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L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire Review

To say L.A. Noire, developed by Team Bondi with support from Rockstar Games, has been a long time coming would be an understatement. Originally unveiled as a Sony-funded, PlayStation exclusive in 2004, this open-world crime drama has been peaking legions of Rockstar fans' curiosity for quite some time. The end result is by far Rockstar's greatest departure from Grand Theft Auto, yet still embraces their signature sandbox framework. L.A. Noire is, at its core, a linear, story-driven experience that uses the city of Los Angeles, and the player's freedom to explore it, to reenforce the ever-present narrative. This uncompromising focus restricts the playground mentality typically associated with open-world games, but the rich, engrossing atmosphere and grounded story it helps create are more than worth the sacrifice.

Set in the 'City of Angels,' post World War II, L.A. Noire places players in the shoes of Cole Phelps, a decorated war veteran who returns to civilization and decides to put his skills to work in law enforcement. Through impressive diligence and deduction, Cole makes a name for himself by working a series of high-profile cases. Rather quickly, the fame accumulated from police work and wartime service places Cole at the center of organized crime that reaches the highest levels of society.

As hinted at above, L.A. Noire is structured around solving a series of cases that have distinct tales to tell, but also frequently and subtlely develop the game's wider plot arch. Each case generally compromises a mixture of investigation, interviews, interrogations and action sequences. While these sections all possess unique mechanics, they are woven together in very seamless, natural and unexpected ways that generally prevent things from feeling too repetitive, although it does fall into that trap at times.Truly intriguing plot lines also help keep the player's attention on unraveling the mystery.

The first step in most cases involve canvasing the crime scene for clues. Ultimately, this amounts to little more than wondering the environments and picking objects up here and there - not exactly an inherently engaging task, although one very reminiscent of classic adventure and point-and-click games. However, L.A. Noire shrewdly streamlines the process by providing subtle and organic feedback while the players investigate. When the player approaches an interactive object a number of things can happen to signal its relevance: The controller will vibrate and the background music will swell briefly. The sound design here really shines and feels completely at home within the detective context.

After some clues have been found, persons of interest need to be interviewed. Once a question has been asked, the player will need to determine whether they think the person's response is credible, suspicious or outright false. This can be done by reviewing the evidence collected or by reading body language and facial expressions. It's in the last area, animation, where L.A. Noire truly amazes. Each character's expressions and reflexes are lifelike, to the point where they frequently become indistinguishable from live-action footage and cross the highly touted uncanny valley. The success of this integral part of L.A. Noire hinged on pushing animation to the next level, and fortunately Team Bondi nailed it. There's a lot to praise here, including the convincing cast of actors, many cherry-picked from Mad Men.

That being said, all the production milestones don't completely spare the game from the pitfalls of branching conversation paths. There will inevitably be times when your thought process and that of the developers tried to predict won't match up. Fortunately, L.A. Noire never punishes the player for failing to get mostly "right" answers during conversation. In fact, if you get stuck, you can always use one of those Intuition Points that you've stacked from ranking up to eliminate one option, or “Ask the Community” for help should you not be able to tell if a suspect is lying.

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