Friday, 27 May 2011

Gamefreak's L.A Noire review.

Hey guys, thanks for tuning in. Apologies for not really doing anything with the blog in the last week, i've been busy entertaining friends, liberating the middle east and chewing my way through L.A Noire, the latest offering from Team Bondi in conjunction with Rockstar games. The game has been in development for over 5 years, and has apparently even seen a change in platform. So is it any good? Continue dear reader, and i'll spew my thoughts out over this very page.

The story:

Cole Phelps is a man with a troubled past. After witnessing atrocious scenes of murder, carnage and general all round nastyness in World War 2, he has returned to Los Angeles where he has become an officer of the law. As well as being all "bright lights, big city" Los Angeles also has a dark side, a seedy undercurrent of murder, crime and corruption, where people get screwed over, shot and stabbed as a matter of fact, and where getting a handjob down a dark alley is as normal as a morning coffee. We join Phelps as he rises through the ranks, from a patrolman all the way through to homicide detective, as he tries to make sense of the crime that permiates through the city.

What I liked:

Firstly, the setting is amazing. Constructed of thousands of real life photographs of 1947 Los Angeles, the developers have really gone to town on the city. People walking around, cars clogging up the roads, trams shooting about everywhere, it really is a convincing living breathing world to explore. It's fun just shooting to a new case in your car, sirens blaring out and when you get chase missions where you have to apprehend another car and your partner is leaning out of the window trying to shoot out their tyres you really do feel like you're in a James Cagney movie. Of course, what EVERYONE is going on about are the faces, and initially they are extremely impressive. The animation really is the best facial animation ever seen in a game, and I wouldn't be surprised if devs the world over are trying to get their hands on something similar....you can pretty much guarantee the next GTA game will be the same. Cole Phelps, the character you play, is in my eyes very well acted by Aaron Staton, and the cast in general is fantastic. I'n not going to pick out anyone special as i'd be here all fucking day, the cast is that big. But rest assured is you watch any US TV shows you'll spot some familiar faces. The game itself basically breaks down like this; Drive to the scene of a crime, look around for clues and all things dodgy, find witnesses/suspects, interrogate them about what you have found and get making with the arrests. That's a very simplistic overview, as later in the game you have so many suspects, clues, locations to visit etc it takes you a fair old whack just to get through one crime. I'm not going to go into details of the cases, but if you think it's all just about tracking a serial killer you're very wrong. The story twists, turns and basically involves everyone and anyone in the city, from cops to politicians, to planning developers to gasmen, and members of your old marine unit from the war. It's an absolutely fascinating tale and I for one was hooked right from the start and apart from the odd blast on Rock band 3 i've played nothing else in the past week. Musically there are old songs from the era, as well as real adverts, some of the ones about the health benefits of smoking are unintentional comedy gold. You find characters that you love, some you hate, and a few you want to see die a horrible fucking death. It's hard to really go into major detail about the game without spoiling a part of it, so I won't. I feel it's a game you have to experience yourself. The setting, the game world, the missions, the characters and the facial animation really do suck you in until you finish the game, and with hopefully more cases on the way with DLC, think of L.A Noire as an interactive HBO drama series, each case being an episode. That's what I think the game manages to do more than anything else....it really is the bridge between gaming and TV/film......and it basically tells Heavy Rain to get fucked!

What I loathed:

Here's where I get controversial. The graphics, while on the whole are very well done can jar in places. The immaculate heads attached onto polygonal bodies mostly work, but at certain times it has the effect of sticking a real photo of a face onto a Lego man. When it works it works well, but at times it grates, especially with the stretched polygon necks and the mouths. Mouths are notorious to get right, and while the lip-synching is bang on the mouth full of blocky teeth still shows that you're playing a game. In certain scenes textures arrive late in the backgrounds, peoples hand appear through windscreens of their cars and they sink into the floor like they are walking in quicksand. In one scene where I was questioning someone indoors it took around 5 seconds for the fucking walls to actually appear in the scene, and i'm not sure is this is a problem with the game or just the system I was playing on (Xbox 360 version). With it being a "GTA style sandbox" game there actually isn't that much sandbox to play in. There are hidden cars and landmarks to find, and newspapers dotted around that fill in some of the backstory, but essentially you just drive from story to story, the city just linking up the various characters and storylines. Both the shooting and hand to hand mechanics, whilst solid enough, are very simplistic, and the only real faliure in the game comes from not getting interrogation questions right rather than any of the actual missions being difficult.

The verdict:

L.A Noire is a gaming achievement. Not in the actual game itself, which taking the questioning and clue gathering out of it is outdone by GTA and indeed it's nearest comparible game, Mafia 2. The game blends almost seamless facial animation to a story that grips you from the very start and never lets go. Think of the game as an interactive TV series rather than a GTA beater and you won't be upset. Despite the flaws, it's a game I cannot recommend highly enough, and i'm excited at the prospect of more cases for the game and also seeing where the technology goes next.

Rating: 8/10

L.A Noire is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360 (Xbox version reviewed).


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