Here’s the key question about Rockstar’s quite staggering L.A. Noire: just how much of a game is it? There’s little doubt that it makes a fascinating piece of work to watch, but whether a game is the right medium for it is a broader question.
First, let’s look at what you get. L.A. Noire is an incredible piece of work, a detective thriller set in America in the late 1940s. Its attention to period detail is impressive, and it has the feel of a gritty cop show, in which you play the role of Cole Phelps, a new detective who encounters many crimes that need solving.
Solving crimes involves several things. Firstly, there’s driving from place to place (although Grand Theft Auto: 1940s this isn’t). Then there’s searching crime scenes, finding clues, piecing bits of the mystery together, before hopefully solving cases. Pivotal to solving them is interrogating suspects, and it’s here that Rockstar unveils its prize feature: you get to read people’s faces.
It’s fascinating just what they’ve achieved here. The game hinges on the idea that you have to read people’s faces, their little tics, the nuances of their expressions, to determine whether or not they happen to be telling the truth. And while it’s not a perfect system, it’s good enough to work, and it’s good enough to fit into the game (and the game throws enough help if you get stuck).
The mechanics of playing L.A. Noire, then, fall into place. It’s a fairly linear solving of mysteries, effectively bringing the old-style adventure game up to date, albeit with added shoot-outs, chases, and moments of cinematic joy. It’s clearly been put together as a labour of love, and it’s hard not to get drawn into it.
But L.A. Noire is a divisive game. There are those who will devour every single moment it offers, so drawn into the textured cases, the period feel, and the game’s lavish devotion to its ideas. On the flip side, it’s just as likely to leave some a little cold, put off by the fact that the game is actually a lot more straightforward than it may first appear. There are few opportunities to go off-piste, and while the heavily scripted cases are strong, they are a little constrictive.
Those reservations notwithstanding, there’s little doubt that L.A. Noire is something special. While we appreciate that it’s hardly all things to all people, it’s comfortably the most intriguing, stylish and polished detective drama that’s been seen in recent times on a games console. In production values alone, it sets a massively high standard.
Fortunately, there’s also a strong game in there, too.
- Looks staggering, genuinely interesting and innovative.
- A little too straightforward?
Something really special that not everyone will appreciate. Those who do will find it comfortably one of the best games they've played in some time.