LA Noire Review (PS3)

It’s post World War II. A soldier who won a Silver Star in the war returned to his home country and became a member of  the LA Police Department. His passion and intuition eventually led him to greater things in the police force. This is the story of LA Noire, the Team Bondi creation for Rockstar.

Every city needs a hero

LA Noire focuses on detective gameplay, which distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack. You play as Cole Phelps, and follow his career to solve crimes and keep the streets of LA safe.

The game offers a variety of gameplay to keep you interested. You can be investigating crime scenes, interrogating witnesses, secretly following your suspect, taking down robbers and gangsters in a gun fight or chasing after your suspect on foot or in your car. The game introduces all these different elements in the tutorials smartly without breaking your experience and engagement with the game. Some of  the, subtle, rewarding hints are felt via vibrations in your controller or musical cues themself.

Although LA Noire made the headlines because of its massive deployment of motion capturing for the interrogation gameplay, people who are interested in the game should not neglect other aspects of the game. Investigating a crime scene is always the first thing Phelps needs to do, and investigating the right thing will give you important clues to support yourself if you accuse your witnesses of lying in the future. Once investigation in an area starts, a mysterious tone with start playing and will continue unless you exhaust all possible clues in the area. Also your controller will vibrate slightly when you are approaching essential clues, to ensure that you won’t be missing anything important to move forward with your story.

Every piece of information is equally important

Once you have finished your crime scene or area investigation, it is time to interrogate your witness. Team Bondi met the high expectations they created in this aspect. The interrogation mechanism is very straightforward. You go through your notebook, that contains all the important clues and information you discovered through your previous investigations, and ask questions you have written down in your notebook and decide whether the person of interest (POI) is telling the truth or lying. Once you have asked a question and the POI responds, you will have three action options – Truth, Doubt and Lie. Truth is straightforward, for Doubt you bluff to force a the truth out of them and Lie is to accuse the witness of lying. However if you accuse the witness of  lying, you better have proof to support your accusation (and the POI will ask for it). This is when your handy notebook comes in to play; as you can go through your notebook during the interrogation to make an informed decision about your POI. Also you can pretend checking your notebook, but then do quick observations to check your POI gestures and expression when they ‘don’t know’ you are observing. You will know whether you have picked the right action as the game will mark on your notebook whether it was correct, or also score you at the end of the interrogation. Correct actions will yield you experience points to rank up your Intuition. Every rank up will then give you an Intuition Point that allows you to eliminate options in subsequent interrogations as long as you have left over points. It’s kind of like hints in ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’.

Solving cases can end with a foot chase, car chase or even a shoot out. Foot chases are very simple – you just run after your suspect but then it still gives you variety in terms of how the suspect will react. From time to time the way they react can be quite hilarious. There are times that you will end up in a fistfight with them. The controls are very intuitive and use the face buttons of the PS3 controller quite proficiently. The characters are very responsive too, so you won’t have the frustration of not feeling in control as in some of the games do.

Put your gun down! LAPD!

If you end up in a shoot out, there are different varieties too – Group shoot out or take down the POI in a hostage situation. Group shoot out will require you to take cover and shoot when opportunities offer themselves while hostage situations will require you to aim and act quickly to take down the POI without causing collateral damage to the innocents. The shooting commands can take a little while to get use to. You use L2 to aim, R2 to shoot, LI to change or discard weapons and R1 to take cover. Since these buttons are so close to each other and kind of out of sight on the controller, you sometimes find yourself going in and out of cover instead of shooting. There were also times at the beginning that instead of aiming, I accidentally discarded and changed my weapons while trying to aim. However, once you get use to it, it became part of your intuition.

Driving in the world of LA Noire is hard – even the most skilful driver will find it a challenge. Not because the control mechanisms are hard, but because you really need to observe the road condition to make it to your destination in one piece. You have the option to ask you partner to drive and you’ll get there without a problem, but this lack of practice will punish you harshly when you need to engage in a car chase or need you to follow your POI’s car carefully to find out what they’re up to. You can’t kill pedestrians in LA Noire, but you can smash your car. Once you smashed your car, you will need to enlist civilians’ cars to continue, and they will not hide the fact that they are concerned with your driving skills. The ironic thing is that, Team Bondi, from time to time, rewards you with this by letting you to unlock other models of cars for use in the future. So driving isn’t a total chore and can be less of a frustrating act if you are particularly bad at it.

Safe driver reward?

Once you close a case, there will be a case report showing how well you performed in investigation, interrogation and keeping the cost down. Yes, they will tell you how much vehicle repair costs, injuries induced on others and how much repair you’ve cost the city to get the job down. It is kind of humorous.

On top of following your own case, there are also dispatch call-outs from the station that you can get involved in. These call-outs provide a bit of variety and distraction to the main story, and since most of them are short cases, they simply put a bit more action in for you if you feel stuck and need a something to keep you going.

LA Noire is not only about investigating other people’s stories. You find out more about Phelps as you progress with your story through flashbacks. Also certain items you found during investigations can trigger flashback of other events related to Phelps, informing you more about his past. This makes the investigation process a lot more interesting as you never know when you will come across something that’s crucial to know about the man you are controlling in the game.

Apart from cars, you can also unlock different outfits for Phelps that change his looks in the game. This gives a bit a variety to him and minor customisation options for players to toy around with.

Who is he?

LA Noire is a cinematic experience with excellent story telling. It shows that their emphasis of using real actors to act out all the parts for motion capturing paid off in the quality of the game. Characters actions no longer look blocky and unnatural. The lip-syncing was superbly done and the atmosphere of post war LA was finely executed through great environment design and a fitting music score. The only thing I have issues with, was that all chicks look old in LA Noire; no matter they are 15 or 50. This is kind of off-putting when you were told you are going to see a hot movie star but she ended up looking like a 50-year-old woman in a young outfit. However, this is just a minor issue and does not really spoil your experience.

On the whole, LA Noire is a very engaging game that mixes a variety of gameplay skilfully together offering players a great cinematic experience during the process. Vital elements of the games were superbly executed and it is one of the few games that can keep you coming back (as you can redo cases that you thought you performed poorly). It shows that Team Bondi did put in a lot of thought for every bit of detail – For example, your hat will fall off during a fight if you get hit, and in the following scene your character will go and pick it up. If you want an action packed and action oriented Rockstar game, LA Noire definitely will not be your game of choice. However, if you want to look for an engaging experience, you will find yourself spending hours in the world of post-war LA without knowing how quickly time has passed.

Beauty doesn't always help you get by in post-war LA

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★½

About the Author

Level up freak. Level 99 is a norm not a goal. Love my JRPGs and RPGs in general. Also love my platformers and puzzle games. Was addicted to Zoo Keeper, Magnetica, Animal Crossing, Disgaea DS, Dragon Quest IX and White Knight Chronicles. Prefer to spend my time away from gaming as an actor although do have a full time job that keeps my mortgage going. But generally love anything creative. And if anyone tells you gaming is a waste of time, tell them you have great eye, hand and brain coordinations that they will never have!