May 23, 2011

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Review: L.A. Noire

Review: L.A. Noire

Crafted by Team Bondi and Rockstar Games, L.A. Noire has attracted attention from day one. Initially announced as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, the game later expanded to 360 as well. Now that L.A. Noire is out, Xbox 360 users have a reason to be thankful that they, too, have a chance to enjoy the fun.

Playing the role of Detective Cole Phelps, gamers will be taken through 21 cases, playing through a very lengthy story.  Starting out as a simple cop walking your beat, you will be promoted through the ranks, peaking as a Vice detective. The cases are spread out  as Phelps works as a detective in traffic, homicide, vice, and arson in 1947 Los Angeles.  As cases progress, players will also learn more about Phelps’ Marine service in the Pacific during World War II, and his relationships with the ex-Marines he served with.

Playing through the story almost exclusively will take about 17 hours, but doing so will cause you to miss most of the goods spread throughout the game.  Within the city are 30 identifiable landmarks, 40  additional missions that players encounter as they drive around, and 50 golden film canisters spread across the city.  At crime scenes, there are also 13 newspapers spread throughout the game that will shine additional light on the going-ons of the city.  Angelenos are also driving through the city in 95 different cars, and a player must drive every single one of them if he or she wants to unlock the trophy.  Assuming you feel the need to accomplish all of these tasks, L.A. Noire could end up lasting longer than many other  games that include an awful multiplayer: cue Dead Space 2.  While no longer an exclusive game, PlayStation 3 users are given an exclusive traffic case called “The Consul’s Car.”

The cases within the game are based on real cases from 1940s-era Los Angeles, although Rockstar and Team Bondi have taken some liberties. Still, L.A. Noire can almost act very loosely as a history lesson.  For the most part, the game maintains a very linear storyline, and must do so because almost all of the cases are linked to one another in some form or fashion.  Progressing through the story requires you to gather clues from crime scenes and during witness/person of interest interviews.

Gamers will find L.A. Noire’s Los Angeles to be huge, taking a decent amount of time to drive from one corner of the map to the next.  It is clear that Team Bondi spent thousands of hours perfectly recreating 1947 Los Angeles, and it is very appreciated.

Buildings are meticulously detailed, and the city is vibrant during both the day and night. During the evening is when this game really shines, because the developers have paid a lot of attention to shadowing and lighting.  On the whole, the game looks good, not great.  Because the game is so large, sacrifices had to be made, and many of the textures look a little bland.  Car destruction is not especially detailed, but shootouts while driving are entertaining, and the animations that accompany the action, like a car tire being shot off, look great and add to the thrill of the chase.  Clipping within the game is apparent on more than a few occasions, and there are a couple of instances where shadows go a little haywire, but nothing on the graphical end distracts from the experience the gameplay brings. Gamers might be interested to note the game can be played completely in black and white or in color, with the ability to switch between these options via the menu at any time.

The only major let-down in L.A. Noire is Cole Phelps.  Although I cannot say for sure as to what the development team was aiming for, I found it difficult to root for Phelps.  Only during the later cases, when playing as Jack Kelso, did I find myself remotely appreciating Phelps.  Phelps just came off as a weak lead character.  The cast surrounding Phelps was phenomenal, though, and aided the game’s narrative very well.  Adam Harrington’s portrayal of Phelps’ partner Roy Earle, as well as Andrew Connolly’s work as James Donnelly, captain of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Homicide Division, are among the standouts in an amazing cast orchestrated by Andy Henry.

Controlling Cole Phelps and Jack Kelso can become somewhat of a chore, however, and is especially true in close-quarters portions of the game.  Phelps seems a little slow on the uptake while searching for clues, and he can get stuck in the scenery, something that is particularly a problem at construction sites, which provide multiple opportunities to get stuck.  While I was always able to maneuver myself out, it did make me hesitant to get extremely close to any debris.  The cover system also needs work, and is the cause for a little bit of frustration during shootouts.  It appears that Team Bondi and Rockstar still have a ways to go in the area of video game cover systems, and could learn a thing or two from the Epic’s Gears of War team or even Zipper, which provided a solid, yet simple, cover system for SOCOM 4.