With computer games now out-selling DVDs it was only a matter of time before we had a game that could compete with Hollywood’s storytelling – and LA Noire might just be it.
Set in 1940s Los Angeles you play Cole Phelps – a fresh-faced detective with a military past, a bright future and a selection of snazzy hats. Think LA Confidential meets the ‘interactive storytelling’ of Heavy Rain with a dash of Mad Men’s style thrown in for good measure and you’re on the right lines.
For a Rockstar game it’s surprisingly linear, with cases offered in specific order as you rise through the ranks from uniform-wearing rookie to traffic duty, through homicide and vice and finally arson. Each case starts with a crime scene, which you have to investigate in a pick-up-and-inspect style reminiscent of old point-and-click adventures. After that it’s a case of questioning witnesses, hunting down suspects and interrogating the truth out of them – and that’s where the game’s incredible facial motion capture really comes into play.
Rather than the normal poorly-animated shop mannequins, LA Noire’s characters move and speak like real humans. There’s life in their faces; their eyes dart about and their heads go down when they’re nervous. And it’s these subtle signs you’ll need to decipher to get to the truth. Combined with an engrossing, interweaving storyline that features cryptic Seven-style serial killers, drug-dealing mob bosses and betting scams, LA Noire stands trilby-topped head and shoulders above your average whodunnit puzzler.
As we’ve come to expect from Rockstar titles, taking in the surroundings can be as enjoyable as advancing the storyline. Twilight drives down Sunset Boulevard are as atmospheric as any moments in Red Dead Redemption and while the more linear nature of the game sometimes makes the city feel slightly less alive than Liberty City or RDR’s US/Mexican border, there’s still nothing stopping you driving your patrol car down a set of steps.
The only real criticisms are minor. Sometimes LA Noire is just, well, too noir. Pursuits and shootouts in almost total darkness can easily slip from atmospheric into plain annoying. Be prepared to say: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ a lot too, because LA Noire’s map is huge. While running down pedestrians to entertain yourself GTA-style is frowned upon when you’re in the LAPD, one-off ‘street crime’ missions come through on the car’s radio as you drive. You can choose whether you want to respond or not, but most involve pulling your weapon or, at the very least, giving chase. It’s a neat way of breaking up the longer investigations and injecting a bit of action.
Don’t fire up LA Noire expecting little more than law-abiding Grand Theft Auto. While it reins in some of the freedoms associated with Rockstar’s most famous title, it replaces the carnage with more considered gameplay and an over-arching plot that’s positively Shakespearean in comparison to the brainless run ‘n’ gun thrills of a game like Gears of War. Without doubt one of the finest games you’ll play all year – and a benchmark for those to come.