Saturday, 25 August 2012

L.A Noire

Infamous for its crime based videogames, Rockstar Studios have developed quite a reputation for their ambitious, rebellious games, such as the GTA series, or the schoolyard based little brother, Canis Canem Edit. However, they’ve now taken a new turn in the way of making you a 1940s L.A cop, rather than a modern day gang member. This was undoubtedly a risky move, as the much loved developers are taking a drastic step away from their established identity, but it has absolutely paid off, as L.A Noire is one of Rockstar’s best games to date.

Before I start, let me point out that if you go into L.A Noire wanting a 3rd person shooter, or an open world action game, you will be disappointed. There are action and shooter elements, but most of the game comes from investigating crime scenes and questioning witnesses and suspects. This is done using some pretty nifty facial animation technology. Rather than lip synching, you will be watching actual actors performing. You will ask questions and you must observe the facial expressions to judge whether the witness/suspect is lying or telling the truth. If you suspect the interviewee is lying, and have the evidence to back it up, you can accuse them of lying, and use the evidence to prove it. If you suspect they are lying but have no proof, you must ‘doubt’ the answer, which basically means you’ll intimidate them into spilling the beans.

The other gameplay aspects will have you shooting, fist-fighting, tailing suspects on foot and in vehicles and driving cars in intense chase sequences. The cover shooting mechanics are decent, but a little clumsy and unusual to anyone who is used to third person shooters. It won’t take long to get used to the odd controls, but it may feel a little strange during the first few fire-fights. The melee brawling system works really well. There’s only two buttons involved, but the realistic way you dodge and punch makes landing a blow extremely satisfying.

The presentation of the game is truly something to behold. The facial animations are top notch, and the voice acting keeps the standard. This game is not like any other. You won’t find the same group of faces and voices reused over and over. Each character that you’ll interact with has their own look and voice, and shows how much care has been put into making this game as realistic as possible. You will also find pleasure in driving around the streets of 1940s L.A, taking in the sights and sounds. For example, the siren in your police car sounds classic and authentic, and is just one of the things that makes this world feel truly like 1940s L.A, rather than a sandbox attempt. The city always feels alive as pedestrians walk around and react to you running or driving past them, and as the game progresses and your reputation builds, you will begin to turn heads and be noticed by people in the street.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a running story to see. Some things do start to pick up a running theme as you play, but there’s nothing that really suggests that you’re building up to something climactic. The only way of describing it, is that you’re thrust into the shoes of Cole Phelps, an L.A cop fresh from the war. You start as a typical street cop, and rise through the ranks of Patrol Officer, Traffic Detective, Homicide, Vice and Arson. You will see recurring events that suggest a narrative, such as the repeated MOs in the Homicide cases, suggesting a serial killer, but no true storyline is fully explored. There are also constant flashbacks to Phelps' time in the war, but this didn't really provide any relevance to the narrative, more of just showing a little more about Phelps' history as a solider.

Don’t worry though, there’s plenty to do. The game is still open world, and you can drive around freely during your cases, as there’s no rush to get to your next location. As you drive around, you will pick up reports of street crimes. There are 40 in total to complete. These are mainly quick and action based, usually just chasing a burglar or shooting some bank robbers.  There’s also landmarks to find, and plenty of unique vehicles to drive. You will newspapers relating to other crimes, providing a deeper look into L.As criminal history, and movie reels that you’ll find hidden around the world. Everything you do earns you experience points, and when you gather enough, you will rank up, earning you a variety of possible perks, the most common of which is an intuition point. Intuition points can be used at crime scenes and during interviews, to help locate clues or to help you find the correct answer. All of this together makes for some really satisfying and enjoyable reasons to encourage exploration.

I must also stress the point that this game is definitely not for children. You will be looking at many bodies throughout the course of the game, all of which have grisly injuries. A few of the bodies you find will be nude, and this links to the various types of criminal you will meet along the way. Murderers, rapists, and a paedophile or two, to put it shortly, this game was rated 18 for a reason.

One of the major downfalls of this game comes in the form of the AI. Whilst the characters look great, they don’t really think as much as we’d like. Throughout the entire game, you will almost always have a companion by your side, and in the more closed areas, such as a suspect’s house or apartment, they will often stand behind you, blocking doorways or trapping you in a closed space, and it is rather tedious to try and get out. The movement controls are also quite clunky sometimes. Finding clues relies on precision in movement, which is quite difficult to do when you combine the clumsy controls with the dodgy AI.

L.A Noire is unique. Rockstar have taken a rather large risk by diverging so drastically from the norm, but it has paid off brilliantly. It isn’t a fast paced action shooter, and requires thinking, observation, and intelligence from the gamer, which few games do. A few minor setbacks got me rather frustrated at times, but there was nothing solid enough to keep me from returning to the streets to sweep up the criminals. The technology and themes make this game one of the most mature and realistic games you will ever play, and this is an incredible achievement.

9/10 - Fantastic

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