Video Game Review: L.A. Noire

By Tim Briody

May 24, 2011

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L.A. Noire isn't so much a video game as it is an interactive episode of a 1940s-era cop procedural. Think the "law" part of Law & Order if it took place in Los Angeles after World War II. With that said, it's one of the finest gaming experiences of the last several years and should not be missed.

Cole Phelps, a Pacific theater hero, returns home and decides to continue to do his part to make the world a better place and joins the LAPD. As a uni, which serves as the game's tutorial, you learn the basics of crime scene investigation and suspect interrogation. After breaking a murder case, Cole is promoted to detective and the game's fascinating story truly takes off from there.

This is the latest release from Rockstar Games, so if you think it's in the vein of the Grand Theft Auto series or last year's phenomenal Red Dead Redemption, think again. Yes, it still retains the sense of open-worldness that is commonplace (the map of Los Angeles is *huge,* it would seriously take you about 20 minutes to drive from one end of the map to the other) in games these days, but the game's plot is presented in a strict linear fashion, each case is its own self-contained story, though various aspects will tie together as you approach the end of each desk.


The typical GTA-style missions of chasing, tailing and shooting suspects are still there, but they're almost secondary to the meat of the game: investigating crime scenes and interviewing persons of interest. What's more, while none of the action sequences are exceptionally difficult, those who prefer to not bother with those scenes have the option to skip them entirely, a choice that is also provided to you after failing multiple times. Even driving around Los Angeles is optional, as you'll have a partner who will do the driving to the next destination by simply holding a button. This was helpful, as I often did my best Frank Drebin impersonation as I arrived at each location.

The heart of the game is insanely simplistic on paper but brilliant in its execution. You will arrive at a crime scene and be given free reign to walk around. A small chime and controller vibration will occur when you come near something that can be examined closer. Incidental items will be dismissed, but key pieces of evidence on victim's bodies and around the crime scene will add the item to your detective's notebook. It's important to grab every clue you possibly an at each location, as they'll come in handy for the second important part, interrogations.

When faced with a person of interest (typically a witness or potential suspect), you'll ask them a question related to the case, and then have to select whether you believe they are telling the truth, doubt their statement or are flat out lying. If you think they're lying, you'd better have evidence from an earlier investigation to back it up. Select the correct response and they'll come clean and you'll have more evidence to build your case on. If you're wrong, expect some stonewalling.

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