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LA Noire stops the clock for a painstakingly detailed 1940's LA and an experience as personal and unsettling as any film or TV series.
LA Noire takes us another step towards the truly interactive film experience that Heavy Rain perpetuated last year. By being open world rather than point and click though, LA Noire not only fools you into thinking you are living in celluloid, it actually lets you take charge of the experience fully.
If you've seen LA Confidential, you know how the game feels. If you haven't seen LA Confidential then I would suggest you do soon after playing - or perhaps as an appetiser.
LA Noire is set in a thoroughly convincing 1947 Los Angeles where you take on the role of Cole Phelps, returning war hero come investigative cop. You are sent feet first into the minutiae of his day to day life, and for Phelps this is all about solving case after case to become the LAPD's top crime solver. You work your way through Homicide and Vice before being left out on a limb by the institution he has so loyally served.
As you play there is a sense that this is a game unlike any other. This starts with technology like the new MotionScan system to capture performances that include expressions as well as bodily movement. But it is in the detail of the experience that Rockstar really starts to create something convincing.
Like we saw in Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption there is a real craft to this creation, not just in obvious places but in every last nook and cranny. LA Noire writes this approach large throughout its world, so much so that even those previous games feel a little hammy and unfinished by comparison.
I was more than happy to amble along.
The game engaged me from the start, and I was more than happy to amble along getting to know the ins and outs of being a real Police (as Bunk would say). But it's not until you get into questioning suspects and that LA Noire really turns the faucet on full.
Each encounter, each individual in fact, has a unique physical signature composed of facial responses, inadvertent bodily tics and nervous habits. You use these different traits to get a read and choose them for further questioning. From here you need to judge what they will then respond to in your choice of questions -- which are a Heavy Rain style set of adjectives. If you want to really press them on an issue you then have to have hard evidence to hand.
Do well at this and there is a real buzz as you move up through the ranks. Progress is rewarded by Intuition points that can be used to eliminate unproductive routes of questioning. I found that, by and large, I got to the right answer eventually even if I didn't read things spot on first time round.
While I would have happily had a whole game of these interactions, LA Noire has much granted aspirations and punctuates the slower sections with action sequences like car and foot chases, climbing into hard to reach areas and a good share of shoot-outs.
It's the place and time that are the real show stoppers.
The story is relatively straight forward, although it is helped by being told in flashbacks. But more than Phelps' shaping wartime experiences, it's the place and time that are the real show stoppers here. I was left with a lingering impression of America on the ropes as it came to terms with losses in the second world war. This is something that intertwines with the characters' lives, not just what they do but their general attitude to life. I've not come across such a human videogame experience before.
I admit that I'm not the most adept gamer these days - not finding the time I used to to invest in Halo or Modern Warfare. LA Noire was accommodating to even my misguiding mashing of the controller. Some of the rough edges and intricacies you needed to master in Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption have been knocked off to leave a much simpler control scheme.
This makes the shooting sections feel more like I was directing the action that actually taking aim myself. But rather than a negative this was, for me, a master stroke. With the complexity iterated away I could enjoy the slower pace of proceedings, which to my eye matched the generally more languid nature of the whole experience - and wonderfully so.
This gentler pace was kept in check by funnelling gameplay. At first I balked again the departure from the purity of Grand Theft Autos completely open world. But LA Noire has something more specific to say than the broad brush strokes of Liberty City, and it intelligently keeps its eye on that ball. So, while there are plenty of distractions it's always clear where the next forward step will be.
It is an eminently confident game that does a few things extremely well
I was initially apprehensive about the overall length of the game. It promises to take around the same time as two seasons of a TV series which for me is quite a commitment -- I struggled to find the time to finish Alan Wake. However, as I got going I became less concerned with how long it was going to take, and more nervous about the whole thing ending too soon.
LA Noire is a rare game, and I came away as in awe of it as I am of The Wire or MadMen. Such pioneering work will likely draw praise and adoration from all quarters - and perhaps this is a little much for one game to carry. Beyond this groundbreaking moniker though, it is an eminently confident game that does a few things extremely well - and manages to say something intelligent about life at the same time.
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