I only play video games under the most extreme circumstances. Yes Rock Star Games newest video game, L.A. Noire, is not a video game so much as a long-form mystery series. With fantastic facial graphics and interactive game play, L.A. Noire plays like a television series with you as the star.
You play as Detective Cole Phelps, a beat cop originally rising through the ranks of the LAPD in the 1920s. With this comes the exploration of numerous murders, gang shootouts and bank robberies that you and your partner must stop and figure out. The game also has an overarching storyline involving the Black Dahlia murder.
As a fan of old Hollywood and film noir the story behind L.A. Noire is fascinating. The locations of Hollywood are incredibly realistic, if you’ve been there you’ll be able to point out the landmarks, and the story is fantastic. Playing as a rising detective you solve the most trivial cases, like finding a gun, to solving incredibly complex cases involving graphic murder. The game is reminiscent of television shows like AMC’s The Killing and includes copious amounts of blood, guts and police corruption. Alongside solving each individual case there is also an overarching storyline involving a serial killer that you solve alongside the cases. This gives the game an additional level of game play as the characters start to doubt the people their arresting. The biggest selling point of the game has been how interactive this is. Rock Star Games has succeeded in the mission based play with Grand Theft Auto but here you’re an honest man trying to stop bad guys which includes searching for evidence and actually interrogating suspects. The interrogations are the most fun as you ask questions and must pay attention to characters mannerisms. This isn’t a game that you play with one eye open; you have to look for little tics and gestures that will determine a suspect’s truthfulness. An added bonus is you can be wrong depending on how thorough your questioning is. The facial characteristics are also fantastic for a game like this to the point where you’ll be able to identify actors who did voice work (including Lost actor Greg Grunberg of all people!). This is a fantastic murder mystery game that has so many levels with such an engaging story that you won’t get bored.
There are a few quibbles with the game, namely the use of music and chimes. The chimes and music are supposed to help you find evidence or tell when a person is lying or not. I personally found it annoying and not as helpful as it’s meant to be. While not as graphic as GTA or its companions the game does have realistic murder and crime scenes so might want to hold off if giving this game to kids.
Other than a few minor audio problems L.A. Noire is the next generation of games. It’s a thinking man’s game of sorts that doesn’t rely solely on shoot-outs and beating people but presenting a solid story with fantastic graphics and multiple levels of interactivity and game play. With over 40 additional crimes you can solve once you beat the main game you can always go “on the beat” and solve additional crimes. L.A. Noire is available on XBOX and Playstation 3.