L.A. Noire - Video

L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre Crime drama with excellent hats
MtAMinutes to Action 3
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

I like to think I'm open-minded, but it's undeniable that I'm leery of open-world games. The genre's tendency to prioritize quantity over quality often produces sandboxes full of activities and environments that are rough around the edges (if not outright broken). That's not to say that the entire package can't overcome the inadequacy of its individual elements, but the apparent lack of focus often leads me to suspect that if developers sometimes take the kitchen-sink route to distract players from a game's inability to evolve, improve, or even replicate proven game mechanics.

It's this perceived deficiency, whether imagined or real, that has distanced me from THE open-world developer's games. I had a decent time ramming criminals off the road in Grand Theft Auto III's vigilante missions, and Red Dead Redemption's gorgeous frontier can be fun to gallop through, but I've mostly ignored Rockstar's standard-setting sandboxes. While Web of Shadows and InFamous at least throw some fancy superpowers into the mix, there's not a whole lot more to Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption than driving and shooting, one or both of which are available (and often superior) in a thousand other games.

So it certainly was a surprise for me when I caught my first trailer for L.A. Noire -- a project that Rockstar has been cooking up for many years now -- and saw a concept that appears not only focused, but novel and ambitious as well. The game's use of facial capture animation produces some of the most realistic character visuals the medium has ever seen, and the trailers would have you believe that it's not just for show: players will have to intuit characters' body language and act on hunches in order to get to the bottom of each case. The feeling I'm getting is less Grand Theft Maltese Falcon and more Phoenix Wright: Cynical Detective. I'm skeptical that it will quite live up to what I have in mind, but I'm more than willing to let it try.

The following video is a taste of L.A. Noire's third case, which should give you an idea of the investigative half of a detective's duty and how to do it with all the bumbling inadequacy of Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

My thoughts

- It seems the Phoenix Wright vibe I was getting from pre-release media wasn't unwarranted. A fair bit of the game proceeds as would an Ace Attorney case: go to the crime scene, search for clues, question witnesses, and confront the perp. There's a cool organic feel in driving from the scene of the crime to the gun shop down the road that you just don't get from warping via menus in Ace Attorney, too.

- One difference between Capcom's lawyer adventures and Rockstar's detective yarn is that failure seems to be a distinct possibility in L.A. Noire, and the progression of a case can evolve based on what information you can manage to pump from witnesses. I spoke to one woman at the scene of the crime in this case, but she refused to cooperate once I got too impatient with her. On the other hand, sometimes failure is simply punished with a brief trip backwards in time, as seen in this video. I think this might just be the case in the game's early going, where rookie cops like myself are bound to fail hilariously.

- The action portions of the game all seem competent enough. Individually, none of them prove memorable, but together they do fill out the experience and provide a change of pace from examining dead people and intimidating witnesses. I doubt I'd play a full game based off of the fisticuffs, shootouts, or chase scenarios I've experienced in L.A. Noire so far, but they work well enough as fractions of a larger whole.

- The facial animations are indeed fantastic. The characters' faces not only look believable, they seem perfectly in tune with the setting and tone of the game. Their only downside is that they can make the clothing and body language appear slightly awkward in comparison.

- I haven't tried to run over any pedestrians or anything. I wonder if there would be some narrative consistency going on there...would my partner rat me out? It just wouldn't seem like a Rockstar game if I couldn't go on a killing spree and then hightail it back to base like it's a game of Tag.

- The hats in this game are spectacular. They are cool, cool hats.

Minutes to Action: 3

Would I keep playing? Yes. L.A. Noire crosses Phoenix Wright's logic exercises with some uncomplicated action scenarios. The full availability of Golden Age Los Angeles seems more a presentation bonus than a focal point of the game, surprisingly. I'll definitely investigate L.A. Noire further and see if I can't clean up this seedy town.

la Noire Blood