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Outside the MMO Box: LA Noire

General Articles By Adam Tingle on June 01, 2011

Outside the MMO Box: LA Noire

This bastard is lying to me, they know it, I know it, and those tell-all rolling eyes are a dead give-away. A dame was murdered last night, stripped naked, and a lot of handy clues were left around the crime scene – it’s my job to piece together the dots and come up a criminal shaped picture; right now this seedy fellow is fitting the profile. Looking through my notebook I scan over the clues, examine my questions, and take a long analytical look at my suspect, let’s start at the beginning “how did you know the victim?”

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Since picking up Rockstar’s latest gaming masterpiece I have mutated into an odd detective. Scuffles with family over a missing, and much longed for, chocolate bar are now long drawn out affairs – first I grab their hands, apparently clean, perhaps too clean? Then I look deep into their eyes, “MY CHOCOLATE BAR IS MISSING, why did you murder it?” I will demand waiting for a retort, all the while looking for rolling eyes, hard-swallowing, and uncomfortable shuffling; before long I am choosing whether they are telling the truth, lying, or if indeed I doubt their statement. Once my line of interrogation ends I slam into an accusation, tempers fly, and I realise I’m not a good detective: time to move on to the case of the missing t-shirt and the “chilly” girlfriend.

Can’t Read My, Can’t Read My, Poker Face, Poker Poker Poker Face

Being a manchild of a certain age, I get very excited when Rockstar Games decide to unleash another piece of software upon the world. Call me anti-social but the chance to terrorize a virtual world with bad driving and devil-may-care intentions just rocks my boat. This time things are different however, no longer are we the criminals of the night of earlier games, now, in conjunction with Team Bondi, we gamers get to take to the right the side of the law – namely that of a detective by the name of Cole Phelps, a no chinned, war-scarred alpha male with a serious humour deficiency.

The scene is set, it is the late 1940’s and a spate of murders reminiscent of the Black Dahlia are taking place, it is your job to piece together events and come up with a psychopathic killer. The greatest success of LA Noire is in its atmosphere and the faithful recreation of the Film-Noire genre. Detective work in the game easily echoes movies such as Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown, and the setting is pitched perfect – the result is a glorious cake of videogaming goodness.

It is very easy to jump on the bandwagon of fandom that Rockstar gains, but it is difficult to dismiss their passed record. LA Noire is a game that reinvents the slightly flagging point-and-click genre whilst at the same time bringing it to the forefront of technology. The title is an evolutionary step in the industry – a chunk of gaming that will have wide reaching ramifications for future releases and for videogames as whole.

Using MotionScan and other technologies I’d have difficulty trying to explain, LA Noire allows players to have a truly immersive and almost cinematic experience. While being an unashamed game with the trappings of any Rockstar title of the past decade, LA Noire also feels like a high-budget HBO crime thriller. The game utilises real-life actors such as Aaron Staton (Mad Men) and sidesteps the usual ham-acting we are all used to and delivers truly spectacular performances. Using new facial gadgets, players can gain real insight into the AI of the game: lying tells, certain body movements, and gestures all lend to a rich tapestry which gives the ensemble a layer of authenticity and allows it to become more than your average game –  because this is not a game, this is an experience.

So without falling into too much frothing praise let me explain to premise a little. Playing a detective you investigate certain crime scenes, usually centred around the horrific murder of an individual or sometimes just around a suspect object.  Like a procedural cop-show, you must look around searching for would-be evidence and clues as to what has transpired. Objects that are of note are indicated by a mild rumble in the joypad and further these can be selected and then manipulated in hand, tilting, rotating and looking for any pertinent clues.

To follow item-bothering is the almost RPG, and very Mass Effect, system of questioning. Using a notepad which acts almost as the in-game Pokedex players can select a dozen or so questions to quiz a witness or suspect. It is this section where players have to concentrate and look for whether the person is telling a straight story, something which I appear to be a mastermind at. While at heart LA Noire is a game above all the cinematic nuances, the truth/lie system manages to look both impressive and filmic whilst at the same time something intrinsically "gamey". The individuals which you will question will have levels of subtlety to their lies or truths, and while some will over dramatically roll their eyes or fidget uncomfortably, it will always keep you on your toes second guessing tried and tested methods of rooting out the truth.

To help wash down this perfect mixture of detective work is certain dispatch missions which offer respite from the core of game and act as fun little distractions. While on the way to a mission you can receive calls and tackle a criminal in the process of robbing an establishment or a nervous fellow attempting to taste asphalt from the top of a building. These dispatches do break up the pace and offer little sub-stories but never do they feel anything other than distractions – with perhaps a little more development some of these could mutate into sub-plots or run parallel to certain investigations, but I suppose we can hope for this in the sequel.

 The real meat and bones of the game comes from the detecting work that will rarely see you looking for any other forms of entertainment.  For those that enjoy puzzles and past titles such as Lucas Arts expansive catalogue or indeed Revolution Software, LA Noire is a perfect advancement of the theme. The characters feel entirely believable while returning that razor-sharp satire known in Rockstar’s previous titles, but the game isn’t entirely without fault.

While the investigations are fun, around the 75% mark things can grow a little stale. The usual activities of searching for clues may lead become a  little too tried and tested, and there is an aura of sitting back rather than participating in the game. Titles such as Heavy Rain asked players to actively take part in sequences, whether this be certain joystick wiggles, and LA Noire could do with a little of this. Within the search for evidence the only real interactivity comes from manipulating objects and the occasional chasing down of a suspect, this could be enhanced with the inclusion of dialling a telephone and reaching for an item beyond pressing the X button. While it is a small gripe, after 10 to 20 hours of gameplay it can grow tiresome watching prolonged cutscenes with no player interactions.

But all in all, LA Noire is a brilliant game but for a few tiny little niggles. For a first attempt with the technology it uses, the game is a masterpiece and one that will be regarded as highly influential. The title as good as reinvents the point-and-click genre, and anyone with an eye for puzzles and mystery will get a serious kick out of this game, and for those who want such an experience I can fully recommend it.

So with the Witcher 2, Brink, Dirt 3, and now LA Noire being released in May, this could be the greatest month of offline gaming releases for sometime – so lay down your “Screaming Tears of the Monkey Slayer” sword, and put away your “Crocodile Bastard Lord" armour, it’s time to detect some criminals.

Adam Tingle / Freelancer for MMORPG.com, 360 Gamer Magazine, and Play Magazine.