PS3 Review: L.A. Noire

Is Los Angeles really the City of Angels?

L.A. Confidential is one of my favourite films of all time. That gritty, seedy side of L.A. that no-one really sees came across so wonderfully and for years, I thought why hasn’t a game entered that same world? Well, it seems a group called Team Bondi had the same idea and thanks to Rockstar have made it a reality. But is it a case of being careful for what you wish for?

I’ve been following the progress of L.A. Noire for a long time and in the end, it turned into what I didn’t expect. It’s very different from the likes of GTA, despite the open world nature of the game. You can’t shoot civilians, you can only draw your gun at key points of the story and any damage you cause to the city will impact your overall ranking on your report for each case.

You play as Cole Phelps, a detective who starts as a run of the mill copper who works his way up the ranks of the force and enters traffic, homicide, arson and vice while solving individual cases that ties upto each. It’s dark, bleak and sometimes really close to the bone when it comes to the violent nature of the crimes, especially when it comes to the murders which usually involve naked women being left mutilated. I couldn’t believe my eyes that I was able to select a body part like the head or arms and move them with the analogue stick to look for clues as to what happened to her.

There’s also searching for clues, which is perhaps a bit easy since the controller vibrates when you are near something of interest, but the real challenge comes with piecing it all together to interrogate witnesses and suspects with hard hitting evidence. It’s not easy to get it right all the time and while the game doesn’t stop you from completing a mission for messing up your questioning, it does impact your overall ranking for the case.

Cole is an interesting character and you’ll learn a lot about him over the course of the game, such as flashback sequences to his time in the war. The script truly is superb and I never felt that the game dragged on, I was always hoping it would in some cases as I was so intrigued. It’s such a different game from what we are used to playing and I think that’s why it’s become such a big hit, its weird how something so simple can be such a game changer for the industry, but Team Bondi has done it in style.

You can explore L.A. at your own leisure outside of cases if you choose, which will let you concentrate on visiting every landmark, driving every vehicle and finding every film reel and newspaper. A lot has been made of the realistic facial expressions of the characters in L.A. Noire and I was dubious that it would look as good as it does, but its truly eerie to see the small details like the eyes showing off true emotion as well as the tweaks of the facial muscles. It’s definitely the best facial expression I’ve ever seen in a game and now all other games will have to do catch-up to try and come close to matching it.

The combat system is pretty straightforward, you hold one button to block, one to punch and one to grapple. Shooting sections are also what you would expect from a third-person shooter, so don’t go thinking it’ll be any different. Driving works quite well and you can even get your partner to drive for you if you don’t feel like it. It might have been nice to have some kind of co-op mode where one partner goes to question a suspect while the other gathers more clues, but it’s not a huge deal in the great scheme of things.

The Verdict

L.A. Noire is the big hit we all thought it was going to be, but it’s much more than that. It’s a step forward in story development, facial technology and game design. I cannot wait for future DLC and the inevitable sequels. Thanks to the City of Angels, another great IP is born.