June 1, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Coming off the massive success of previous games Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games has released their latest blockbuster title, L.A. Noire. With a budget close to $100 million, seven years of development time, and new motion-capture technology that allows for the most realistic face animations to date, it’s clear that Rockstar isn’t playing around. But is Rockstar’s latest game another classic, or one step forward and two steps back?
Based in 1940s Los Angeles, L.A. Noire lets you play as Cole Phelps, a former member of the Marine Corps who has come back home and joined the LAPD in an effort to right his wrongs during WWII. Phelps may be one of the blandest and most generic protagonist of any recent Rockstar game, but that’s sort of his charm, as he perfectly plays the role of the “Golden Boy” with corruption all around him while he hunts for the killer of a series of murders.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing L.A. Noire is the amazing level of detail; Rockstar is known for always putting out top-notch beautiful looking games, and Noire is no exception. The game looks just like Grand Theft Auto set in the 1940s and as an added bonus, those familiar with the L.A. area will be able to recognize certain key landmarks and streets with the map being a very accurate scale based on the real 1940s Los Angeles. However, after you get past the looks, Noire plays very differently than previous open world Rockstar games like GTA, which could upset those just looking to have fun.
While everything in the game looks absolutely beautiful, tons of key features from previous Rockstar games have been removed. One of the best things about previous open world games from Rockstar was the ability to blow off some steam and cause total chaos in the sandbox environments. Watching how the peaceful environments and citizens of a city quickly changed to anarchy once you started introducing them to Molotov cocktails and other weaponry was always a blast, whether it be in the streets of New York City in Grand Theft Auto 4 or the Wild West in Red Dead Redemption.
Unfortunately, Rockstar has decided to take out most of the sandbox features that made their previous open world games so much damn fun. You can no longer pull out a weapon whenever you want and are now only given the option to use guns during specific moments in missions. Cars that are destroyed and catch on fire no longer explode and instead just die. People in the street have the juking abilities of NFL Hall of Famers and are able to jump to safety the majority of the time they get in the way of your car — it’s comical how unrealistic and hard it is to actually hit people with a car.
The extra sandbox features would have offered nothing extra to the actual story of the game, but previously helped make Rockstar’s open world games worth hours (if not days or weeks) of extra fun. Grand Theft Auto 4 was amazing, but I spent way more time running around causing havoc in the streets and watching the chain reaction of realistic physics with friends than playing the actual campaign. Despite L.A. Noire being an open world game, you’ll be spending most of your time just driving around from mission to mission, which isn’t a bad thing because a lot of the missions (especially the car chases) are still enjoyable, albeit repetitive.
Each mission starts you off by investigating a crime scene: the more clues and evidence you find, the better your chances will be at getting more information out of the people you interrogate. Noire is all about the highly advanced character animations and the level of realism in each character’s face. Rockstar Games has spent millions of dollars developing a new form of motion-capture technology that allows for a level of realism that will at times make you forget you’re actually watching a video game character talk. The character face animations will spoil you when going back to play older games you love or even upcoming new releases because you won’t be able to look at them the same and constantly be reminded of how unrealistic other games look and how good of a job Rockstar did.
While face animations might not play as big of a role in other games, it’s one of the key factors in Noire. Throughout the game, you’ll be given the opportunity to interrogate “Persons of Interest” with the ability to pick if you think they’re telling the truth or lying. The interrogation process is where the game really shines and will have you on the edge of your seat trying to make the right choices and get the real information you need out of people. Rockstar’s motion capture technology is spot-on and works great to assist in helping you determine a character’s true emotions. Each time you accuse someone of lying, you’ll be given the option to prove your accusations by choosing the right clue at the right time to connect the dots. If you fail to connect the right evidence at the right times, the suspects you interview will shut down and refuse to give you the information you’re after.
Although the face animation graphics are phenomenal and a feature that every new game studio should invest in (if they can afford it), the character’s faces are a little too obvious. Characters that are lying tend to turn into bobbleheads as their heads shift in every direction possible and look from side to side after answering a question untruthfully. The saving grace to the obviousness of someone telling a lie is that if you accuse someone of lying, you need the proof to back it up, and the only way you can get said proof is by fully investigating a crime scene and finding all the right pieces of evidence.
Despite the interrogations always being enjoyable, the process of finding clues becomes very tedious. To find clues you basically just walk around crime scene areas constantly tapping the A or X button (depending on your console) to pick up items. It’s usually fairly obvious where important clues will be and with the controller vibrating when you get close to them, it really makes it feel like you’re not doing much real investigative work. There’s the option to turn off hints and notifications, but I’d suggest only doing so if you’re hardcore into investigative work and feel like wasting a couple more hours when you don’t have to, or looking for more of a challenge in a second playthrough.
With all its minor flaws, the biggest problem with L.A. Noire is the overall story progression. At first you might feel like your choices during interrogations matter; however, you’ll quickly learn that they don’t. There’s no karma or good/bad meter, so whether you’re a detective that finds every clue and nails the right suspect or a moron that manages to miss key pieces of evidence and constantly makes false accusations, you’ll still end up solving every case and being promoted through the various police ranks and levels of the game.
What would have made L.A. Noire a true game changer would have been the ability to be a good or bad cop based on the decisions you make and actions during missions. With games like Fallout and Mass Effect not only allowing you to choose your own responses in conversations, but allowing those choices to have a direct positive or negative effect on your character, Noire seems slightly dated by lacking a karma system.
As mentioned earlier, even with Rockstar’s insane level of detail in each character, L.A. Noire seems to be missing a lot of little details that made previous games by Rockstar so lovable and what features Noire has taken from previous Rockstar games, it doesn’t actual improve upon. There’s tons of missing features that would have made the game much more enjoyable, like the ability to use weapons outside of missions, switch through a wide selection of radio stations while driving in cars, televisions with multiple channels relating to the plot and city to watch, or stores, bars, and casinos to go into and interact with other characters outside of missions. The 1940s L.A. setting that Rockstar has created is amazing, but by giving players so little interaction with the environment, it feels like Rockstar really missed out on taking advantage of truly immersing players in the game.
While the lack of radio and television features aren’t enough to hurt the game, the poor shooting mechanics are. I understand that the game is a noir and mostly deals with finding clues and solving crimes, but there are still a lot of times you’ll be in the middle of shootouts and frustrated with the average aiming and cover mechanics. I’m not sure if it’s just that other third-person shooters have gotten so much better over the years or if Noire‘s gun gameplay is just bad, but the shooting system here feels worse than GTA4‘s and much worse than Red Dead Redemption‘s.
Regardless of L.A. Noire missing a lot of little things that made previous games from Rockstar so much fun, I still enjoyed the experience and story; it’s by no means perfect, but the incredible character face animations and extreme level of detail are its saving grace and set the bar for character facial expressions for all games in the future. Noire might not be one of Rockstar’s best games, but it’s worth a rent, and possibly worth buying if you’re into crime and detective-style games. L.A. Noire gets 3.5 out of 5 stars (Very Good).
- Character face animations are the next evolution of motion-capture technology
- Perfect voice acting
- Graphics are beautiful
- New investigation and interrogation gameplay introduces a different way to play open world games
- Tons of features from previous games by Rockstar not present which makes the game less fun
- No good/bad karma system affected by your choices
- Repetitive missions and gameplay
- Outcomes of missions seem to be the exact same whether you botch or nail questions during interrogations