L.A.Noire weaves a tale of crime and deception
Everyone seems to have something to hide in the world of L.A. Noire; a world populated by Hollywood stars, army veterans, gangsters, psychopaths and struggling policemen in a time when America is recovering from the heavy cost of World War II. Inspired by detective novels and film noir (as the title suggests), L.A. Noire's Los Angeles runs rampant with crime, corruption, sex and a sense of moral ambiguity that generally comes to be associated with literature and film based on the subject, and like those mediums, Rockstar Games and Team Bondi's latest interactive experience proves to be a fantastic narrative tool — one that is arguably more, if not just as effective.
The protagonist of L.A.Noire's tale of crime and deception is Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton of ‘Mad Men' fame), a war veteran-turned LAPD patrol officer. He shares some of the traits of Rockstar's other protagonists such as Niko Bellic (Grand Theft Auto IV) and John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) but at the same time is quite unique, using his wits more often than his trusty side-arm, which despite seeing a considerable amount of action is forced to play second fiddle. The game sees Phelps rise in the ranks of the LAPD over a period of time thanks in no small part to the solving of crimes ranging from arson and fraud to the most brutal murders. Phelps is ambitious, intelligent and calculating — he relies considerably on his gut. In fact, ‘intuition' has been woven into the gameplay seamlessly in the form of a game mechanic-slash-help tool which when called upon, can either mark clues at a crime scene or eliminate dialogue options when interrogating witnesses, both of which form a major part of the gameplay.
If you were told that L.A.Noire is ‘GTA set in the 1940s', you have been grossly misled. The game has more in common with games from the nineties such as Philip Marlowe: Private Eye and Under a Killing Moon (or Heavy Rain if you only started gaming recently) than Grand Theft Auto and its various clones. The game is packed with gaming elements more common to the point-and-click adventure genre such as finding evidence and talking to suspects and witnesses. Sure, there's a fair bit of shooting and chasing (on foot and in vehicles) but it's the pen and notebook that really dominate the gameplay and this is what really sets L.A.Noire apart. It won't be long before you start caring about the characters, the protagonist, the cases and the consequences of your actions thanks to the adventure game-style narrative that is backed by some solid writing. It's also refreshing to play a game set in this period that isn't full of gangsters sporting Italian and Irish accents raining down gunfire on the police, innocent bystanders and on each other.
Greatly complementing the narrative style and gameplay are the music and stunning facial animation. Music serves multiple purposes in L.A.Noire and is an omnipresent entity, guiding Phelps to clues and letting him know when further investigation is possible or whether his gut feeling about a suspect is correct or not. A heavy dose of West coast Jazz serves as the basis of L.A.Noire's soundtrack and while this may not be everyone's cup of tea, composer Andrew Hale has done a brilliant job of doing justice to the genre. But without doubt, the game's incredible, realistic facial animation (each actor was recorded with 32 surrounding cameras to capture the slightest nuances) is the undisputed star of show. High production values, great adventure-style gameplay and fantastic writing make L.A.Noire one of the best games of the year so far.
L.A. Noire is available for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.