Stories in video games have come a long way since the days when saving the princess or beating up the evil gang leader was the go-to narrative. Many studios now hire professional writers to craft elaborate tales explaining exactly why you’re suppose to shoot that alien in the face with a laser rifle or kick a terrorist in the nuts. But even in 2011, it’s often tempting to skip right past the story sequences and expository dialogue to cut straight to the action.
In “L.A. Noire," it’s nearly the opposite. While playing, I found myself wanting to speed through the car chases, shootouts and fistfights to get to the cutscenes and the dialogue-driven interrogation scenes. That’s not meant as a discredit to the gameplay of “L.A. Noire” as much as it is a ringing endorsement of the exquisite story, acting and engaging dialogue.
Cops, Not Robbers
It’s a mistake to assume that because “L.A. Noire” is made by Rockstar and involves crime in a major metropolis, it’s “Grand Theft Auto” meets “L.A. Confidential” -- the same basic “GTA” style freeroaming murder-and-mayhem game slapped with a stylish coat of 1940’s-era
paint. Sure, there are plenty of fedora-wearing gangsters and tragic femme fatale molls, but you aren’t playing as one of them.
In “L.A. Noire,” you star as Cole Phelps (played by “Mad Men's” Aaron Staton), a young ex-Marine and World War II vet turned rising star for the Los Angeles Police Department . Unlike the full-on criminal or anti-hero protagonists of Grand Theft Auto, Phelps is a straight arrow
in a world of crookedness -- even within the L.A.P.D. itself. Phelps finds this out the hard way as he works his way up from rookie street cop to homicide and vice detective.
On The Case
There’s plenty of gunplay in “L.A. Noire” but the game is built around solving a series of cases -- where your job is searching crime scenes or talking to the coroner for clues and interviewing witnesses to grill them for hidden details to aid your investigation.
The interviews are particularly riveting. The game’s developers used a much-hyped facial animation technology called MotionScan to capture the full-3D image of an actor so it’s possible to see the tiny nuances of people’s faces in “L.A. Noire.”
That means that you must carefully study every nervous twitch, half-smile or broken eye contact and attempt to guess if the interviewee is telling you the full truth or not. Some witnesses (especially children) are easy to read but others have real poker faces, but you’ll need to break them to solve mysteries.
If you’re arguing the case that video games have finally grown up -- “L.A. Noire” might be Exhibit A. Rockstar claims that the game is roughly the equivalent to two seasons of a television series, and the comparison is apt, because the whole experience blurs the line between TV show and game.
Some action-happy gamers may not care for the deliberately slow pace of “L.A. Noire” but those who want to get wrapped up in an engrossing, full-realized world of cops and robbers will find it a sheer delight.
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