The Rockstar Game L.A. Noire Review

By Muhammad Faisal 0 comments
L.A. Noire
Is Rockstar's take on noir hard-boiled or half-baked?
 Release/Out Now
Ray's Cafe, LA, 4.2am. The night is about to yield to the day. Some poor schmuck has been smeared along the asphalt. I can see the rubber on the road from where the brakes were slammed on. There's a spray of blood where the car first hit the ped. I investigate the body. Blood smeared everywhere. Somewhere among this mess there's still a human being, I tell myself.

This guy is definitely dead. I can tell this because his face isn't moving. In a game full of squints, twitches, blinks and feigned smiles, the dead chap's mug is unnerving in its complete stillness. I gently cradle his head, examining it for wounds, and, nope, it's definitely not moving. The guy is deader than a dodo on St Patrick's Day.

This particular piece of human roadkill may seem like an irrelevant detail, but it's telling of just how surprisingly well Rockstar and Team Bondi's retro genre title works. Thanks to its proprietary MotionScan technology, the characters in L.A. Noire feel truly alive - spookily so, at first. Leave them be and they'll look around, and blink. As them questions and you can practically read their feelings - the tiniest squints or downward glances can help you convict a murderer, or set an innocent person free.

This mechanic's at the core of L.A. Noire. It's almost as if Team Bondi has said,"We've got this awesome facial capture technology - let's make a game around it." And 1940s detective-noir is the perfoect genre for this; a time when being able to read someone's face was as essential a skill as being able to tie people to evidence or accurately fire a Smith and Wesson.

Combine this with Rockstar's love of all things cinematic, and you've got a wonderful love letter to the genre. All the elements are present and correct: a post-World War II veteran whose life spirals out of control, a glitzy femme fatale who leads him into a conspiracy, a seemingly perfect city whose seedy underbelly becomes more and more prevalent. Proper 1940s noir films, such as Detour and The Maltese Falcon were the first time American cinema implied that the great country was a lot less wholesome than momma's cherry pie and the star-spangled banner, and their characters had returned from hell to wonder what exactly they were fighting for. And this subtext seems just as pertinent now as it was then.

The Big Sleep
The game's plot sees you take the role of Cole Phelps (Mad Men's Aaron Station - it's a testament to how good the facial capture is when you feel the need to credit an actor), who begins his career as a lowly uniformed cop but soon works up to homicide. But Phelps is a troubled man, and his World War II experiences come back to haunt him in flashbacks (something any great noir director would meticulously avoid). He's an interesting character, more Ed Exley than Bud White, but it feels good to be the good guy in a Rockstar game.

Despite the adherence to genre rules and the innovative facial animation, L.A. Noire is still somewhat lacking as a game. Each case you're given is intriguing enough, but you just can't seem to mess things up to any serious degree. You always end up solving the case eventually, and it feels like the game only exists to serve the story. The occasionally on-foot and automobile chase set pieces work as well as any GTA game, but they're let down by some truly tedious puzzling. One puzzle requires you to match pipes up to a boiler, and L.A. Noire becomes the kind of game that wouldn't even be allowed of Facebook.

Problems are compounded by the game's diabolical PC port. Rockstar has had six months to get the port right, and these things shouldn't be hard. Nevertheless, I found myself beginning a game is 800 x 600 resolution with all the effects turned off, and working up from there. This is on a PC well within Rockstars's specs, and one that does a pretty damn good job of rendering Skyrim's dragons.

Getting L.A. Noire running in full high-definition glory required an added integer at the game's command line to enable the game to run single-threadedly through the GPU ("-str",command fans), and ATI's Catalyst software to enable anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. Even then, the game still experienced frame rate drops, especially during the exterior car chase sequences - when being able to move accurately is important.

L.A. Blah
The worst part is that after all this, it still doesn't look all that special. L.A. Noire's vision of 1940s Los Angeles is sparse and unpopulated, lacking the intense attention to detail GTA IV splashed on Liberty City. L.A. Noire may have the most detailed and realistic faces in any gamer ever, but it doesn't change the fact that most character's bodies look like they've been sculpted and animated from mashed potato.

The game's flaws may run as deep as the proverbial uncanny valley, but L.A. Noire could be the single most important title of the past decade. For the first time, people - well their faces at least - look and act like that of real people. Like the splattered man on the roadside, L.A. Noire is a bit of a mess, but there's something very human here. It serves as a reminder of how far games have come - and how far they've got to go.

Vital Statistics
Price $55
Developer Team Bondi
Publisher Rockstar
Multiplayer No
DRM Gameshield Ironwrap

Needs Dual-core CPU, 2GB RAM, 512MB 3D card
Wants Quad-core CPU, 6GB RAM, 1,024MB 3D card

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