characters. It felt like I was talking to real people every single time I started up a conversation, and it just kept getting better. But the one thing that I love more than the voice-acting is the music. Oh my lawdy, the original music is simply amazing. Not only is it amazing, but it also fits the game to a tee. The licensed music from the 50's is also amazing, it's just a shame there isn't more of it. This is one of the best sounding games of this year so far, and it's, dare I say, better than what Portal 2 had to offer? I'd say so.
This is a very long game, clocking in at around 20 or so hours of playtime just to get through the main story. On top of that, you have a ton of stuff to do around Los Angeles. Unfortunately, there aren't any multiplayer modes to speak of for L.A. Noire. I would've really liked to see what Team Bondi would've done for such a concept (maybe a buddy-cop set up?) But what's done is done. I do see a sequel for this game being very promising, but now that Team Bondi is out in the fray, who knows when that'll happen. So what else can be said about L.A. Noire? This is obviously one of the bigger releases of 2011, and rightfully so too. This is a great experience, and after 7 years, I'd expect no less. Though, I feel like I'm missing something here…
Shouldn't there be more to it? There really isn't much to what this game offers as a whole. While most everything in this game is quality standard, I feel like there should be something else to this awesome experience. I'm not sure, I mean after 7 years, expecting a lot out of a game is inevitable, so I guess it's just my greed acting up when I say that when you play the game for only an hour or 2, the rest of the game feels completely useless. It's almost like this game should just revolved around one big case, instead of cutting it up into bits for more availability in replay value to get better rankings in cases.
I'm sure that this is just me though. The average consumer will either love or hate this game, but for the hardcore players, you have no choice but to appreciate the change and polish that this game has. It isn't Grand Theft Auto 4 or Red Dead Redemption, it's a game all its own, that would've stood tall even if it wasn't endorsed by Rockstar. The game is constantly getting DLC, so it's an awesome investment that'll keep you busy for quite some time until you find something else to enjoy.
+Terrific representation of the 50's, wrapped around a massive scale
+Awesome story, with distinctive characters and memorable moments
+Smart, well thought out script that changes with your choices
+Unique investigation and interrogation mechanics that work well
+A lot of variety in the cases, with a ton of side-quests and objectives
+Awesome music and voice acting bring the game to life
-Uninteresting shooting mechanics
-A few technical blemishes to an other-wise stunning game
Review by Cal Burkhart