Saturday, 28 May 2011

L.A Noire - Of all the Bars in all the World

Listen Jimmy, we know you've been taking a bit of moolah on the side. Don't play me for a mooch, Jimmy! Otherwise you'll end up in the big house, smoking some hooch-goon's cigar, if you catch my drift.

*cough* *Cough*
Phew... sorry. Possibly spent a little too long in 1940s America. The past few days have been a haze of smokey jazz clubs, seedy bars, old-school police departments and mandatory hat wearing.

"Hughes, you know why you're here. Just put the hat on and we can all go home"
 L.A Noire gives you a real taste of what its like to get into the detective biz. You play Cole Phelps, an ex-soldier working his way through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department. You are assigned cases, visit crime scenes, search for evidence, interview witnesses and suspects, take part in shoot-outs, car chases, bar brawls and interrogations.

John  Noble's wrinkled elbow skin face is faithfully recreated in game.
The gameplay when you're moving around the city itself feels very much like Rockstar's signature: the third person "GTA" style sandbox world with AI controlled pedestrians and motorists (complete with the option to commandeer any vehicle you choose - although, this time for police business rather than for picking up hookers). Whereas the more intimate crime scene investigations, interrogations and questioning is a whole other matter. A while back my friend linked me to a video about the new technology which Rockstar were employing in order to allow the player to truly use his or her judgement on how to play a suspect. High-tech Motionscan HD cameras allowed the Rockstar animators to map the real life actors faces in real time, almost every important NPC you see is an in game version of the real actor, complete with facial expressions down to the minutest details. This allows players to use their own judgement when deciding whether a suspect is lying, and when they have to play hard ball to really squeeze out the info (It's even got Greg Grunberg in, and he does that thing when he's concentrating where he turns his head to the side like a confused dog trying to get through a catflap - just like in Heroes!)

The world Rockstar have created is backed up by a really haunting sound track mixed with showtunes, jazz and a Godfather-like score which really ramps up the tension when it's required. Admittedly, the graphics on the terrain, buildings, cars etc are nothing to write home about but that really allows you to focus on the investigative elements.

The story is only really just kicking off in my game, I've worked my way through a couple of departments and there appears to be a couple of side-stories which I assume will all tie together in the end, on the whole it feels very fresh and exciting and it's difficult not to get totally sucked in.

There are, however, a couple of criticisms I would raise (WARNING POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILERS):

1) The crime scene investigation kinda becomes a case of wandering around and waiting for the controller to shake in order to find clues. Of course, some are easily picked out visually but others require a combing of the scene waiting for the music to stop (indicating that all clues are found).

2) Sometimes you can suss out who is going to be a major suspect and who will be a minor informant by who plays them. For example, I was on a case earlier searching for a killer. I wandered out the back entrance of a bar and ran into a man delivering goods to the bar from the grocers across the street; we interacted for about 30 seconds and then he moved on. Unfortunately, he was played by Brain Krause so you could kinda tell you were going to see him again and he'd have a larger part to play.

3) The actual facial reading has become a secondary thought when trying to interrogate the suspect. Essentially, you look to see if they look away or shift in their seat at any point after you ask them the question. It's a bit of a "tick box" affair. The real challenge is reviewing the evidence you have to see whether you can outright accuse them of lying and prove it, or whether you have to doubt them and hope they'll spill the beans under pressure.

The above criticisms are the kind of problems which are always going to come up with a new technology such as the motionscan used in LA Noire.However, despite these few drawbacks, the game is, quite frankly, brilliant. It is compelling, dramatic, gritty and above all else it's incredibly enjoyable. L.A Noire is a very solid game, and considering it is breaking pretty new ground I think it does a stand up job.

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