L.A. Noire is the story of Cole Phelps, a decorated World War II veteran and newly minted detective in the LAPD. You play as Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the LAPD, taking on an escalating series of cases and investigations inspired by real-world crimes that occurred in LA during the late 1940s.
If Konami's Snatcher mated with Red Dead Redemption and happened to be in Los Angeles in the 1940s its love child would have been L.A. Noire. Folks, this is a most amazing game.
What I found intriguing about this game is the story and atmosphere that Team Bondi has created. Much like Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, which brought new/rough life to the western frontier with cruel realism and unforgiving elements, L.A. Noire sports what it advertises; a Film Noir environment. Brutal real-life cases from the 1940s (Black Dahlia, anyone?) lead the way to rich storytelling, which makes this game work especially well. Going back to my oddball comment about Konami's Snatcher, it wasn't the fact that the game revolved around a futuristic/Blade Runner type detective that made that similar to L.A. Noire; rather it was because of the solid story that was told in that game that made it worth the play. While there are many other elements of L.A. Noire that make it worth your time, Rockstar and Team Bondi did a great job with making sure the stories were strong before going forward. It's easy to make a cop game where you run around and kill people, but it's difficult making the story good enough to be memorable. Without this key element to the design this game becomes lifeless and just another action game.
So, with that said, bravo for storytelling, as it will keep your attention firmly in its grasp.
While the storytelling certainly will keep you glued to the screen (my wife, who hates modern gaming, was caught up in the cases as I progressed; if that doesn't say something I'm not sure what can), the way you progress through the game through intuition and detective wits will make you forget you've played it for six straight hours. For example, when you happen upon a murder scene you'll check out all the evidence around you. While investigating one of many Black Dahlia murders in the game you'll have to check out the naked bodies (it's gross, so keep the squeamish out of the room) looking for marks, bruises and messages. You literally will take Detective Phelps and look at arms, heads and missing items (such as rings). Each time Phelps finds something worthwhile the camera will zoom in and information will be recorded. There are times were investigating what you believe to be important turns out to be nothing. It's basically a true system of investigating, which makes it fun.
You'll also take the same skills and apply it to searching suspects' homes, which can be daunting at times. Each time you walk by something of interest there will be a small chime in the music that gives you a hint that something is near by to investigate. Sometimes it leads to nothing and other times it leads to something really good. For example, there was a case (which I won't name to save the suspense) where a man had boots with blood on the bottom. They were sitting peacefully in front of his bedroom window and easily missed. I walked by them a few times and heard the chime, but didn't immediately pick up what was being pointed out. This part of the game is something you have to get use to, as the game forces you to be more aware of your surroundings and what you should be looking for. Again, it's a bit daunting at times, but it gets easier over time. Plus, it makes the game more interesting; as you'll have to know what things you're sorta looking for as you investigate a location.
With that said, if you need help during the game it provides you with something called intuition points. You've got five to use during your first several cases. Once the points are gone you have to earn them again through XP, which is earned based on how successful you were with solving a case. After you use a point your HUD displays certain possible clues lying around the area you're investigating. Some of the clues are useful, while others are simply nothing. Regardless, the intuition points are very useful when you've exhausted all avenues of investigating and need a little help. I like that Rockstar instituted this system, as it provided a crutch at the beginning of the game. Once you get use to investigating locations and start getting your own intuition with finding clues you'll need these less and less.
Speaking of clues, the system that Team Bondi chose to use to navigate through the investigations is quite simple. Detective Phelps carries a notebook around with him that contains clues and leads that are picked up as the game progresses. For example, in the first part of the Black Dahlia case you are led to different areas after you interrogate possible suspects. I had the chance to go to the morgue before going to a suspect's home, but chose to go see the suspect instead. It turned out the suspect was someone we were looking for and I didn't need to go to the morgue. You can pick and choose freely which places to go to in any order you would like by simply having the name in your notebook (accessible by hitting the select button) and setting it as the destination. If you don't set a destination then you won't know where you're going and you end up taking a tour of Los Angeles (which was nearly traffic free and pretty back then). If you forget a clue or a location you can always consult the notebook, which helps to keep your investigation on track.
Sticking with the subject of 'suspects', easily one of the most entertaining (and difficult) portions of the game is the interrogation part. This is where the facial recognition that Rockstar put together so beautifully comes in handy. The game asks you to not only listen to the suspect as they discuss their alibi or other forms of information, but it also asks you to watch for signs of lying in their expression. I've never played a game that required me to read someone's face and decide whether they are telling the truth or not. Seeing rapid eye movement, worried expressions or simply how the suspect is talking can give away their defense. It's amazing to see in action and it's one of the elements that really help drive this game.
Another element that is tough as nails to learn, but worth the effort once you do learn it, is breaking a suspect through different types of question/answer and evidence. Starting with the question/answer, when you talk with your suspect you can get them to cooperate or completely shut off, depending on the questions and attitude you carry. For example, during the second Black Dahlia case I had my suspect at the end of his rope through strong evidence (my notebook contained an entire list of clues to back up my interrogation) and a lack of alibi. I used too much verbal force to get him to admit he killed his wife and his character shut off on me. I was penalized for picking the wrong way to talk to him, but I did get an arrest out of it. The problem was that once he was arrested I was berated and nearly demoted by my captain for not completely putting the case together and away. The interrogation seems terribly realistic, which just adds another level of depth to your gameplay. Be very careful with your questioning and your attitude towards the other person; sometimes it can work against you.
The more thorough you are on cases then the better you're going to be when it comes to completing them properly. Plus, the reward for doing a good job is quite good (no, I'm not going to tell you).
So what about the sandbox nature of this game? It's true that you can go and tour Los Angeles if you so choose. The endless cityscape that Rockstar and Team Bondi have put together is gorgeous to look at. You can also do small side steps during your tour of the city. Once in a while you'll hear the police dispatcher announce a crime or something else in progress and you can choose to help out if you want. If you do you gain XP and sometimes other things. For example, there was a small situation where a gentleman wanted to jump off the roof of a building. I had to climb up the building and talk him down. It's short and sweet, and could be most related to the small task you can do on the side in Red Dead Redemption.
If you choose to take a tour of the city then prepare to get your driving skills going. You can cruise the many streets of L.A. in your police vehicle. While I can only blame the lack of power steering for my horrid driving skills, I had a blast running down the streets as fast I could in my patrol car. You will have to be careful if you do this, as your car can give and take damage when you drive recklessly. Early in the game I found out that my car actually would die if I hit another car too hard. Shamefully, if you get to that point you can use your police power to commandeer another vehicle. There are over 90 vehicles you can drive in L.A. Noire and all of them can be taken in a gentle GTA type style.
If I did have a tiny complaint about the game it would be in regards to too many stoplights. I felt like I was driving in Lexington, Kentucky with as many stoplights that I ran into. If you want some solid advice to get around them then here it is; turn on the siren and just go. Much like some police in our town it's much easier to get around when you're running these lights. Is it safer? No. Is it more fun to have a sense of danger like this? Lord, yes. Rockstar please release an update that makes these lights more manageable.
Sticking with fast-paced gaming, the action scenes in L.A. Noire are fun. Again, taking the same design page from Red Dead Redemption (and GTA), grabbing your gun and returning fire is fun and easy. The controls are set up not to make this process a hassle. You simply duck and cover then lock your target and shoot. Much like the shooting style of Red Dead Redemption, where you can just pop up and lock on your target instantly, you will be able to do the same in this game. Read the instructions before you start, though. My goofy ass didn't do that and the controls were a little frustrating at first. Once I got them down the 'action' part of the game became smooth. The action doesn't stop there, though. There are times where using your firearm isn't an option and you'll have to run down your guy (or gal) and tackle or use fists to get your point across. It goes from Track and Field to Yakuza pretty easily, and it's intense. For example, one of the early officer cases has Phelps chase down a suspect on foot through alleys, parks and finally ending crossing the street. In this particular case I had to break out my firearm and wound my suspect to slow him down. It was cool and it ended well for everyone. There was another case where I accidentally killed my suspect, which isn't a good idea because you will fail the mission instantly. Sometimes you shoot and sometimes you fight with fists; it's a fun mixture regardless.
Now the part you've all read about on other sites... the presentation. Everything you read about the MotionScan technology is true. It brings the actors/actresses perfectly into their game characters. You might think this isn't a big deal and that seeing someone's mouth move perfectly is more of a gimmick than a use; you would be wrong (or an a-hole). Having the actors/actresses perfectly captured with all their facial expressions intact enhances the game significantly. Going back to what I pointed out during the interrogation process, it's important to see twitches, expressions and expressive tip-offs when talking to suspects in the game. It adds another layer of depth to the detective part of the job in L.A. Noire. More importantly, it helps bring the gamer further into the story, as you forget that these animated characters aren't real. On a side note, the accurate mouth structuring brings out the rest of the face's movement like the eyebrows, cheeks, etc. This motion technology adds more value than just 'pretty'; it adds more intensity to the value of the story.
With that said, the rest of the game is just as beautiful. The endless landscape of Los Angeles is beautifully defined. The houses and streets are more than your typical crappy blocks in games of this type. The streets are alive with people who hate you for trying to run over them with the car. The streets themselves vary from place to place, depending on the area you're in. On top of this, the cars are simply amazing to look at when it comes to design. You get a perfect shimmer off the roofs, ugly white wall tires and intricate detail inside the cars that you can see from outside of them. The game as a whole is gorgeous to look at when you can. It's as endless as the locales in Red Dead Redemption, and just as beautiful.
Not to be outshined by the graphics, is how good the acting and writing is in the game. The actors, led by Mad Men alum Aaron Staton, are Hollywood in this game. You'll find very good, passionate acting coming from almost every character. What's even better is that you'll recognize a few actors through their characters. Watch for the Greg Grunberg (Heroes) to crop up during the game. His soft spoken demeanor will be as recognizable as his face.
So is this game fun? Is it worth your money and time? The answer to those questions is a resounding 'yes'. I could spend hours upon hours with this game and never get tired. I've even considered going back and redoing the whole thing over to get better results on cases; it's that damn addictive and fun. If you count the actual cases you go through, the side steps you can take and the general freedom the game offers then you'll find it's worth the $59.99. You're jaw probably already dropped when you saw the trailer and the MotionScan captures. Take that and add a very rich and rewarding experience with a true-to-life detective thriller and what's not to like? What's scary about this game is that Rockstar has an almost endless amount of cases it can throw into a DLC pack and offer up to gamers. I personally can't wait until that starts happening.
Anyway, enough of my rambling! Let's get to the summary!