Team Bondi brought many things to the table with this game, most notably the inotive facial recognition system and a new take on the idea of open world games.
It’s almost cliché now; whenever you think of an open world game, you’re immediately attracted by the side content. We are all enthralled by stealing cars and “accidentally” running old woman over as we power slide around corners, dodging the various methods the Law use to stop you. LA Noire is different; it feels more mature – something that I feel has been missing from open world games for quite a while.
The world projects you straight back to the late 1940’s, aesthetically it’s brilliant. Just walking along a street, you can see the work that’s gone into making the world feel realistic; period posters, objects and references all fit perfectly with the classic 40’s suit wearing detective that is your character. A character that’s believable and fresh.
Cole Phelps is a complex one – joining the Police to right the wrongs he made during World War 2, Cole finds himself investigating above his rank as an on-the-beat officer, gaining him recognition and a foothold into the sharp-dressed, suit-wearing world of a Detective. Expansion in Cole’s back-story takes place through newspapers, which can be located around the city. Usually, you will stumble across these in suspects houses, picking them up will cause a cutscene to start, long enough to pull you even deeper into the thick plot, yet short enough to not distract you totally from the “real” world.
The other characters are as well rounded as Cole himself, offering solid voice acting from a well-known cast, there are appearances from John Noble (of Lord Of The Rings fame) and Greg Grunburg (of Heroes fame). The different partners for each of the four desks you work at offer a change in character thorough the game, splitting each desk up and giving it a fresh pace. Each character evolves over the period you work for him, some disliking you and your “by the book” method, gradually easing up and becoming much more of friendly character – letting you into a smaller side story about things that are obviously close to their heart.
Characters and plot aside, the main bulk of the game are the different cases you are assigned to. Each of these follow a rough pattern: Go to the crime scene and find evidence; use the evidence to bring in a few suspects and, finally, catch the perpetrator. However, that’s really all that the cases have in common. Each case plays out differently, there is always a different way of coming to an arrest, making it feel fresh and new after every case. Even similar cases (done deliberately to further the plot) all pan out slightly differently.
Studying a crime scene doesn’t really sound like fun to the average person, however, it turns out to be quite the contrary. Finding the murder weapon, or another significant clue, really feels like an achievement. It puts you in the murderer’s shoes, getting you to ask yourself what they would do, where would you leave the murder weapon. You really have to almost be the murderer at times, its quite a kick, albeit a gruesome one, when you realise what the killer has done and can use that to bring him to justice.
Finding the right clues is key; the weapon might lead to a serial number to track down the owner, possibly even the murderer. An eyewitness may have seen an angry husband storm off with a bloody towl. Once you have the evidence, you need to follow up the leads you have, not all of them will be helpful; some will be dead ends. Although, they do all end up with interviews, relying on your skill to determine the truth from the blatant lies. Three buttons are at your disposal for this: Truth, Doubt and Lie. While the truth option is self explanatory, the doubt and lie buttons are a little blurred. They are basically the same. The Lie button requires you to have evidence to accuse them with, whereas the doubt button means you can say they are lying with the hope that you might catch them out and get extra evidence out of them.
The investigation will, more often than not, end with a chase scene. This could take the form of a car or foot chase around narrow backstreets, both of these are quite exhilarating and a notable change in pace from the other sections. It does end up feeling a little repetitive after a few cases doing this, though. You can’t really fail the chase sequences, they all seem to be rubber banded, if they get out of sight, they will almost wait for you and speed off when you come around the corner. That I don’t have a problem with, however the way the car chases end by crashing and foot chases always end in the guilty guy becoming fatigued while Cole is still going strong and not even out of breath.
Similarly, some of the cases feel almost identical. Although this is intentional, and I can see why it’s done, they could have been separated from one another so it didn’t feel like they all rolled into one. While playing the game, I can’t fault it – it extends the gameplay, which can only be a good thing. In hindsight, it does seem a little out of character that so many similar cases are compacted into one small part of the game.
This is a ream mind game; it subconsciously feeds the routine into your head, forcing you to act like a detective and rely on your instincts, rather than follow objectives. Subtle clues are the order of the day, music guides you about a crime scene – ending when there are no more clues left to find. The same is true with investigations, some of the suspects will live in a flat, what number do they live at? Well check the letterbox. If you missed the letterbox, then you, subconsciously, will be guided towards the door by a light shining on it, not a big gold-rippling animation affair, a subtle hall spotlight that could be for classical 1947 aesthetical purposes, but is conveniently highliting the path. Team Bondi really did pay attention to the small details, making it much more fun to play.
Getting from one place to another, whether it is a suspects house or another crime scene, is a large part of the game, the way you get there is by driving. The driving feels a little odd at times, the camera is off centre on the car, which makes it a hard to drive for the first few minutes – once you do figure it out, you can fly round corners with the sirens on and the rear end squealing, in hot pursuit of the villain. The fans of GTA’s handling (like I am) will be pleased to know that it’s still got the same features that made is so likeable, while being less laborious to people who just want to get to the next key. If you really don’t like the driving, then you can always get your partner to take you, anyway.
In a similar fashion to most open world games now, Side quests are a large part of the game. While driving about, you can get a call for back up. With a tap of a button, the peaceful, speed limit restricted drive, can be turned into a quick response to a fight, or even an armed robbery. There are around 40 of these side quests, although they are short, they do often take you far out of your way, the opposite direction to the bacon roll shop, and almost all of them require a body bag for the wrongdoer.
Shooting sections don’t come up that often, a clear design choice that makes them feel like a large, dangerous occasion when they do appear, rather than rushing into it feeling very blasé. It feels very slick and precise, the cover is well executed and Cole seamlessly slips into cover and then out again exactly when you tell him to with a simple button press. It’s a system very reminiscent of Rockstar’s very own Red Dead Redemption, yet it doesn’t feel like a direct copy and paste.
Even though the combat is solid, there is one thing I dislike: when a firefight breaks out, it will only end when everyone is lying on the floor, looking like a piece of Swiss cheese. I don’t see why you can’t approach and disarm them – kicking the gun away, and cuffing them. Cole was in the war, so you could call him a cold killer; however, Cole joined the Police to redeem himself not to put more lives on his conscience.
The gameplay, in general, really drags you in; it really wants you to come back for more, to find all of the clues and other ways to get to the arrest in a quicker way, making it less painful for the grieving families. Although I talked in a very limited sense about the narrative (for the people who haven’t played through yet) it truly redeems the few faults this game has. La Noire has raised the bar in animation and narrative. It’s going to be a hard game to beat this year, and is definitely a clear-cut contender for game of the year.