Product Type: Rockstar Xbox 360 games
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Detective Work at it's Finest
L.A. Noire (Xbox 360)
Member Name: Stunt 101
L.A. Noire (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Engrossing cases to solve, solid shooting and driving mechanics, mo-capped actors, great value.
Disadvantages: Rough graphics, story can feel disjointed due to some lack of relevance between cases.
You play the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD detective who starts on the Patrol Desk. After a few missions, you are promoted to the rank of Traffic. From here, you work your way up (and in one case, down) through the ranks of the police force, completing cases for each desk. You go through Traffic, Arson, Homicide and Vice, and each case pits you with a different partner. Throughout each mission, you find traces of Phelps' involvement in World War II, and how the events that took place there have after-effects on what is happening now. Many twists, turns, bumps and shocks come your way through the game, though the general story is somewhat jarring because a majority of each desk is spent solving cases which don't tie to the main story. But the final desk is completely engaging, with each case playing an important part. You become attached to Phelps and many other characters, which mean it hurts when some characters stab Phelps in the back. The ending is completely tragic, and a sad end to an amazing story.
So as stated, you move through the game via the different sections of the police. You start in Patrol, which serves as the game's tutorial missions in essence, and there is no impact in making mistakes at this point. However, after this point, each case grades you on a rating from 1 to 5 stars. Make the right choices in questioning, find all the clues on each crime scene and don't arrest the wrong man, and you should be home safe with 5 stars. But, you can also lose stars for driving recklessly, and destroying property or harming civilians. You can be the best detective in the world, but drive like a moron and you'll shop yourself with 4 stars instead of 5. But there's no real penalty for getting less than 5, other than losing out on an achievement and 100% Game Completion.
The cases vary depending on which desk you sit at. Traffic is vehicle related accidents, Homicide is straight up murder, Vice is relating to drugs (and specifically surplus morphine found on multiple victims) and Arson is fire-related crimes. Each case usually starts with you examining the body, and searching nearby areas for clues. Once then, you are free to conduct your investigation however you choose. Obviously finding clues in the area will help you attain a 5* rating, but you can pretty much get to the conclusion skipping half the clues. Obviously, you probably won't get anywhere without finding key clues to give you leads, but there is a lot of freedom in how you conduct yourself in the cases of LA Noire. At some points, you even have choice on which suspect you want to charge.
What makes LA Noire engaging is that you'll want to find every clue possible. It's incredibly satisfying to discover a key piece of evidence, and later use it in questioning. Because as you go through the game, you'll come across key people who are lying to you. In fact, I'm pretty sure I only met a couple of people in the game's entirety that weren't concealing something. When you ask a person your question, 3 key responses will come up - truth, doubt and lie. Truth just means they aren't hiding anything, doubt is when you feel they're lying but have no physical proof, and lie is when you bring in hard evidence to get the truth out of them. The game doesn't let you try again if you mess up, so you must choose wisely for face penalties on your case rank.
You do have some aid for you though in the form of intuition points. These are acquired when you level up. Levelling up comes after you complete questioning, finish cases and more. When you level up you gain intuition points. These can be used for a variety of things. In a crime scene, you can reveal all the clues in the area, meaning you won't miss any key items. And in questioning, you can use it to either remove one of the options, meaning you only have to choose from two of the three choices or 'ask the community', which basically gives you a percentage on what people have used in the past, meaning most likely it's that option. You do have to work for intuition points, so they don't feel like a cheap way of revealing the game to you, but it's nice to have an option if one case is completely boggling your mind.
Though LA Noire is primarily an adventure game, in a way, as you play detective trying to find the clues to the case, there are other elements to LA Noire. Most prevalent will be driving. As you are clued in to your next location, you can either opt to drive yourself or have your partner drive for you. The latter is good if you're a lousy driver and don't want to rack up penalties in damage. There's a huge amount of perfectly replicated 1940's cars to choose from, including varieties of police cars, sport cars and even ambulance trucks if you feel obligated. The cars handle very well, though due to the period cars feel pretty darn slow, but that's to be expected.
You will also have to engage in varieties of combat situations. You will gain access to fire arms, including pistols, shotguns, BARs and even a flame thrower specific to the last level. The shooting uses an auto-aim system not too uncommon from GTA IV, and combat is pretty straight forward. One cool aspect is that instead of health meters, you take visible damage on Phelps and the screen starts to turn black and white. It adds a nice level of immersion. You also have fist fights, where the game uses a button-bashing system with A to punch, X to dodge and Y to grapple. Pretty straightforward too, and most enemies are cake. You may also have to pursuit suspects, and you can stop them in multiple ways. You can fire a warning shot by aiming your gun long enough to fill the aiming reticule white, try and catch up to them and tackle them to the ground, or they may stop anyways and knock you out in the process by hiding around a corner.
LA Noire isn't really a sandbox game in the sense that you don't free-roam during cases really. You can, but then you can't do anything destructive unless you want to face penalty. However, once you finish each desk of the game, you can then enter a 'Streets of LA' free-roam session. In these, you can do as you please. There are a variety of collectables to be found in the big city. There are 95 individual cars to find and drive, 50 Golden Film Reels to collect and 30 Landmarks located around the City of Angels. These all contribute to a 100% Game Completion, along with completing the cases with 5 stars. If you can pull it off, you can pretty much earn all the game's Gamerscore/Trophies.
LA Noire is extremely good value for money. The game is splashed across 3 discs, and unlike Rage, it's definitely content over technology. The main missions take about 20 hours to do, and gaining all the collectables in Free Roam will take a good amount of time too. If you're done with that, there are also 4 more downloadable cases to chew into. A Slip of the Tongue puts you in Traffic where a big theft racket is exposed, The Naked City revolves around the murder of a young fashion model, Reefer Madness has you discovering a city-wide Marijuana ring from the tip of a snitch and Nicholson Electroplating has you investigating an explosive which is on the scale of a nuclear bomb. You can pick up all these packs and more for about 1600 MSP, or you can buy them separate for about 320 points each. It's very good value for money considering it adds a good six or so hours of gameplay from all four cases. Unfortunately, don't expect any more content as Team Bondi, the studio behind LA Noire, has been closed.
One of the coolest things about LA Noire is its high-tech use of motion capture. You'll notice quickly that the face of Cole Phelps also has the face of Aaron Staton, whom you may recognise from Mad Men on TV. There are a few other characters you may recognise from their real-life counter parts, and every single character has been mo-capped in the game. It's a bit strange, and sometimes the lips can become blurry, but this is a very cool and well executed idea. Granted, this doesn't make LA Noire the prettiest game. Though the faces are real almost, the hair on these character's is usually blurry and pixelated. The game also struggles to keep running at a constant clip, with a lot of frame rate stutters in tight situations. Thankfully, the City of LA is, though not perfect, recreated very well. You'll obviously see the historic Egyptian Theatre, as well as many landmarks, and Bondi are so confident they got it right that when you see a Landmark you can hold B and take a picture of it.
Sound is stellar in LA Noire. The voice work, as mentioned, has famous and less famous actors suck as Staton, and it is all good. It combines very well with the mo-cap to help characters become very easy to attach yourself to. The game uses a piano key to let you know if you've successful or unsuccessfully questioned a person, fitting in and helping players through their story. The music is a selection of upbeat classics played in this era, which complement the driving pretty well. In those tense scenes, sweeping orchestral music takes its place, making for much better brands of atmospheric music. The guns sound good enough, though a couple of them feel pretty weak. The fist-fights hit hard though.
Overall, LA Noire stands out as a highlight of 2011. It's a very engaging game - whether it's finding every clue in the case, experiencing what happens at each twist and turn with these almost human-like characters or just roaming the streets of LA, taking in the sights and responding to any crimes reported over the radio. Its use of motion capture is awesome, though the rest of the graphics somewhat fall short. But LA Noire is engaging, great value for money especially as it is around £20 these days, and a mighty production. If you love some detective work to take up a lot of your time, look no further than this.
Summary: A memorable experience you won't soon forget despite some flaws.