L.A. Noire [Review]

Team Bondi uncovers the uncanny valley amidst the shadows of the Hollywood Hills.

L.A. Noire

A young man was killed in Hollywood tonight.  He was gunned down in the prime of his life; what’s more, I’m the one who buried the death-dealing rounds of lead in this man.   That he was a “man” and not a collection of polygons is the key here.   As he laid there dying in my arms on the hard slab floor of the art deco post office, I witnessed the light escaping from his eyes.  He uttered a confession that implicated another man in a ring of corruption that went all the way up the ladder in the City of Angels.  When he passed from this world, I felt remorse.

I was remorseful that my investigative skills weren’t enough to uncover the whole sordid affair without the need for this bloodbath.  Could it have been prevented if I had presented evidence and questioned perps with a sharper mind and a more deft hand?  I just don’t know.  What is clear, however, is that Team Bondi has set the new benchmark against which all future facial expressions in the industry will be judged.  That may or may not seem fair, but that’s the way it shall be going forward.

Bondi’s proprietary Motionscan technology marks such a profound achievement for the industry that you’ll swear the characters in L.A. Noire are actual men and women.  The downside is that animations that are just a tad off will be that much more noticeable and repulsive to your eyes.  A queerly straining neck muscle here or an oddly moving section of hair there will occasionally betray the illusion.  Nevertheless, this is legitimately revolutionary stuff here; the kind that provides for vivid memories long after the final case has been solved.

L.A. Noire

This is generation-defining stuff here.  Remember the first time the screen moved in Super Mario Bros?  The moment you were first introduced to Sonic’s blazing speed?  The day you took your first steps into the wondrous three-dimensional world of Super Mario 64?  Or how about when Half-Life provided a level of graphical fidelity that was (at the time) impressive enough to present an intriguing story without the use of cut-scenes?  Yes, this is that level of accomplishment.

From the first moment that footage of L.A. Noire was released, it was plain as day that the title would leave such a heavy impact on players.   Once you actually sit down and interview suspects in this police procedural drama though, Bondi’s achievement in this realm truly hits home.  It is not until then that you will experience more than the extreme bits of emotion showcased in the trailers.   You’ll catch a range of sentiments both subtle and vehement in nature.

When I questioned one of the game’s many suspects on a certain matter and he held out on me, I knew he was lying as Detective Cole Phelps did.  The second he gave his bogus response, a satisfied grin slowly took form on both my face and Cole’s.  Inwardly, he must surely have been yelling the same line I was: “I got you, you crooked son of a ****!”

L.A. Noire

In addition to these satisfying moments of interview triumph, there will undoubtedly be those times in which you fail.   Present the wrong evidence or doubt a trustworthy source in an attempt to move your investigation prematurely forward, and your interviewee will clam up.   This is frustrating beyond belief and makes you feel like a real clod.  It’s also a stroke of game design brilliance.

Fail to pay extreme attention to the assorted collection of facts, perps and witnesses and you’ll find yourself back out there pounding the pavement in search of more conclusive proof of guilt.  After you settle into reading people and carefully deciding whether to believe someone, doubt them or outright call them a liar, it’s easy going for the first handful of cases.  These early criminals and witnesses are terrible liars and you’ll easily decipher whether or not they’re being straight with you simply by reading their expressions.

Once you proceed deeper into the campaign, you’ll encounter individuals who are smarter than the average crook.  Their tells are are subtler and disappear in an instant; if they are lying at all, that is.  In some situations they will even appear to be calm and collected when they aren’t being entirely cooperative with you.  It’s not always because they are fibbing; but rather because they are excellent liars who are confident in the web of deception they have woven.

L.A. Noire

Earlier I mentioned that you aren’t going to nail every question.  No matter how good your intuition, you’ll screw it up once in a while and your superiors in the LAPD will be none too pleased about it.  At the conclusion of one particular investigation, I charged the wrong guy with arson.  The captain exploded into the halls of the station and reamed out my partner and I for dedicating tons of police resources, sifting through mountains of evidence, carefully interviewing several individuals and still dropping the ball.

As a punishment for our mistake, the two of us were busted down to some time as beat cops (you don’t’ actually play those segments).  I love the fact that you can fail and have to live with it.  There’s no checkpoint to which to reload.   You don’t try it again like in most games.  Nope, you rceieve a poor rating and have no choice but to soldier on and hope your future actions can redeem you in the eyes of your boss and the citizens of 1940s L.A.

When you play through Noire, you’ll recognize various prominent actors and actresses portraying characters in the game.  The tech on display here captures their likenesses and contortions so precisely that it’s instantly clear who these individuals are.  Is that the guy from Heroes (Greg Grunberg)?   Yes it is.  Wow, they got the actor who played Denethor in The Lord of the Rings (John Noble)?  Yes they did.  And of course there’s Mad Men’s Aaron Staton stellar performance as lead character Cole Phelps.

The cast wonderfully brings the characters in this “whodunnit” to life.  Voice acting here is second to none in the realm of video games.  Moreover, the mannerisms of these performers are a joy to behold.  Never does an interview head down the embarrassingly awkward or cheesy paths taken by many other games from over the years.   Instead, all of the game’s conversations are riveting and require your absolute attention at all times.  Missing out on a single line of dialogue could be the difference between fingering the correct suspect or heading back out for more evidence.

Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo

MASH Veteran

Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and a member of the MTB editorial team since January of 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Seriously folks, reading this acknowledges that you relieve MTB of any and all legal liability for his actions.

The Latest from Mash