Field Report: L.A. Noire

By Xav de Matos, May 17, 2011 3:00pm PDT

Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.

Climbing each blood soaked rung of the LAPD's career ladder is a long and difficult process. As Cole Phelps, players will gain first-hand knowledge of this journey, starting at the very bottom of the pack and rising to the top of LA's finest.

Having only received our copy of the Team Bondi-developed action game L.A. Noire yesterday, I felt it important to put down my badge and shield and relay a few thoughts about the recently released game from publisher Rockstar Games.

Though its controls and core environment looks and feels like a Grand Theft Auto game, L.A. Noire is a much different animal. Taking place during the crime-filled era of the late 1940's, L.A. Noire puts players in the shoes of a newly christened police officer looking to make a name for himself. While the game is promoted as an open-world, the initial experience is more akin to playing within a shoe box. The game is small, confined, and structured.

It's comparison to a small area isn't meant to sway a negative reaction, but to prove a point. From the moment Phelps kisses his wife goodbye on his first day as an officer of the law, the game made me feel like I was taking control of a man venturing off to his 9-5 position. The initial stages, which work as a tutorial, place Phelps within reach of a number of cases. Here I learned how to work a crime scene, investigate leads, piece together clues, apprehend suspects, and make them break. Each piece is structured and cutoff from the outside world--a world Team Bondi says is bigger than any world Rockstar has ever been involved with.

Hours later, the experience is much different. As Phelps rises through the ranks he comes across new opportunities. Five hours deep, I'm only now being introduced to elements that exist in the environment--like Cole's desk, which allow him to explore new cases.

The hint of exploration offered to me comes in the form of all-points bulletins that blare out of Cole's squad car. This is where I want the game to expand. I want more options throughout the world, but the initial run of random crime always seems to end the same, brutal way.

In one instance, I found myself chasing a suspect who ends the pursuit by taking a woman hostage in an alley. Though I purposefully attempted to incapacitate him with a shot to the leg, the subsequent in-game cutscene featured the suspect lying dead in a pool of his own blood with a series of well placed shots to the chest. That's not what happened, but that's how it ends. Later another random pursuit ends with someone jumping off a building. Of the handful I've experienced, they have all ended in death. There are more body bags in L.A. Noire than a mortician's freezer, it would seem. That, so far, is disappointing. I'm trying to serve and protect all, aren't I? Unless there was an initiative in the 1940's to actually "paint the town red," I'm not getting satisfaction from those moments.

The later stages of the game could be different. They could be more in line with the actual story's core narrative, which features cases that include actual investigation and arrests. Being able to be a good cop, without shedding blood is the part that I like about L.A. Noire. The core casework included in the game really whets that part of my appetite.

L.A. Noire's facial animation system, the one in which the entire game's interviewing mechanic relies on, was initially impressive. Soon I became concerned that the embellished mannerisms of each interviewee would become stale and obvious. A few hours later my concerns were thrown away. During one interrogation, a suspect stared right at me and barely flinched, but was later proven to be a liar. The game doesn't only rely on facial animation, but listening to how people answer your questions. Overall, it's a challenge that has left me stumped on a few occasions.

I'm about five hours into the game, putting it down after being promoted to Homicide division (the third rung of that career ladder, I mentioned earlier). So far, I'm enjoying my time. The game keeps surprising me. There are hiccups here and there--ones that I will mention in my full review, which will come as soon as I'm done--but L.A. Noire has really got me craving to go back for more.

Also, the game is a constant reminder that I really need to step up my dress code. Those suits are sharp.


This Field Report is based on the PlayStation 3 version of L.A. Noire, provided by Rockstar Games. This is meant only as a first impression of the final game. A full, critical review of the entire game will be posted soon.

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