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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


L.A. Noire (Playstation 3)

Only a few developers would dare to make such an ambitious and innovative interactive title such as L.A. Noire, and its no surprise that Rockstar Games and Team Bondi have created an immersive title that brings the world of the 1940's to life vividly. The game's amazing level of detail is most evident in its life-like character animations. The gameplay is a interesting to, which each case offering tasks such as evidence collection, interrogation and methodical searches offering players plenty to do. Its linear nature and some of the hand-holding can be a little disappointing but, LA Noire is one of the best cinematic games we've ever played.

Taking players to the gritty streets of 1940's Los Angeles, L.A. Noire is an evocative and intense game that allows players to step into the shoes of an upcoming detective, Cole Phelps. The game begins with the character joining the force after a stint in World War II. As a war hero, he's been placed into the field as a shining example of an honest cop, in a department that's been over-run by corruption and a crime wave. Phelps begins his work at the bottom rung of police work as a traffic cop, where he learns the basic procedures and techniques he'll use throughout his career. The structure of L.A. Noire is fairly straightforward most cases are divided into several unique tasks. At the beginning of each case, you have to go the crime scene, where you walk around and discover evidence. This is usually done by maneuvering the main character around and looking for objects near the scene of the crime, such as licenses, bullets and weapons. In the easy mode, a small chime occurs that alerts you to an object of interest. You can then examine it, hold it in close view. While not all objects you see will be relevant to the case, once you do find one, it comes up in your notebook, which you can reference later. Once you have surveyed the crime scene, you can then question witnesses, who may offer more clues. This approach of gradually building up your case can be quite engrossing, though it also means that the cases can drag on a while longer than you'd expect. Fortunately, you can save the game at key points and resume later on without losing too much progress. This allows you to play it over multiple sessions and since the cases are self-contained, it makes for a perfect structure.

Interviewing witnesses requires you to ask them the right questions. However, this isn't automatically done. After each question, you are given a choice of three different modes of question, where you decide whether the witness is telling the truth, think they are hiding something which throws doubt on their story, or if they are outright lying. The interesting thing here is that you can try and see what their motive is by observing their body language and demeanor. If you use the right tact in these situations, you may make a witness give you information. However, if you question the honesty of an innocent person, they'll usually become hostile which will cut off their information. During the questioning, you can also bring in evidence you might have collected which might bring in additional clues or lead you to suspect's location. If you successfully question a witness, you'll also earn intuition points. These can be used during questioning to remove wrong questions and choices, though they are hard to earn so use them sparingly. Each aspect of the interview needs to be carefully weighed before you issue your question, since one wrong move can damage your case. The truth comes out eventually, but going on the wrong path means it can take longer. You can also end up letting some people off the hook if you misinterpret their answers. As you go deeper into the game, you'll see some plots go in different directions and there are some cases that seem disconnected at first gradually become part of a larger picture.

Most of the game involves questioning witnesses and gathering evidence, but there are a number of action sequences as well. Occasionally, a suspect might become violent and you have to punch and kick them or avoid their hits by dodging. The controls in these sequences are very simple and most players will have little problem getting through them. For inexperienced players, the game also has an option where these can be skipped if you fail them enough times. The game also has a few gun sequences where you need to find cover and take out the bad guys. Most of the time, you can use your standard gun to shoot, while peeking around corners. Your objectives in these sections are usually to clear out the bad guys while protecting yourself. As you might expect, the game also includes a number of driving sequences and these are very much in the vein of GTA, though you have the option of having your partner drive to speed things up. The controls here are very simple as well, and LA Noire's maps automatically update to your next objective. Unlike the GTA games, you need to avoid hitting other cars and pedestrians, you're the good guys this time around. Most driving is a little monotonous, but you need to pay attention to your partner's conversation, since this can also yield valuable clues. When you're driving, you'll also be alerted to other crimes in the area, which you can choose to do and earn extra merit points or skip to concentrate on the main game. Most of these sub-missions are short and easy to complete, though they become distractions later on when LA Noire's storyline heats up. Some of the missions are stakeouts, where you have to drive behind a suspect and observe them from a distance. These can be tricky because they won't indict themselves if they see you, but you have to be careful not to let them get out of your sight and escape. Your driving skills will also be put to the test when you encounter a suspect on the run. When you're after them, your mission is to usually ram them off the street and arrest them, while making sure they don't get out of your range and escape, either. All of these different mission types help to keep LA Noire from becoming stale, and its design is impressive in the way that it leads players along without making the game feel like its on rails.

One of the most impressive aspects of LA Noire is its graphics engine, which makes it one of the most impressive looking titles on the market. The special effects, motion capturing and lifelike animations make this one of the best cinematic games on the market. Each character in the game comes across as completely believable, and the dialogue and storylines make you want to keep playing. Using a fairly incredible graphics engine allows the characters to come to life in vivid fashion. Each character has a distinct look and feel, which is quite stunning in effect. Once you get used to them, you'll see that its their quirks and personalities that makes them feel human. Their facial animation and movements are incredibly realistic, giving you the sense that you are interacting with actual people. Different characters have their own quirks and style, and the immersion is enhanced by their personalities, each of which is voiced by a different actor. There's loads of dialogue and plot in each case, and the sheer number of different characters is quite impressive. Even minor characters such as neighbors you interview or other officers on the scene seem like fully fleshed-out characters. Virtually everyone you talk to has a unique voice and manner. This approach might sound a little excessive, but it truly enhances the experience and allows the game's acting and storylines to feel truly believable, and life-like.

LA Noire's most impressive accomplishment comes in its brilliant recreation of 40's Los Angeles. It definitely feels quite authentic in its style and approach. Every character's outfits and mannerisms feels like it should and even small objects, such as matchbooks feel period-correct. Its almost like walking into a time-machine in some ways, and the references to certain things, such as movie stars and famous people make it feel quite real as well. The scale of the city is quite impressive and the buildings, streets and locations look very nice in this game. Impressive lighting effects allow for some quite nuanced moments. One of the more interesting things you can do is change the game from a full-color mode, which looks great, to black and white, which makes things look like and old movie. The camera angles are fairly decent for the most part and while we saw the occasional glitch, things worked smoothly throughout. With a Rockstar production, players usually expect some great music and while it's a bit more sedated than you're probably used to, its 40's jazzy tone sets the noir mood perfectly. LA Noire's outstanding production values are superb in all departments, making this one of the most immersive and brilliantly designed games we've played in quite some time.

LA Noire takes an uncompromisingly cinematic approach to gaming, which will definitely please some gamers who want to experience a robust approach to interaction. It succeeds brilliantly in recreating the design and feel of a classic film noir thriller, but this approach does have its drawbacks. In order to keep the main plot going, you don't have too many branches to choose from. Interrogations and interviews do change some of the outcomes, but missing a few questions won't change the overall pace of the game. You're given most of the information you need from the clues you gather, but there are a few red herrings which are time consuming and frustrating. While you have some say in which questions you ask, the answers are usually pre-conceived so there isn't much at stake. When it comes to the order of each investigation, LA Noire gives you little room to maneuver, you basically go where the game says you will, and there doesn't seem to much divergence offered players. This is slightly disappointing, but given the scale and complexity of the missions you have, its understandable. These design limitations aren't really that important in the overall scheme of things and don't detract from the overall experience. When you look at the larger scope of the game, its hard not to be impressed by LA Noire's ambition, execution and aesthetics. Its sterling visuals and coherent design make for a consistently excellent title from an aesthetic standpoint, one that immerses the player into an evocative and sometimes shocking world. Its plot unfolds slowly at first, but gains momentum in an effective manner that takes you on an engrossing, stylish tour of the dark side of Los Angeles. This is definitely one of the better cinematic titles in terms of its finished design, and its engrossing, stylish world is definitely one most players will want to experience.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A-

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