May 23, 2011

The City of Angels

Lasting First Impressions of L.A. Noire from Rockstar Games

L.A. Noire BoxartIf you were to have asked me what my most memorable and anticipated game from PAX East was, that would have been a very easy answer to give you: Rockstar Games’ most ambitious project yet, L.A. Noire, developed by Team Bondi.

Set in the turbulent post-war era of late 1940’s Los Angeles, Team Bondi has meticulously recreated over eight square miles of the city, right down to the store fronts and signage.  Driving around in this huge open-world game truly lends to the fantasy of living and interacting with the people and places of this lost day and age.  I love looking around the city as I work through the many cases and I am fascinated with everything.  There is something truly magical in seeing how the world lived long before the technology boom was ever even thought of.

Taking on the persona of Cole Phelps, a decorated World War II veteran, L.A. Noire presents the player with a series of self-contained cases that will continue to evolve your career, taking you from the Patrol Desk, through Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and finally, Arson.  Each case will present a combination of several types of police action making each one feel truly new and different from the previous case.  L.A. Noire will have the player collecting and examining clues, participating in shootouts, car and foot chases, fist fights, and interrogations.

L.A. Noire On the Case

The true magic of L.A. Noire, however, is how Team Bondi have truly brought the people of L.A. to life through a new performance capture technology they call MotionScan.  I first learned of this technology and had the privilege of seeing it demonstrated while at PAX East in March.  I was completely blown away at the detail of the characters in this game.  Every nuance of the human face is captured in each and every character that you interact with.  I have never seen anything like this in any game prior to this.  Watching as the characters talk and react, you can truly believe they are alive; their lips move in perfect precision to the words they are speaking; their foreheads, eyebrows and eyes will betray their emotions in a truly lifelike manner.  MotionScan is so detailed that the characters in the game look exactly as the actors behind them. One particular character is played by Greg Grunberg (Alias, Heroes), and is an absolutely perfect recreation of him. Gone are the days of characters being voiced by Hollywood actors, we can now have them truly star in the game!

This wonderful, new technology allows this game to implement one of the most unique gameplay elements I have ever experienced: during the questioning and interrogation of suspects, you are presented with options to continue the conversations that you must decide on based on both the information they have given you and their expressions.  You must decide if they are telling the truth, withholding something, or outright lying.  If you accuse them of lying, however, you must be able to back that up with some kind of evidence that you have collected throughout the case, whether that be information from another person or physical evidence collected at the different scenes.  This isn’t as easy as it might sound, and I have yet to master how to truly read the characters and choose the correct course of action.  It is this detail to detective work that distinguishes L.A. Noire from any other game on the market.  There is something extremely wonderful about what Rockstar Games has created here and it just begs to be played again and again.  There are few games that permeate my every thought when not playing, and L.A. Noire is one of them, making me anxious to get back onto the streets of L.A. and onto the next case or looking for the other collectables available in the game (newspapers, film reels, and cars).

L.A. Noire City Street 1

Rockstar Games has made a habit of going the extra mile with each new game they develop and L.A. Noire is no exception. The creation of MotionScan inherently sets this game apart from anything out there and, at the same time, breathes new life into this great hobby of ours.  It brings along something I believe will change the way we see future interactive story telling.  When I first laid eyes on L.A. Noire, I was very excited to get my hands on the game and the two months I had to wait seemed like forever.  Now that I have had the chance to experience the game myself, I couldn’t be happier.  L.A. Noire has truly lived up to my expectations, and even surpassed them.  While I normally aim to review a game after the first hour of solid gameplay, this game sucked me in so much that it was several hours into the game before I realized I was well past the hour mark.  The true test of a game’s lasting appeal is whether or not it can keep one’s interest after the first hour or so and bring the player back for more.  L.A. Noire certainly does that!

Rockstar Games, I gave you (more than) an hour, and I am truly IMPRESSED! You have brought along something we’ve never seen or experienced before and I hope this only speaks to an exciting future of interactive story telling.  Well done!  I look forward to what you next have in store for us.

About the Author

Sean is an avid gamer and lover of all thing tech. He is a dedicated husband and the father to three beautiful daughters. In addition to taking his love of gaming to a new level with this site, Sean is also host of our podcasts: The OMG! Hour, Lost Treasures of Gaming, and Primetime as well as the bi-weekly podcast mashup show, Gamers Unscripted. Follow Sean on Twitter as @Xiantayne and this blog as @OMGnexus.



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