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Gaming Review

Review: 'L.A. Noire' (Xbox 360)

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Released on Friday, May 20 2011

Gaming Review: L.A. Noire

© Rockstar Games


Also available on: PlayStation 3
Developer: Rockstar Games/Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar
Genre: Open-world action adventure

Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated titles of the year, L.A. Noire has finally arrived and is gearing up to hit high street stores like a movie star about to walk the red carpet. However, Rockstar will need to pull something pretty special out of the bag if it's to surpass previous efforts Grand Theft Auto IV and our 2010 Game Of The Year Red Dead Redemption. But if there's one company that can deliver a hit its Rockstar, and suffice to say L.A. Noire is another in a long line of technical masterpieces from a company with a fantastic track record. The plot, setting and character acting are all superb, while the new detective elements add something completely different to the familiar sandbox gameplay and ensure that Rockstar's latest is as atmospheric and engaging an experience as you're likely to find.

The game places players in the shoes of Cole Phelps, a rookie cop with the LAPD and WWII veteran. Phelps's eagerness, initiative and ability to look beyond the obvious contribute to his rise from patrol-man to detective in various departments of the force, including traffic, homicide and vice. As the game progresses, however, we learn through a series of flashbacks of Phelps's chequered past as a soldier and what motivates him to do the right thing today. More information is gleaned from Phelps's interaction and conversations with his numerous partners and colleagues, all of whom have their own feelings and attitudes towards Phelps's honest approach to police work and war heroes in general. If you think of movies such as L.A. Confidential and novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler, you should begin to get a feel for the overall tone and style of the game and its storytelling techniques.

While Phelps's internal struggles - as well as certain ongoing cases and characters - provide an overall storyline arc, the majority of the game's cases are a story within themselves. Each mission begins with a movie-style introduction which shows the moments leading up to the crime - in a similar vein to the Phoenix Wright games. Back at the station, Phelps and his partner are briefed and assigned the case, before heading out to the crime scene to investigate. Cases become longer and more complex as the game goes on and tend to incorporate multiple different gameplay elements. Whether it's chasing down suspects on foot or in car, engaging in gun fights or simply having a bit of a brawl, Phelps and co will partake in multiple activities to solve a crime and reach a conclusion.

There's a certain familiarity about a lot of the action in L.A. Noire, which will be like music to the ears for fans of Rockstar games, but not necessarily to detractors of the sandbox genre. Players can commandeer any car they desire in the name of the law; gunfights are a fairly regular occurrence, as are high-speed car chases and fist fights. All of these elements could be ripped straight from a GTA title, which obviously means that if you're not a fan, L.A. Noire might not be the game for you. Some minor flaws remain, such as a few cars feeling a little light and not handling like you'd imagine; gunfights aren't as satisfying as they are in true third-person shooters, and the visuals can be a little twitchy, especially when driving around at high speeds.

Perhaps infinitely more important, however, is that all of the things that make a typical Rockstar game so great are there in abundance. For a start, the game takes place in an iconic, living, breathing city. Los Angeles looks fantastic and really comes alive especially at night. The famous Hollywood(land) sign and all of the landmarks are there, which are added to your map as points of interest once they have been discovered. The jazzy in-game music adds to the wonderful atmosphere, while the sense of freedom of driving around in your car and tackling missions, side-missions or simply soaking in the sights makes for an engrossing experience.

However, what L.A. Noire has that other Rockstar games don't, is the addition of the brand new detective elements, which are essential for solving cases. When arriving at a crime scene, players move around looking for clues, either manually or with the help of musical cues. Not everything you find is of interest, but using the analogue stick to manipulate objects may uncover a serial number or a distinctive mark, which could be the difference between finding an important piece of evidence or leaving the crime scene empty-handed. Everything you find, as well as coroner reports and eye witness information, is automatically added to your notebook, as well as locations relevant to the crime.

The other important part of detective work is speaking to witnesses and suspects. This is another area where L.A. Noire really shines thanks to the impressive motion scan technology. Questions appear in your notebook based on the evidence you have collected, while additional questions show up following a successful interrogation. With the aid of the excellent facial animations, players are able to judge whether or not a suspect/witness is lying, holding something back or telling the truth. Overall, while the cast still look like video game characters, the level of detail in their faces and the excellent script will often lead you to forget that you are playing a video game at all and not partaking in an interactive movie.

Calling a witness a liar has to be backed up with hard evidence, which adds a puzzle element simply not found in other more action-orientated Rockstar games. For those who find investigations too tough, Team Bondi has also included a points-based intuition feature, which reveals clues, eliminates incorrect lines of questioning, as well as a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?-style community feature, which displays the most popular answers. The detective aspects of L.A. Noire are truly engaging and the writing and puzzle features ensure that the game and missions are so much more satisfying than the typical shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to most games featuring cops and criminals.

There are 21 main storyline missions in the game, all of which are graded based on performance, such as how many clues you found, questions you answered correctly and civilians that were hurt, all of which adds a bit of replayability, especially as certain cases can be tackled in different ways by approaching each part in a different order. For example, the captain might call Phelps back to the station to interrogate a witness during one case, while players may decide to follow another lead and solve the case that way. The game also features a vast number of street crimes which can be tackled by responding to radio callouts. These missions are a lot less complex than the storyline cases and tend to involve chasing a criminal down or stopping them in the act of committing a crime - usually by force. There are a few potentially interesting ones, such as talking down a suicidal man from a tower, although in reality it wasn't much more than climbing to the roof and watching a cutscene.

L.A. Noire is a truly stunning title and a magnificent technical achievement for Rockstar Games. Not only does it feature the same fun and thrilling gameplay mechanics that made past efforts such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption such huge hits, but the brand new detective elements - such as witness interviews and crime scene investigations - ensure that L.A. Noire is able to offer a completely fresh and unique gaming experience. The plot, setting, character acting, music and sheer attention to detail help to create one of the most atmospheric and engaging video game experiences to date. If you've ever wanted to be a detective, enjoy the works of Raymond Chandler, love movies such as L.A. Confidential or simply look good in a fedora, L.A. Noire is as satisfying a gaming experience as you'll ever find and is sure to capture your imagination.



> Poll: Are you buying L.A. Noire?
> L.A. Noire spans three discs on Xbox
> L.A. Noire lead platform confirmed as PS3

> What do you think of the game? Share your views



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