LA Noire Review

[xrr rating=4/5]

For years adventure games have strived to maintain a balance between narrative and playability. Heavy Rain, the Metal Gear Solid saga, even Final Fantasy XIII have all weaved their twisty-turney narratives with grace and poise, but each one took the interactive film idea to such extremes that they became little more than interactive cutscenes.

But with LA Noire, Rockstar may have struck the perfect balance.

You play LAPD detective Cole Phelps, who works his way up from beat cop to the homicide desk by investigating a series of assigned cases, all of which tie together in unforeseen ways and eventually link into a wider conspiracy the like of which The X-Files would be proud.

With its lengthy and episodic format, LA Noire is more an interactive DVD box set than an interactive film, but that only makes it more engrossing.

The self-shaking ketchup bottle experiment had gone drastically wrong...

From the moment the loading screen fades into view you can almost feel the developers’ love for 1940s Los Angeles seeping from the game’s pores. Everything about it screams authenticity, from the sumptuous detail in the streets of LA to the accents, mannerisms and snippets of conversation gleamed from passers by in the street.

Rockstar has performed an almost surgical transplant of that city in that time period and pull no punches in recreating the ambience of an era drowning beneath its own corruption. Whether it’s arriving finding female murder victims sprawled butt naked at the crime scene or chasing down paedophiles, the cases are a brutal and sometimes uncomfortable experience that never feel contrived or shoehorned in for the sake of shock value, instead providing the final drop of authenticity that brings the time period to life.

Each case requires research and procedure: surveying the scene, tracking down witnesses, chasing up leads and speaking to anyone who may have information relevant to your inquiry, and it’s here that the game’s ambition truly comes into play.

Using brand new technology called MotionScan, each character’s movements benefit from the sophistication and emotional prowess of real actors. Every twitch, sideways glance and shifty nuance has been mapped with striking and sometimes unnerving accuracy – for the first time in video game history, it’s not just what the characters say, but how they say it and how they look when doing it that counts. And you’ll have to pay close attention because each interrogation tasks the player with deciding whether your interviewee is telling the truth, withholding information or outright lying based on these subtleties.

It’s a much slower, thoughtful and reflective experience than its Grand Theft ancestor but L.A. Noire isn’t simply about hounding people. This is still an open-world game – you’re free to deviate from cases and explore the beautifully crafted environs or tackle more action-oriented missions such as heists and bank robberies.

It may be too slow and methodical for some of today’s thrill-a-minute gamers, but this is one of the year’s most innovative, unique and experimental games and one that truly lives up to its own hype.

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