LA Noire

LA Noire review: a bold, cinematic step forward in a genre that’s dying for innovation

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Rockstar Games LA Noire (Xbox 360)

Pros

  • Spectacularly cinematic -- MotionScan technology is a game-changer
  • Engaging campaign with a strong story
  • Interrogations and investigations are a blast

Cons

  • Some graphical glitches and slowdown
  • Episodic case structure can obscure the overarching narrative
  • Scripted nature may turn off some gamers

Bottom Line

While L.A. Noire may not appeal to everyone, those that are charmed by its mean streets will likely love every second of it. It's a bold, cinematic step forward in a genre that’s dying for innovation, and its implementation of the MotionScan technology is truly a game-changer.

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Based on the number of clues found, interrogation questions answered correctly, and collateral damage/injuries accrued, the game assigns a star rating at the end of each case. That, matched with the branching dialogue options and secondary leads, accounts for much of the game's replayability, and had me regularly restarting cases right after they'd concluded in hopes of better and more efficiently solving them. The scripted nature of the cases and the story that envelops them can make for a couple of curious outcomes, but nothing that takes away from the overall flow and momentum of the game.

LA Noire review

Almost all of Noire's cases are tightly woven and generally self-contained stories, each presenting a grisly case for Phelps and his desk-dependent partner to tackle. While affable Officer Phelps does a fine job of driving the investigations on his own, it's his rapport with said partners that adds an extra layer to the proceedings. Amiable Stefan Bekowsky assists on traffic cases, rough-and-tumble Rusty Galloway snarls on homicide, smarmy Roy Earle smack-talks through ad vice, and jaded Herschel Biggs juxtaposes Phelps' ardor on arson. Each partner plays off Phelps in their own unique way, but they offer much more than disposable banter — they help frame the game's plot, and even supply investigation hints and driving directions for Phelps as needed. They're valuable and sometimes endearing additions to Phelps' story, while at the same time acting as rather ingenious narrative devices.

The story itself is told in three threads: that of Phelps in 1947 Los Angeles as he works his way up the ranks of the LAPD; a concurrent narrative told through newspaper-spurred cutscenes that follows an eager young ex-Marine and med student; and a series of pre-case flashbacks, chronicling Phelps' lurid tour in World War II. It's an engrossing plot that calls to mind the conspiratorial crime fiction of author James Ellroy, as well as the pulpy prose of Raymond Chandler. And while the game's episodic nature can sometimes obscure the story's big picture, particularly in its latter third, it's overall a strong and satisfying narrative that paints a vivid portrait of a crime-steeped L.A. during one of its most violent eras.

LA Noire review

As interesting as Noire's story is, its real star is the post-war City of Angels that Phelps is tasked with protecting. It’s one of the richest and most impressively rendered video game environments I’ve come across in some time, and whether Phelps is driving to his next objective, speeding towards a street crime dispatch call, or exploring the city's landmarks, 1940s L.A. shines through and through as a vivid and memorable backdrop. The build I played did admittedly suffer from infrequent slowdown and minor graphical glitches, but nothing that disrupted the gameplay.

While L.A. Noire may not appeal to everyone, those that are charmed by its mean streets will likely love every second of it. It's a bold, cinematic step forward in a genre that’s dying for innovation, and its implementation of the MotionScan technology is truly a game-changer. It took me about 19-20 hours to clear Noire's campaign (a few of those hours were admittedly spent replaying previously cleared cases and chasing down street crimes), but I’m anxious to re-open Phelps' case files at the next available opportunity. Above all else, L.A. Noire is something new, and something that I believe this generation sorely needs. And that's just fantastic.

LA Noire review

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