Sunday, May 29, 2011

This Isn't New York

Last year, I proclaimed Rockstar’s action Western “Red Dead Redemption” to be the best game I’d played in 2010. Naturally, when Rockstar announced that their film noir style detective epic would be released this year I was eager to see how it would play out. On one hand, I wasn’t too enthused about the setting. Sure, I could see the appeal of a rich and dramatized Los Angeles set in the late 40s but how could 20 something hours of investigating crime scenes possibly hold my attention?

At PAX this year, Lynsey and I were treated to a 30-minute demo of the game, which certainly piqued my interest but still left the aforementioned question unanswered.

Having finished “LA Noire” last night I now know: yeah, I really can spend 20-something hours investigating crimes scenes and not get bored.

As detective Cole Phelps I began my career as a lowly street cop only to work my way up the food chain of the LAPD from traffic to homicide to vice and then finally arson. And yes, arson is the last division you’re assigned to thanks to some surprising plot twists. Then again, this is Rockstar isn’t it? Plot twists are what it’s all about.

As Phelps you spend your time driving from case to case – occasionally stopping to assist in 1 of 40 street crimes that randomly pop up – and trying to piece together what exactly happened and who you need to haul downtown to answer for the nefarious misdeeds. As you wander through a crime scene, your controller vibrates to let you know a clue is nearby. Well, sometimes it tells you nothing: Phelps often picks up items that turn out to be worthless but are still able to be fully examined. Let me tell you, I think the guy has a fetish for hairbrushes.

Following the crime scene investigates, you move on to the interrogation of suspects and this is where “L.A. Noire” really shines. Using an elaborate network of 32 cameras, the developers flawlessly recorded the actor’s faces as they spoke their lines. This may seem excessive to any outsider but when a large portion of your success in the game depends on your ability to read people’s expressions (are they not meeting your eyes? Is their mouth twitching? Are they blinking too much?) this is crucial and Rockstar pulled it off beautifully. Take a look at this video to get an idea of the effort that went into this technology and how marvelous it truly looks:

That being said though, the facial animations really are the star of the show here. Yes, the story is engaging but truthfully once you’ve played one Rockstar I feel as though you’ve played them all in some respect. I went into this game knowing that at some point I would be betrayed and that my character or someone I was close to wouldn’t make it to the end credits. I’m certainly not going to go into details on that here but let’s just say I wasn’t surprised by the game’s twists and ultimate conclusion.

I will say it again however, this predictability doesn’t make the story any less fun.

The other staples of the mechanics work wonderfully as well: the music, the background noises, shooting and cover systems, they all come together nicely with the exception of the repetition of the conversations NPCs would have around you. It wasn’t long before I found myself memorizing lines like “if olive oil comes from olives . . . where does baby oil come from?”.

This lack of variety did play a role in my disappoint with the overall level of interaction with the open world of this game. Yes, it looks beautiful but really, there just isn’t much to do in the streets of Los Angeles. I never felt the urge to explore like I did in “Red Dead Redemption” but I suppose it’s not really fair to compare the two and I will say that while Red Dead only had a handful of “random” encounters that were recycled in different areas of the world, all 40 of the street crimes in L.A. Noire are wholly unique.

That’s impressive.

Impressive. That’s really a good word all around for this game. It lived up perfectly to my expectations, neither falling below or above them. L.A. Noire is a fantastic game and is everything I’ve come to expect from Rockstar. In fact, I’m planning on starting another playthrough as soon as I finish this review. There has already been talk of a sequel and I can earnestly say I’d love to see more of this world, perhaps within a game where it’s a little easier to get yourself happily lost outside the main quest.

1 comment:

  1. I really wanted to play this before, now I NEED to play it!!