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PS3 Review – L.A. Noire

Much has been made about the distinction between L.A. Noire‘s developers, Team Bondi, and its publishers, Rockstar Games. Take a look at the mini-map in the corner, the way cars control and how people on the street react, or how gunplay and cover mechanics work in-game. You’ll see a Rockstar Game through and through. Despite its mechanical similarities, you should be warned: this is no Grand Theft Auto. Team Bondi’s crime caper is an entirely new beast, different from anything you may have played before.

L.A. Noire centers around Cole Phelps, a war hero from the pacific theater of World War II with the gumption to step out of his patrol uniform and into the thick of 1947 Los Angeles crime. From the outset, Phelps has a course charted for him through from the traffic desk through to the vice desk. Along the way you’ll be searching for clues, interrogating suspects and witnesses, chasing down perps, and engaging in the occasional gun fight.

Those elements shift around each other at times but Team Bondi have paced each case so that action sequences feel like breaths of fresh air and interrogations feel like boss fights. I previewed Deus Ex: Human Revolution in March for another site and a key element that Eidos Montreal was trying to sell us on was the nature of a conversational boss. In that game, gunplay finally culminated into a hostage situation where what I said determined whether an individual lived or died. L.A. Noire has beaten Human Revolution to the verbal punch. While I didn’t have to talk down mad men on the brink of a murder, I did have to confront them after the deed was committed.

Of course, all of this is possible thanks to the MotionScan technology pioneered here. Recreating an actor’s performance down to every wrinkle or blink makes the interrogation gameplay possible. If your suspect shifts his eyes or swallows nervously, you’ll be able determine if what they’re saying is a load of shit. Of course, if their gaze is locked hard on you they might be telling the truth. You can only claim that a person is lying if you have evidence that contradicts their statement.

This boils down to the gut check. You’ve been lied to in real life. What feeling do you get from an individual with something to hide? How do you judge who’s playing stupid or just plain dumb? L.A. Noire is at its most challenging during this dialogue sequences. Knowing who killed the dame down by the rail yard can come from hard evidence collection or breaking the suspect in interrogation.

Let’s back up a second though, I’m getting ahead of myself. You will too. At the beginning of each case, a short tease is shown to get the mystery rolling. You’ve seen what happens in the beginning of Law & Order episodes right? Before the funky music, of course. After that, you’ll be given the reporting details and a location to inspect. More often than not you’ll uncover clues that will lead you to two or more people or suspects to question. Any normal person will start to formulate an idea of whodunit from the outset, but the interim dialogue between Phelps and his partners during transit help to turn ideas over and over in the player’s mind.

Heading to a suspect’s house might lead to more evidence searching and more interrogating. You’ll narrow down the list of suspects as you go along. L.A. Noire‘s bread and butter is the gathering of evidence and the interrogation, but bread and butter can get boring. That’s why every once in a while you’ll be given a chase sequence, whether on foot or by automobile. There’ll be the occasional shootout as well but the real combat is one of words.

Like I said, this is not Grand Theft Auto. In fact, I’m reluctant to even call it an open-world game. Sure, the expansive city of Angels is there for you to drive through. Maybe you’ll stumble across a street crime every once in a while. There are hidden items to collect too, but you’re given every opportunity to bypass all of that. Your partner can drive to every destination and choosing your next waypoint is often less than two button presses away.

If you’re not one for GTA’s parodic humor, you’ll be happy to know that L.A. Noire takes itself extremely serious. There’s nudity, but it’s the naked bodies of women stabbed, strangled, and pale after blood loss. There’s foul language, but it’s never excessive, unnecessary, or used as a punch-line. Team Bondi did their research with many cases having actually taken place in 1940s Los Angeles.

So what does all of this mean? L.A. Noire combines the best of action games, the best of adventure games, the best of cinema, and the best facial animation in video games to create an experience unlike any other. I’m gushing, it’s true. After 7 years of development, a generation of brand new graphics technology, and the passion for developing new experiences that comes with association to Rockstar Games, Team Bondi deserve the long vacation they’re probably on. There’s little else left to say other than: PLAY THIS GAME.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Engrossing story, dialogue, facial animations, and gameplay

+ Stunning detail and refreshing variety within each case

+/- Not Grand Theft Auto

9 out of 10