Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Developed by Team Bondi, Rockstar Games
Published by Rockstar Games
Genre Third Person Action/Adventure
Platform Xbox 360, PS3
Team Bondi of Rockstar Games are better known as the developers of the landmark Grand Theft Auto series, games which garner as much attention for their controversial elements as their advancements of the open world genre. But this time they're abandoning the life of crime for a career in law enforcement.
In LA Noire you play Detective Cole Phelps, an ex-war hero and hot shot up and comer in the LAPD. You work your way from the patrol beat through various desks as you uncover the dirt and grime on the seedier side of Los Angeles.
The game setting itself features a large and fully explorable recreation of Los Angeles, complete with recognisable landmarks and many of Rockstar's trademark parodies on pop-culture.
Anyone familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series will be immediately familiar with the gameplay and controls, from shootout scenes to driving through the streets.
However, the real meat and potatoes of the game involves examining crime scenes for evidence and interviewing witnesses/suspects. The former is classic adventure game fare, scour game areas for clues, use the analog stick to examine objects from every angle and general puzzle solving. The latter though employs the all new facial animation technology that has set the media ablaze.
LA Noire features some quite sophisticated multi-camera full facial scanning, which renders the characters in-game with an astonishing level of realism and detail. The quality of the graphics themselves are nothing special at all (still based on the old GTA IV engine) but with facial animation this detailed there really are times when one can't believe that they are simply watching a videogame. The main application for this in-game is for interviews, where players will have to watch and scrutinize every slightest facial tick and expression in order to determine whether or not the person is being entirely forthright.
The other very entertaining result of this new technology is that it makes the actors used to model the in-game characters extremely recognizable, and throughout the game players will experience numerous "oh hey it's that guy from that tv show/movie" moments. It also helps that Rockstar have assembled a very talented cast, featuring instantly recognizable actors from shows like Mad Men, Scrubs, Lost, Heroes, and Fringe. It all lends LA Noire a cinematic quality unlike anything seen before in video games.
For the most part this all works pretty well; the detective aspects are all very rewarding and entertaining, and the experience as a whole is a pleasure. But LA Noire still suffers from many of the engine and gameplay issues that previous Rockstar titles have had, particularly with the driving and shooting scenes. In addition, LA Noire's story itself is surprisingly lacklustre, considering Rockstar are widely known for the high quality and pacing of their narratives, LA Noire seems oddly half-assed and uninspired.
In particular LA Noire has serious pacing problems in the second half of the game, after hitting a real high point with the fantastic homicide desk missions, the latter parts of the game feel like a bit of a step down in terms of excitement and spectacle. In addition, the backstory of the main protagonist Cole Phelps seems strangely thin, which becomes a real problem in the later parts of the game when personal events are suddenly and bizarrely thrust centre-stage with almost zero previous build up. This lack of basic story-telling technique makes it difficult to really care about what happens, and it's a surprising lack of finesse from a developer renowned for so much more.
It is also worth noting that despite the big explorable city in which the game is set, this is not an open world game, and there is in fact very little to do in the big city aside from traditional "collectible" hunting which is of no real consequence other than for completionists. This plays into the bigger issue that comes from the lack of replayability. For obvious reasons, once you've played the game and solved the cases, there is little suspense in playing them again.
Still, aside from these issues LA Noire is more hit than miss. The story may be underwhelming, the but the incredible cinematic polish with which it is presented makes it a joy to play through, if for no other reason than it's something new and exctiing for videogames.
A far more lasting legacy from this game will be the animation technology, and if nothing else, LA Noire serves as an exciting example of what's to come.
Amazing facial animation
Top notch presentation
Clever and innovative gameplay
Surprisingly weak story and characters
Nothing to do in LA
Short, not much replay value