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Xbox 360 Review: L.A. Noire

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Taking their cues from the film noir cinema style, Rockstar Games (creators of the hit Grand Theft Auto franchise) and Australian developers Team Bondi have partnered to create a captivating story in L.A. Noire. In typical Rockstar fashion, L.A. Noire has already been a huge success, selling just under 1.5 million copies for Xbox 360 alone in the first three weeks, and for good reason.

The StoryInvestigating in L.A. Noire

As the title suggests, L.A. Noire is an adventure/detective game set in ‘40’s-era Los Angeles, California. As a third-person, over-the-shoulder look at former Marine and World War II veteran Cole Phelps, L.A. Noire follows Phelps’ crime-fighting career through the morally ambiguous city of Los Angeles and the equally murky Los Angeles Police Department.

L.A. Noire is divided into cases, each of which–like a mini-series–has a plot of its own within the over-arching story of the game. Each crime is an episode in the saga of Cole Phelps that can stand alone, but they also show the player more about Phelps and the City of Angels.

Unlike so many videogames in the world today, L.A. Noire is deep.  This depth of storytelling both evokes and demands an intimacy with the game that is a more common experience in watching movies than in gaming.

The Gameplay

The controls for L.A. Noire are very intuitive and are well explained in the first cases in the game (unobtrusive messages in the upper-left corner of the screen also assist the player throughout the game). An over-the-shoulder approach would make an action game difficult to control, but as an adventure game, this perspective works well with L.A. Noire; it also allows a good view of Phelps’ stylish outfits which the player unlocks as the story progresses. The driving is similar to that in GTA IV but is easier to control. Investigating crime scenes is also very intuitive thanks to a brief rumble of the controller when the player is close to an interactive object.

The Graphics and Sound

Sharp Graphics in L.A. NoireIt has been praised elsewhere, but a review of L.A. Noire wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the state-of-the-art graphics employed by the game. The high-definition “MotionScan” technology used to film the cast was a brilliant choice by the developers. Compiling the footage from several cameras to create what is displayed on the screen, the graphics are the most realistic I’ve seen in capturing the nuances of human movement and facial expressions. This detail comes in especially handy in a detective game where the player is required to interrogate suspects and determine if they are being honest or not. Such a task wouldn’t be nearly as viable without the precision of “MotionScan.”

The sound is equally well done. From gunfire to car crashes to footsteps, the sound effects are crisp and lifelike. The music in the game, while not something that I would choose to listen to on my own, is very appropriate for the setting and is conducive to furthering the hard-boiled mood of the game.

“Is this game appropriate for my kids?”

As such a serious game, both in the content and form, L.A. Noire is rightly given a “Mature” rating by the ESRB. The realism of the crime scenes includes very graphic portrayals of the deeds of serial killers and drug addicts (i.e. nudity and gore). The language, which is often moderately offensive and sometimes very offensive, is also best suited for an adult audience. Despite the mature content, the complexity of the story alone would, in my opinion, be so far over the heads of most minors that the plot would be almost entirely lost on them.

Criticism

My only gripe with L.A. Noire is the lack of a multiplayer mode. It is understandable that incorporating multiple players into a detective game would be a difficult feat, but it would have made a big difference in increasing the longevity of the gameplay. As a strictly single-player game, once you have finished the story, there isn’t much to do. Like other Rockstar games, there are achievements for various collectibles throughout the city (in this case newspapers and film reels), but those often feel like more of a chore than a game. To their credit, the Rockstar website does include quite a robust section in their Social Club for tracking players’ statistics for L.A. Noire, including the ability to compare stats with your friends who are also playing the game, but this is hardly the same sociality that is found in multiplayer gaming.

Final Thoughts

Despite not having a multiplayer mode, L.A. Noire is a fantastic detective story that deserves the praise and sales it’s been getting. The story is intricate and unique, the gameplay is intuitive and pleasing, and the presentation through its graphics and sound is practically flawless. If you haven’t played this game yet, I strongly recommend you get your hands on it as soon as possible.

L.A. Noire is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence. This game can also be found on PS3.

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About Stephen Lee

In addition to being an awesome web developer, Stephen Lee, aka SLee, is also a video game junkie and intermittent blogger. Click here to find out how he plays so many games.