Rockstar Games has one of the best reputations in the industry, and it’s not hard to see why. Whilst some companies push out multiple titles each year and always aim for the key holiday season, Rockstar hang back from the crowd and play by their own rules. Undoubtedly, the biggest name in their roster is the eponymous Grand Theft Auto (GTA), yet they have released some incredible stand-alone titles over the years which have been more than worthy of their critical acclaim. However, critical acclaim does not always equate to huge commercial success and for many gamers (especially the younger aspects of the market) an unfamiliar title from a respected developer is sometimes met with suspicion or ignored altogether.
Back when L.A. Noire was first released it was a truly ground-breaking title. Despite its distinct similarities to GTA in terms of perspective, cinematic narrative and open-world structure, it incorporated an incredibly detailed system of facial animation that was way beyond anything seen prior (and, in my eyes, since). In order to achieve this feat, Rockstar utilized the latest in motion tracking technology, usually seen in high-budget Hollywood blockbusters, to record emotive face scans for every character in the game. Whilst this may seem like a bold move to some, it wasn’t fully appreciated by some gamers (due in no small part to the technology in people’s homes at the time being less powerful and struggling to fully deliver the immersive experience Rockstar were hoping for). In my opinion, this is one of the most under-appreciated games of the last generation and this remaster for the latest generation should allow people to truly enjoy what is a masterpiece in interactive entertainment.
Stepping into the flat-footed shoes of patrolman Cole Phelps, players are thrust into a Hollywood-esque world filled with corruption, greed and enough shady characters for a thousand day-time soap opera episodes. The world is well-realized and densely populated, much like its spiritual successor, and the streets buzz with idle chit-chat and generally friendly pedestrians who are going about their day-to-day business. Having received a call regarding a current crime, players make their way to a crime scene and begin to look for evidence. This is the crux of the game and players need to be patient as they look around the environments for clues and objects to examine more closely. If you’re expecting an intense, thrill-a-minute explosion fest then you may initially be put off by the slow pace, but this is what separates L.A. Noire from many other games on the market: it wants you to step into a role and play it properly. Subtle audio-cues guide you towards your objectives on the lower difficulties, indicating you are near a potential point of interest and letting you know when have found everything that you can, and I would encourage all players to fully explore each environment to make sure that you don’t miss out on a evidence which may be vital at a later time. Trust me; you don’t want to realize that you have missed something when you get to the interview stage.
Every person you speak to can help or hinder the investigation depending on the way that you encourage, coerce or pressure them into spilling the beans. Players need to listen carefully to what people say, but the real objective is to monitor their facial expressions and body language to figure out if they are being totally honest or not. Initially, this is very challenging and can be difficult to figure out, yet once you settle into the ideology (and psychology) behind it you begin to watch each person like a hawk. Don’t believe they are giving you all they have? Play bad cop and threaten to push the blame onto them. Have some evidence they don’t know about? Pull it out the bag and watch the smugness melt from their faces in an instant. This is an immensely gratifying game mechanic in itself, but the real star of the show is the facial animation which makes every interview completely engrossing. It’s not often that games manage to trick your mind into thinking that you are actually watching real people instead of computer generated characters. L.A. Noire manages to cross that boundary countless times and is sometimes truly staggering in its levels of realism (especially if you play it sans color – more on that later).
During your time as Phelps, you work your way up the ranks and get promoted between various divisions (traffic, vice, homicide etc.) and each one has its own set of missions, objectives and characters to engage with. Impress your boss by getting a higher ranking on your arrest report and you can move up more quickly, but the overall path through the game is largely unaffected. While you may find yourself gaining confidence in your policing skills throughout the first few cases, things quickly become more complicated as you progress and cases develop into increasingly complex, multi-layered episodes that get under your skin and cause you to revisit your trusty notebook with ever-increasing frequency. There is no way of bluffing your way through this game – you need to take your time and think carefully before you act at each and every crossroads (metaphorically, of course). The result is a game that rewards you for paying attention to the finer details and a reals sense of achievement when you pull of the perfect case. In case you were wondering, I am being as vague as possible when it comes to the cases themselves as I hate spoilers and would much prefer it if you went out and made mistakes like a fresh-faced rookie. Sorry (not sorry).
At this point I feel it is only fair to point out a couple of technical issues which are likely to cause some players to question my apparent infatuation with graphics. Despite the extra layer of shine, this is a game which looks dated in places. Colors can sometimes seem a little washed out and bland, although this does fit the era, and the transition from body to face is not always seamless (leaving a slightly jagged edge to some of the people you meet) The animation is of a good standard, but advancements in technology mean that it can feel a little clunky in comparison to more recent releases until you get used to it (especially in terms of pedestrians) and the handling of the cars can be a little off-putting when you first get behind the wheel (top tip: get your partner to do the driving while you review your notes and only drive when you really have to – this also makes it feel even more like a film or TV series as it skips out the boring parts of simply driving from A to B). For me personally, the best option is to play the game in black and white (changed in the settings menu) and experience film noir at its finest. Trust me, it just works. In all honesty, the points I have mentioned are essentially nit-picking and concern only my perception of how your expectations may not be met when you first begin to play – the game is a fantastic experience in its own right and stands out from a crowd of identikit clones with ease.
Overall, this is a must-have in my humble opinion. Never has a game caused as much joy and frustration based only on my own actions and it pays testament to Rockstar’s endless vision that a game which is almost archaic in the eyes of some younger gamers can still be so ground-breaking in 2017. Kudos, Rockstar, it’s a welcome return for an old friend.
Video Credit – You Tube The Vitec289