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Platform

Playstation 3

 

Genre

Action Adventure

 

Publisher

Rockstar Games

 

Developer

Team Bondi

 

ESRB

 M (Mature)

 

Released

May 17, 2011

 

 

- Amazing graphics details
- Excellent use of period audio
- High caliber acting from top notch cast

 

 

- Very little substantive gameplay
- Short story mastery doesnít translate to primary storyline cohesion
- Too constrained to be a proper sandbox game

 

 

Review: L.A. Noire (360)

Review: Dungeon Siege III (PS3)

Review: Heavy Rain (PS3)

 

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L.A. Noire

Score: 7.5 / 10

 

la noire          la noire

 

As a boy, I actually liked watching black and white movies, particularly with Humphrey Bogart. There was something about him in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca that exuded devil-may-care cool in the face of overwhelming odds. As I grew up, and watched other films in the same vein but with not quite as compelling actors, I learned there was a proper name for this genre. Stories of simple men in dangerous situations where nothing was as it seemed and nobody could be trusted longer than it took to light a Chesterfield cigarette. It was noir, and it would become as much a staple of my cinematic and literary diet as sci-fi, fantasy, and Westerns. Team Bondi's L.A. Noire isn't the first game ever to dip into the murky waters of the

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noir genre, and I doubt it will be the last. I can't deny they've got the look down pretty well but the attitude is seriously lacking.

There's nothing but love for the game on the visual end of things. I'm dead serious when I tell you that L.A. Noire has taken the PS3 platform and the art of motion capture to previously unseen levels in a game. The very large cast is highly

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recognizable for any cinephile, and there's so many high end performances that it feels more like an interactive movie than a game. Special effects like rain, smoke, and fire are all handled incredibly well. One neat little touch is how the screen gets more black and white the closer you are to dying. The level of detail is amazing, and on the homicide scenes can be a little gut wrenching for those with weaker constitutions. In particular, the facial captures on the actors are incorporated as part of the mechanic for interviewing witnesses. While I don't doubt that the expressions are perhaps slightly exaggerated to help players determine a character's veracity, the fact that the captures are detailed enough to necessitate even slightly exaggerated expressions makes it pretty damned amazing. On the purely technical side, I didn't notice any glaring issues of clipping or texture cracking, though occasionally some movement animations were a little jerky.

For a project like this, music and sound are important to help properly set the tone. As with any Rockstar project, Lazlow and his crew have gone to the effort of collecting a good blend of '40s swing mixed in with radio plays and news reports proper to the period. On top of that, the main score nicely captures a jazz feel and mixes it with a cinematic tone that Lalo Schifrin would be proud of. The actors voice their parts very clearly, evoking the tone of conversational speakers in the '40s while bringing their characters to life.

It's in the gameplay that L.A. Noire falls short. When I said earlier that it feels like an interactive movie, it's a compliment and a complaint at the same time.

 

Unlike Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto, you're never given the opportunity to take a breather and explore the world. Sure, you can choose a specific roaming mode called "The Streets of L.A." to go around and find all the collectible goodies, but the game's structure of constantly sending you out on case after case after case severely hampers any sandbox ambitions the game might try to lay claim to.

 

By the time you reach the story arc involving your time on the Homicide desk, the mechanic of driving around town, interviewing witnesses, and examining evidence is already starting to feel a little stale. Just driving around town was an interminable chore, as it seemed like the traffic lights always turned red right when I approached any intersection. A couple of attempts at puzzles such as finding the correct path through the La Brea Tar Pits feel tacked on rather than an organic part of the game. Shadowing cars and people is an exercise in frustration because your ability to judge when you're following too close or too far is a lot of guesswork piled on top of conjecture, which means you'll be failing a lot. A changing indicator of green (good), yellow (getting too close/too far), red (about to lose suspect/about to get noticed) would have made shadowing a far more pleasant experience.

 

An extra aggravation is that somebody thought it would be a brilliant idea to put the police siren on the L3 button, the analog control stick used to drive the car. Too often, you're supposed to be driving Code 2 (without sirens) and a hard turn will activate the siren by accident, thus blowing your cover. The ability to skip segments that you've failed multiple times may seem cool, but there's an understated feeling that Team Bondi just didn't quite get the balance right. Gunplay is pretty exciting, but I would have preferred an ammo counter to let me know how many shotshells or Tommy gun magazines I had left rather than just watching my character toss the empty weapon to the ground.

 

la noire          la noire

 

By far, the greatest sin that L.A. Noire commits is one that I've rarely run into in a game. Over the course of the game, I genuinely grew to hate my alter ego, Cole Phelps. I cannot deny that actor Aaron Staton (Mad Men) has brought the character to life, but whether through the script or his acting choices, I actively hated being Cole Phelps. He wasn't the hard boiled heir to Sam Spade, nor was he the counterpart to L.A. Confidential's Ed Exeley. A third of the way into the game, it was painfully obvious that Cole Phelps was a pedantic condescending martinet who should have been shot to death by his own men on Okinawa long before he ever hit L.A. What makes it worse is that in terms of character development, we have no control over what happens to Phelps unlike the control we had over John Marsten in Red Dead Redemption. We have no opportunity to explore what really makes him tick. We have no choices to make outside of whether he thinks a suspect is being honest, evasive, or dishonest. This makes an already detestable character even less likable, since we can't even attempt to reform his behavior. We basically stuck watching a train wreck. The attempted main storyline doesnít really start to get interesting until the last third of the game, and that entails changing characters for an all too brief time. Thereís too much slogging through mundane cases with peripheral or non-existent ties to what happens in the latter parts of the game to really make those cases enjoyable beyond an appreciation of the performances of the actors. By the end of it all, even after watching the last cutscene at the end of the credits, I came away feeling that I had sat through thirty hours of tech demo just to play a few hours of genuine game.

Team Bondi created a technical masterpiece with L.A. Noire. The problem is that they didnít create an artistic or even entertaining masterpiece. It would not surprise me in the slightest to see this technology appear in future Rockstar titles, or even out in the industry as a whole, but it must be relegated to the status of a tool. It cannot magically generate a compelling game experience. The power of choice, in games as in noir, is what separates the heroes from the mugs.

 

- Axel Cushing

(August 16, 2011)

 

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