LA Noire First Impressions

This past week, the highly anticipated collaboration between Rockstar Games and Team Bondi, L.A. Noire, was finally released. Though I have had considerable hands-on time with the final game, there are still many more cases to solve before the 20+ hour title is complete.

Even though the final review is not yet prepared, I am far enough into the game to offer-up some basic impressions of the title’s core mechanics, story, and presentation – for those gamers who might be thinking of picking it up.

For any fan of a Rockstar game, L.A. Noire will feel right at home. As the character of Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran turned LAPD cop, players will inhabit the stunningly realized city of Los Angeles during Hollywood’s second Golden Age.

Everything from the sights to the sounds (including a fantastic score) help to create the sense that this is what Hollywood looked like in the 1940s. Players might not adventure as much as they would in other titles, especially considering the game’s more straightforward focus, but just driving from point A to point B is a real treat.

As the story of L.A. Noire unfolds, Cole Phelps will be asked to solve a large number of cases – each of which begins with a crime and ends with a subject in custody (or dead). To clear those sometimes complex cases, players will use every trick in a detective’s arsenal as they, essentially, dive headfirst into the role of Cole Phelps. Probably the game’s biggest accomplishment is its ability to create the illusion that you are in fact an LAPD detective. Really, the only thing missing from the gameplay is having to fill out paperwork.

By first visiting a crime scene and mining it for clues, the player will create a list of persons of interest, locations, and questions – to help them progress and get to the bottom of the crime. As a result, the game moves from investigations to interrogations, and vice versa.

LA Noire Impressions - Interrogation

Using the game’s MotionScan technology to represent some of the most accurate facial animations ever created, L.A. Noire asks the player to determine whether the statements made by the witnesses/suspects are true or false. Of course, it isn’t that simple – some characters will make you work hard to get to the deeper truth.

It’s up to the player to use both their knowledge of the crime scene and the evidence discovered along the way to create their own route through solving a case. Some crimes can branch out into various tangents depending on how the player responds to a particular suspect – or what clues they do or do not find. There is generally a clear-cut path to success, but not every player will come to the ultimate conclusion through the same actions.

But of course this wouldn’t be a Rockstar title if their wasn’t some of the usual sandbox elements that gamers associate with the publisher, all of which make appearances here. To help break the monotony of the central gameplay, the investigating and the interrogating, L.A. Noire features some classic shootouts, brawls, and car/foot chases that feel ripped from the pages of an Elmore Leonard novel. Some of these elements might be a little few and far between, but their appearance further enforces the idea that you are a detective.

Unfortunately, by trying to do too much, developer Team Bondi ended up creating a wide variety of experiences – but almost all of them have minor flaws. The animations in the facial expressions can occasionally look odd and players will, at times, struggle with traversal both by foot and car.

Gunplay and brawls are probably the most polished, since they’re traditional Rockstar staples, but their are occasional hiccups in the visuals that muddle the action set-pieces.

The game is not as perfect as some would like to believe, but for the sum of its parts, it’s very tough to beat.

LA Noire Impressions - Gunplay

Like Rockstar’s previous title, Red Dead Redemption, the entertainment a player will derive from the game depends largely on how dedicated they are to immersing themselves in the identity of the game’s protagonist — who, in this case, happens to be a LAPD detective. If things like interrogations, thoroughly searching a crime scene for clues, and spurts of action don’t sound like your cup of tea, then L.A. Noire isn’t going to give you much enjoyment.

However, if you are the type of gamer who likes to inhabit the persona of whatever character they are playing as, then L.A. Noire’s experience is of the highest caliber. Every aspect of the game, from the general core mechanics to the music and visuals, make it seem as if you are a well and true detective in 1940s Hollywood.

Yes, the game has flaws that keep each of the title’s expansive individual features from being perfect – but, as a whole, L.A. Noire is a really great game, and well worth checking out.

Have you had a chance to check out L.A. Noire? Feel free to share your impressions of the game in the comments below – and look for our full in-depth review later this week.

LA Noire is available now for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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