L.A. Noire
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2011-05-26 Xbox 360 Action M (Mature) Team Bondi / Rockstar Games

Where do you begin in describing a game that changes your way of thinking? Rockstar has always been one to push the boundaries in past titles, but this is something different. In L.A. Noire, you aren't free to run through the streets killing pedestrians or blowing up cars; you're on the other side of the law now, where politics and reputations reign as you work to catch the bad guys who may be anything but.

L.A. Noire starts superbly, with war-hero turned beat cop Cole Phelps catching a break in a murder case that earns him the eye of his superiors. Making his way through the ranks of the LAPD, Phelps must battle his own internal demons from the war along with those of his new career. While the game is separated by case, there's an overarching storyline filled with internal growth for Phelps, and you'll probably do some growing as well.

Each case has a beginning, middle and end, seeing you travel throughout a highly decorated, pristinely recreated version of 1940's Las Angeles. All of the details are there - butcher shops on the corner, streetcars and tracks lining the streets, true-to-life landmarks that can be explored at will. There's an attention to detail here that few could provide, but Team Bondi offers it in spades.

Through a lengthy campaign, you'll work as Phelps to uncover the clues and criminals in a wide variety of cases, from what appear to be standard murders down to drug crimes or cases of vehicular manslaughter. Your notebook will quickly become your best friend, as the intuitive user interface allows you to reexamine clues or review witness' testimonies long after you’ve left the scene or let the suspect go.

While you can walk freely around crime scenes, you aren't entirely on your own, as helpful audio cues and a vibration of the controller will alert you to a nearby clue. It's up to you to put two-and-two together though, as you use these clues and your own intuition to read suspect and witness faces alike through a line of questioning that becomes more complex as you discover all of the clues. In this is where L.A. Noire truly throws its hat into the "game of the year" arena.

I've always been a huge stickler for accurate facial movements in video games. Sure, developers are limited by technology, but L.A. Noire blows all preconceived notions out of the window with use of the MotionScan system. This not only makes the game's characters look incredibly realistic (save for the few feathery textures that briefly appear here and there), but it was in fact a necessity for the interviewing mechanic to function correctly (which it does). You'll need to accurately "read" the suspects - watch their eye movements and facial expressions as they answer your questions. Why are they rolling their eyes? What's with the subtle smirk? Are they hiding something? Likely, but you'll need solid evidence in your notebook to back it up.

Even with all of the clues, you can put the wrong criminal away, potentially sentencing them to the death penalty for a crime they didn't commit. There's a right and wrong way to end each case in terms of the score you'll receive at the end (based on how many clues you found or questions you answered correctly), and in the way your superiors respond to you, but there's nothing stopping you from being completely wrong in your questioning and your accusations. You are mostly in charge of your own fate here, making this already lengthy game even longer as you must take your time to make sure you're making the right decision.

Breaking up the slow pace of crime scene investigation are frequent on-foot or vehicle pursuits. Approaching a suspect may cause them to run, leaving you to follow on foot and climb fire escapes or stairs to the rooftops where free running takes over until you can eventually tackle them or shoot them from afar.

In addition, there are plenty of side activities to participate in. While you'll always have a case looming in the background, there are very few instances where you are forced to get from Point A to Point B in a case within a specific amount of time (and even then, the story may change if you are too slow, but you never truly fail). This leaves you free to play in a massive sandbox full of almost 100 different cars to drive and add to your catalog (including multiple hidden cars that are displayed on your map), along with completing over three dozen street crime cases. These cases add gunplay and a fast-paced tension to the experience, as you will have to stop bank robbers from killing hostages, chase down cop-killers, stop jumpers from leaping to their deaths and more. Voluntary though they are, they are highly enjoyably nonetheless.

In fact, everything in L.A. Noire can be described in the same way - as being some of the most highly entertaining gameplay we've seen released thus far this year. From the game's immaculate recreation of the time period to the tense lines of questioning, I can't remember having this much fun with a game (or remember a game having this many layers) in a very, very long time. There's a maturity to the story, with serial killers and drug smugglers, that caters not only to fans of crime dramas, but also enough witty one-liners and side activities to keep others entertained. You owe it to yourself to experience L.A. Noire; it's as simple as that.

Special thanks to Daniel Acker and Rockstar Games for providing a copy of this title.