L.A. Noire
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar
Released: 2011
Rating: Mature

Written by Victoria Zukas

L.A. Noire is a good game with a few poorly implemented design choices that really stick out. You play as Cole Phelps, an L.A cop who rises through the ranks by solving cases. I give Rockstar a huge amount of credit for the world they created. You really feel as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of a noir movie. Everything from the period cars and dress to the advertisements on the radio. If you love this genre then you’ll fit right in.

The tutorial is spot on. Even if you’ve never played this kind of game before you can easily figure out what to do next and how to do it. Instructions will appear in the upper right corner of the screen when you need to do something new, such as hiding behind cover or jumping over obstacles. It’s noticeable enough that you can see it, without it blocking the screen or getting in the way. Also the game doesn’t throw everything you need to know at you at once. Every mission is called a case. The first two cases are there to get your feet wet. During each one you’re presented with different situations. This means you get new information in bits at a time. Fast enough to keep the game moving, but slow enough so you aren’t running around like a chicken with your head cut off. It never feels like a tutorial, just the first two missions in a game.

When at a crime scene you’ll spend your time searching for evidence and talking with witnesses. Instead of having the objects you can interact with look different, the music will change and the controller will vibrate when you’re near an object you can pick up. Not all objects you can pick up will be clues for your case. If you find something that isn’t worth your time Cole will say something like “I don’t think this is useful.” This is a great small cue to let the player know what’s important and what isn’t. While the music/controller cues are useful when searching a crime scene, in practice you ignore what the place looks like and walk around until the controller vibrates. I found myself wandering around pressing “A” at everything until I triggered the next cut scene.

When talking with witnesses or conducting interrogations, their are facial tells and body movements that will tell if you if the person is lying or not. It took me a lot of wrong guesses and intuition points before I could see any difference. The game tells you to “watch for clues”, but the only thing that helped me was using the “use your intuition” option, which removed one of the three possibilities (Truth, Doubt, and Lie). Do that enough and you start to see a pattern. On that note, the faces for all of the characters were just….off. The rest of the graphics for the game were standard current generation level quality, but the faces have a very high level of detail. This is most noticeable on any NPC that had a large mouth. It gives this weird uncanny valley effect that takes some time to get used to.

This next part I will flat out admit is a personal preference problem. I hate driving games. I don’t mean games like the Mario Kart series or ModNation Racer, because running over obstacles and crashing all the time is part of the fun. You’re not expected to drive like a sane human being in those games. In L.A Noire there are red lights, lanes, and other real world traffic rules. Since my character is a cop, I feel like I should be obeying said traffic rules. This means I’m spending half of my time trying to navigate L.A via old time car. If this was Rockstar’s other huge title, Grand Theft Auto, I wouldn’t care; but I’m supposed to be a cop in this. So I spend far too much time at red lights and desperately trying not to crash into pedestrians, lamp posts, other cars, etc because I can’t control the police car to save my life. If I want to drive in a game, I will pick up one of the racing titles mentioned above. I came here to chase down and interrogate bad guys. The time spent in said car is a huge waste. My partner wants us to check out the gun shop on X road. Why am I spending ten minutes trying to get to that road? Just cut away and pick up at that road. Aside from random banter, nothing of importance happens while you’re driving. It’s all a device to get from Point A to Point B. It pads out time, nothing more.

Whither you like driving in games or not, L.A. Noire’s AI gets in the way when you’re in a rush. Traffic acts normal when you have your siren off. When you have your siren on everyone stops moving. Normally, this is a good thing. However, several times I’ve been speeding to catch up with someone on foot, and I get stopped at the intersection. Instead of the cars at the light getting out of my way they stop and block both lanes, not letting me through. I have to turn off my siren, wait for the cars to turn or go through, and then turn my siren back on. That is not how traffic works at all.

In summary I would say L.A Noire is worth a look, especially if you like this genre. However, I would wait until it goes on sale or get a used copy.

Final Verdict – Play it