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A couple months ago I heard about Rockstar’s latest game, and being a fan of GTA and Red Dead Redemption, I hopped on board. I hoped for it to combine the best parts of the two worlds, and with the promise of original core gameplay, I had high hopes. Did it satisfy these hopes and expectations, well…

            In L.A. Noire you play Cole Phelps, a veteran of WWII returning to his job as a police officer. The plot is like any other Rockstar game, escape your past and climb to the top; however, you play a cop. Not even a, take off the badge and beat the crap out of the suspect cop, but just a real by-the-book professional. Phelps is even called out on this a couple of times. Anyway, you guide Phelps through the four major departments of detective work (traffic, arson, vice, and homicide), all the while being shown flashbacks of Cole’s time in the war. At first there isn’t really an over-arcing plot; however, towards the end a conspiracy is discovered that was actually quite interesting. But, the way it is presented and the overall complexity of the conspiracy makes it hard to follow.

            The characters in the game are sub-par, especially for Rockstar. Cole himself suffers from a bit of the Issac Clarke syndrome. As I said he’s extremely professional, so when he does anything slightly human, such as reciting Shakespeare, it seems really out of place, like Kratos stopping to giggle at a silly hat he saw on the decapitated head on one of his victims. Unlike the characters, the setting was done well. The music, cars, dress, and overall feel of the game was 1940’s, and it didn’t feel as forced as Red Dead Redemption’s “Look! It’s the final days of the west, here read this paper and see, watch this movie, look he’s driving a car, that must mean it’s the end of the old wild west! See?”  

            However, the biggest disappointment comes with the ending (if you can’t already tell, this is a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, so skip this paragraph if you feel the need to). If you’ve played the game, you know that towards the end Cole manages to get a fellow veteran of the war (also working as an investigator for an insurance company) to investigate the aforementioned conspiracy. The thing is, Jack Kelso, the investigator, is a much better character, and I felt completely alienated from Cole. This made Cole’s death at the end pointless, as I didn’t even care about him at that point. However, the worst part is, the last words spoken in the game at Cole’s funeral are said by a crooked cop who betrayed Cole. The point of the last few investigations was to expose him and his accomplices, so I hope you don’t want justice while you play the cop-game.

            But the lackluster plot and characters shouldn’t distract from the main reason one should check the game out, the gameplay. While there is plenty of third-person cover-based shooting, car chases, and fist fights to go around, the main focus is on solving crimes with wit and intelligence.

            First I’ll talk about the exciting stuff. I was hoping for a game with GTA’s incredible car driving and fast paced action and Red Dead Redemption’s fantastic gunplay. Unfortunately, both have been cut down a bit. While I wasn’t expecting Dead Eye to return, the gunplay is still satisfying, just not as good as RDR’s. The driving is also harder, with the cars being much more reactive than GTA’s hyper-realistic driving physics, so it will take some time to get used to. However, I have to say that exclusion of the ability to shoot while drive made the car chases more fun. After mastering that skill in GTA most of the missions became a game of “Put the Tires in the Center of the Screen.” Now you have to get your partner close enough to shoot out the tires, or you have to slam into them until they re-enact the car-flipping scene from Casino Royale. The fist fighting is also less sticky than GTA and RDR, and it controls much better. However, for me the most exciting part were the foot chases. You held down one button to run after a suspect, automatically vaulting or climbing up obstacles, and these segments control fantastically, although they can be a little easy.  

            Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your taste, that isn’t just what the game is. Obviously one has to investigate crime scenes and interrogate suspects to be a true detective (not really, if you mess up these you just have tail a suspect or do something more fun, but don’t tell anyone I told you that). Investigating is alright. Clearly you can’t have everything in a crime scene interactable, so certain objects help you and certain objects are useless. You walk around a crime scene waiting for your controller to vibrate, then you press A or X (depending on the console) to bend down and pick up the item of interest. Although must say inspecting a body is unnecessarily gruesome, as turning the head to inspect it makes the neck crack (honestly who decided that at a think tank, “Oh hey, let’s make the victim’s bones crack as you hold them!” Rockstar is full of some sick people, although GTA should have taught us that).

            Next is interrogating. As you’ve probably heard, Rockstar used new technology to more realistically depict the faces of the characters, and let me tell you, it worked. The thing is, graphics in Rockstar games have never been incredible, so the realistic faces can seem somewhat disturbing at times. Anyway, to interrogate you ask a suspect a question, watch them as they answer, and depending on their body language, you can select from truth, doubt, or lie. However, while truth is strait forward, the other two are not. If you choose lie, you have to be able to prove that that they are in fact lying (although if you back out of a “lie” accusation, Cole looks seriously stupid taking back his words). “Doubt” just means that you think they are lying, you just can’t prove it. The whole investigate/interrogate aspect is held together by Cole’s notebook. You can view the notebook to see all the clues, people of interest, and locations for the case, and it actually works very well.

            In the end, LA Noire is original, and that may be all it has going for it. If there was a huge market for crime scene investigating games, it would be unmentionably average. Hardcore fans of Rockstar should check it out and probably already have, but if you haven’t played Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto IV, check those out instead.

Visuals: 8.7 (nothing special overall, but extra points are given for the incredible face animation)
Performance: 8.3 (less bugs and glitches than most Rockstar games)
Story: 7.5 (hard to follow with average characters, disappointing for a Rockstar game)
Gameplay: 8.8 (well done for an original concept, and the other elements are also done well)
Multiplayer: n/a
Overall: 8.3

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