Andy lives the Film Noir lifestyle in Team Bondi’s detective classic.
Who made it?: Team Bondi (Developer), Rockstar Games (Publisher).
Genre: Third-Person Shooter/Action-Adventure.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, OnLive.
Format: Blu-ray Disc, DVD-DLs, Download.
Release date: 20 May 2011 (UK).
You have the review that makes you, and the review that breaks you…
L.A. Noire is a semi-sandbox detective game in which you play Officer Cole Phelps as he makes his way up the career ladder of the 1940s LAPD. The game started life in 2003 when Brendan McNamara, director of the PlayStation 2 game The Getaway, left Team Soho and started up Team Bondi. He later confirmed he was working on a title for a next-generation platform. In 2005, it was announced that the project was called L.A. Noire and that it would be exclusive to the PS3. From here, it went through the development mill with an apparently hellish work environment that became the stuff of legend. Eventually, Take 2 and Rockstar attempted to clean up the mess when they took up the publishing licence and, eventually, after years of delays it was finally released in 2011. Usually, when a game is delayed this long, it either goes the way of Nintendo and becomes a masterpiece, or it pulls a Duke Nukem Forever/Aliens: Colonial Marines and becomes average-to-garbage at best. Which one is L.A. Noire?
The game is extremely story-focused and plays out like a high budget HBO television series, with writing and acting standards to boot. Not only that but this game uses a technology developed exclusively for it, enabling real actors to record and reproduce their facial performances in great detail, far beyond the motion capture technology used even in next-gen games such as Metal Gear Solid 5. Noire puts it to good use, not only in the cutscenes but as a large mechanic in the game.
We begin our journey on a cold night in 1947 as Phelps and his partner are called to a shooting in a dark alleyway. Here, we are introduced to the fundamentals of driving, searching a crime scene – which is extremely important in getting a conviction – along with examining objects in close detail, and deciding if items picked up are important or not (some objects in the game are completely useless but add to the realist atmosphere). There’s also fighting, which I must say is the most flawed aspect of the game. The brawls are by no means a complicated mess, but it would be nice to be able to learn new moves that enable the player to take down criminal scum quickly and efficiently without having to mush one or two buttons.
The next few levels as a foot soldier show you the ropes in firearms combat, which is adequate, but like GTA IV, it could use some refining, and chasing down suspects, which is one of the finer elements of Noire‘s gameplay. I much prefer the simplified action of holding down run and moving the analogue stick in one direction, especially when it comes to climbing winding fire escapes.
And finally, the most important and central piece of the experience: the interrogation. This is one of the main reasons to play L.A. Noire and elevates it from what would otherwise be a sub-par effort. In interrogation, you have to ask suspects or witnesses questions about the case you are trying to solve using the evidence you have gathered so far. Here, with each question, you must decide whether a suspect is telling the truth or brazenly lying with three categories: “Truth”, “Doubt” and “Lie.” You’ll be surprised at how tricky it gets. Sometimes, getting interrogations wrong can lead to you losing the suspect or having to retry the integration again and again.
But how can you tell if a suspect is lying? Well, this is where the magic of having real-life facial performance comes in. This means that your deductions are not merely limited to voice, and through these facial expressions you can become a true detective to tell if someone is lying. And while some suspects have over-the-top and repeated facial ticks, it has been scientifically proven that these expressions and “tells” are solid ways of telling if someone is being truthful. That’s right, the game actually makes you better at detecting bullshit!
Later on, once you’ve graduated to the role of Detective, you will begin the main story which is split up into four departments: Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. You will travel from crime scene to crime scene through an accurate duplicate of 1940s L.A. Whilst travelling, you do have the option of straying off course and even helping out with on-street crimes. Sometimes, this helps when it comes to practising those foot chases. At other times, you’ll just ask your partner to drive and indulge in a conversation. After playing hundreds of missions on Grand Theft Auto, it’s a pleasant surprise to add these touches.
Altogether, the gameplay for L.A. Noire ranges from below average to unique. In fact, some of the missions can get extremely repetitive to the point where you’ll want to take a day or more’s break. However, gameplay isn’t really what this title is about, since you come to Noire for is its story. The narrative is pure gold as its extremely mature and has a realism to it that most videogames just don’t possess. Unlike most M-rated releases, this one truly does deserve its adult allusions. While a title such as Call of Duty is aimed at pubescent, homophobic teenagers obsessed with muscular marines, L.A. Noire deals with themes such as sexual violence, bloody crime, tough gangsters and corruption in such a mature and credible fashion whilst bringing style and flair to the table. You’ll wonder why this isn’t an up-coming 18-rated television series instead.
The labyrinthine plot is captivating, too, as it is genuinely like a good pulp detective novel unfolding before your eyes. However, this time you ARE the detective and your decisions make every bit of difference. Not only that, but the game throws in optional backstory via hidden newspapers that you collect. They start off a mystery but unfold to become an important piece of the puzzle during the last act of the game.
Graphically, Noire does not disappoint. Whilst you won’t be blown away by the lighting or textures, you will be fascinated by the frighteningly realistic (for a videogame) facial expressions that the characters have. If I had to choose a version, it would either be the PC or PS3 edition of the game because the 360 release does have more framerate and screen-tearing issues. Sound-wise, the game’s music and effects are top notch, really bringing together a perfect atmosphere along with great voice-acting from Aaron Staton and John Noble (Fringe, 24) as just two of many thesps who bring stellar performances to this game.
Ultimately, L.A. Noire‘s atmosphere and story really bring it to the rank of greatness, in spite of some elements being too repetitive and a few mechanics in need of attention. That said, if you absolutely love Film Noir, detective stories and vintage pulp fiction, Bondi’s long-in-development effort should hit all the right targets.
- L.A. Noire is the first video game to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival.
- The game draws heavily from both the plot and aesthetic elements of Film Noir, stylistic films made popular in the 1940s and 1950s that share similar visual styles and themes, including crime and moral ambiguity. The game uses a distinctive colour palette, but in homage to Noir it includes the option to play the game in black and white. Various plot elements reference the major themes of gum-shoe detective and mobster stories such as Key Largo, Chinatown, The Untouchables, The Black Dahlia, and L.A. Confidential.
- Team Bondi recreated 1940s Los Angeles by using aerial photographs taken by Robert Spence. In a career spanning over 50 years, Spence took over 110,000 aerial photographs of Los Angeles. The developers used Spence’s photographs to create traffic patterns and public transport routes as well as the location and condition of buildings. While striving to recreate an accurate model of 1947 Los Angeles, the developers also took some artistic licence, such as including the appearance of the film set for D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance; the set had actually been dismantled in 1919.
- Shortly after the game’s release, a group of former Team Bondi employees launched a website called lanoirecredits.com, containing 100 names which had been left off or incorrectly listed in L.A. Noire‘s credits. This was followed by a series of claims and counter-claims about working hours and company managerial style during the game’s development, along with leaked company emails concerning the state of the relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. The domain name has since expired.