May 20, 2011
Early Impressions of L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire throws players into the crime-infested world of post-WWII Los Angeles, and in typical Rockstar fashion, the game is magnificent so far. After completing disc one of the game on Xbox 360, the following is my first impressions. Spoilers ahead.
Cole Phelps (played by Mad Men's own Aaron Staton) is a Marine-turned-detective trying to make a name for himself on the wild streets of Los Angeles. Early cutscenes show an idealistic and opportunistic individual, banking on using a heroic act during the conflict to achieve fame and fortune. An unrealistic goal, of course, but he did end up winning a Silver Star for his actions (still not determined), and now he serves as the Los Angeles Police Department's finest detective. After solving several high-profile cases convincingly, he moves up rapidly through the ranks from a lonely Patrol cop to the Homicide division and the investigations get increasingly complex. In my upcoming review, I'll go into the underlying story a bit more.
The best term to describe L.A. Noire is a sleuth simulator. There are car chases, shootouts and on-foot pursuits, but all of these sequences can be voluntarily skipped if failed too many times. This give people solely looking to get their sleuth on the opportunity to do just that. And the game makes sure you understand that early. I don't mind a good car chase or two peppered in once in a while, but the prime aspect of the game is the investigative portion and L.A. Noire doesn't look sight of that. Playing through about eight story cases or so, the game presents a large variety of case to tackle - anything from a husband hiring someone to kill his wife, to a man faking his own death in hopes of running off to Seattle.
On the Xbox 360, the first disc plays until "The Golden Butterfly" (for those of you using a guide). To that point, there has been a lot of historical references, the most notable being to the "Black Dahlia." In one case, "Fuck You B.D." is written in lipstick on a body, and the conversation between Cole and his partner on the drive afterward is actually educational. Elizabeth Short was murdered six months ago game time, and the LAPD is stagnant in their investigation of "The Werewolf," a nickname given by the press. Phelps, always the optimist, says his fresh perspective could lead to solving the crime.
L.A. Noire is a one-of-a-kind game for several reasons, but surely the most important feature is how realistic characters act. Using a revolutionary technology called MotionScan, Team Bondi was able to transmit actors' faces into the game directly, so interviews could be conducted using body language. Human interaction feels real and that's something rarely, if ever, achieved in the digital world of video games. The studio has set an awesome precedent I hope many studios vow to replicate. Already, Valve and Remedy have taken notice, so maybe in the next Alan Wake game, we could see better facial animation. The weirdest thing was seeing an actor's face I recognized: being a big Mad Men fan I knew Aaron Staton, but also Adam Harrington who plays Roy Earle, Phelps' partner once he gets to the Vice division.
What makes L.A. Noire a thoroughly satisfying experience is just how difficult some of the cases are. In hindsight, I always judge myself for being timely when looking for clues, because being in the right place at the right time is a key to success. The worst part is reading the "Case Notes" after getting graded and feel stupid (which will happen often). Although some of the character animations are painfully obvious, the investigations are wonderfully crafted and present a unique challenge.
I'm expecting my thrill ride through L.A. Noire to be more of the same. I should have my full review up by Tuesday.