L.A Noire has been in development for over five years, and over that time Team Bondi has worked with three of Rockstar's biggest teams to define in pain-staking detail, an era and city on the cusp of defining its new identity. An identity rife with corruption, racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Cole, the main character in LA Noire, is a straight man with big ambitions. He wants to make the world a better place. A high moral and uncompromising approach to proper police ethics that drives his colleagues to distraction. Cole takes no shortcuts, breaks no rules. While he is a tortured soul with a history that repeatedly makes itself felt throughout the game's story. He's as direct a force and as conflicted inside as Red Dead's John Marston. Another clean-cut classic character in the making.
Cole's unexpected flawlessness and nobility is at odds with the heavy drinkers, cigarette addicts and profanity heavy anti-heroes that are so reminiscent of the genre. LA Noire avoids the worst clichés of film type via intelligent scripts work and great acting. Yet this still comes across as a classic police story that's vilified by the corruption that bleeds through Hollywood.
That story is divided into five chapters. Each lingers on various crimes that serve as a backdrop to Cole's gradual promotion through the police, but there's a connection bridging the story as a whole. The initial investigations over the opening hours gradually linking up to suggest the city's has a serial killer on the loose.
Team Bondi contrasts the more linear investigations that come from crime scenes with an addictive sense of freedom that comes with having a fully explorable Los Angeles. The side quests that litter the city are reminiscent of Mafia II, but are mixed whole-heartedly with adventure elements, interrogation scenes and ingenious puzzles to create a quality symbiosis of several successful gaming styles.
One of those styles draws from adventure classics such as Police Quest and newer examples of the genre like Heavy Rain. Once at the crime scene (missions are doled out from your police department at the start of every day, and assignments see you and your partner hotfooting it across the city to get to your assignment) you need to investigate clues already highlighted by forensics, and search for things they have missed.
This can be anything from a well-hidden trail of blood to lost matchboxes - it's essential that you carefully comb each crime scene in the game, the reason for which is revealed later. With clues in hand (or carefully bagged should we say) you can select which you wish to investigate further...and its here that L.A Noire really shines.
Often there's a mass of leads to follow. A dropped napkin from one of the murder victims with a phone number scrawled on it, a matchbox emblazoned with a bar logo, the victim's husband, wife, lover. Cole must prioritise yet investigate every little suspicion, interview and interrogate hundreds of characters to try and reach conclusions. As the game progresses, crime increase in complexity and require hours of hard work in order to close the case.
LA Noire gives a cleverly composed experience as to what it was actually like to be a police officer of the United States in that timeframe. Team Bondi has taken no shortcuts in presenting the role of investigating officer to you; at times, sure, it's tedious, slow and monotonous. But never does it feel pointless.
Once you have secured the evidence and interviewed friends, relatives and any witnesses to the victim in question, it's time for Cole to arrest those he considers to be suspect for the specific murder he is investigating.
Back at the police station, the interrogation of the suspect(s) starts and that's when L.A Noire will have you on tender-hooks as you bank on the knowledge gleaned from crime scene clues and some creative assumptions based on interviews. Its as difficult as the old school adventure games used to be.
During interrogation, one can post any response from the accused to choose whether to believe what they says, doubting their word or call them a liar. If one chooses the latter you'd best have clue or evidence to back the claim - if not, its Game Over. Literally.
Aside from scrutinising every object on the crime scene, how to you bank on which response to make? Well, Team Bondi has an ace up its sleeve: Motion Scan Technology. Side-stepping the technical explanations, the tech makes every face look incredibly lifelike, and closely staring at a character's face during questioning will reveal little nuances - some clear, some subtle - that says more than the words coming out of their mouth. The effect is astonishing and makes integration incredibly exciting.
One of the best examples? Halfway through the adventure Cole has to jump between two separate interrogation cells as two men are arrested on the suspicion of a drug heist. The game mixes the best of L.A Confidential and Maltese Falcon and crackles with such energy that it clearly shows you don't need a lot of hardcore action sequences to craft an exciting and intense game.
What action bits there are are few and sparsely distributed over the 20 hours the single player campaign offers. A car chase here, a brief gunfight there. There's a on-foot chase of a fleeing suspect, and sporadic fistfights. To be clear though: this is not an action game. You'll spend the majority of playing time turning picture frames, and exploring the footsteps in the gravel around a naked, blood-covered woman's body.
Atmosphere is one of the best parts of the whole game. L.A feels alive, vibrant, dynamic. Just like in Grand Theft Auto IV, you get all the time feeling that Los Angeles is a fully functioning city regardless of what you make of it. This is a city that feels lived in, and you're eager to be a part of.
Team Bondi's graphic artist spent several months in a detailed study of old films, photographs, drawings and other items to build the most accurate version of Los Angeles as is humanly possible. To go from the police office in Hollywood hills and once there look down on Hollywood Boulevard and all the hundreds of vintage cars swishing past is a powerful feeling.
Of course, the stunning visuals is a big part of why LA Noire feels like one of the most well-made time machines ever seening the light of day. Technically, this game is still a huge triumph for Rockstar, which in recent years, convinced with its own Rage engine. In LA Noir textures are horribly high resolution and there's excellent animation work, through and through, a contemporary presentation that leaves nothing to be desired at all.
Unlike most others that takes place in an open game world, there exists no pop up in LA Noire, something I noticed because of the complete absence of it during my time in the game. A feat which must of course be applauded when LA Noire contains more details, more animations and better looking lighting than Mafia II.
Sound: Team Bondi not only manages to enchant with a great voice actor and lovely contemporary music, but also delivers with pure sound quality. I can count on my right hand the times I've been this impressed by a soundtrack of a game. A perfect 10 on that count at least is assured.
With the specially-developed motion-scan technology, Bondi has succeeded in creating the best facial models seen in-game. Mouths moving exactly as they would in real life. Each face demonstrates every little emotional expression. It is very much like watching one long and really well made movie.
L.A Noire is a quality thriller that begins with a quiet, almost monotonous pace before quickly accelerating into a gripping, interesting, varied and very exciting story that rewards the player time and again. From presentation, graphics and music, this is a brilliant package and an adventure you cannot afford to miss.
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