LA Noire

PS3 (also 360)

The day started off much like any other. I checked out the sports pages as I chewed my way through a cup of coffee, which I like black like my humour. My team had lost again; their losing streak being the only thing they were good at of late.

I then took a walk in the rain to the corner shop for my chocolate bar of choice, my four-fingered friend Kitkat. I used to know a girl called Kitkat, but that’s another story.

The city was its usual apologetically grey self as i made my way back home. As i put my key in the door and pushed it open, there was a package on the floor. It was too thick to be a bill, so that was encouraging.

I sat down and opened it up: a copy of L.A. Noire for the PS3 stared back at me. They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but that doesn’t count for video games. This one looked dark and broody, like it meant business. It made me feel like rubbing its grubbiness all over my pale body, but with the cellophane still on it would just keep slipping off like a hooker’s panties.

You play rookie cop Cole Phelps; he comes across as a bit of a goody two shoes, but his back story flashbacks of his time in the war tell a different story.

It’s 1947 in the City of Angels, and crime is rife. Phelps starts off as a patrolman, but as he cracks the crimes, he gets promoted up through the divisions: traffic, detective, homicide, vice and arson.

If you’ve played one of Rockstar’s games before, like GTA or more recently Red Dead Redemption, then you’ll know this game’s MO. The city is huge enough to lose yourself a hundred times over, as you drive around the blocks searching for clues or running down criminals.

Phelps can take cover whenever he pulls his weapon out, but moving from cover to cover can be a little clunky. The emphasis in this game though is solving crimes more than shootouts.

boom reviews - LA Noire image
I'm not sure you'll have enough mega-pixels with that thing to catch all the detail.

Although there’s a certain amount of free play, the game is centred around its story arc of crimes to solve. They follow this pattern: Phelps gets called to the scene of a crime; he checks over the scene and looks for clues; these will invariably lead him either to another POI (person of interest) who will have something to do with the case, or a bar – possibly both, as he tends to visit a hell of a lot of bars on the job. The people he takes down town to the precinct he gets to interrogate. The line of question he takes will hopefully lead him to discover if they had anything to do with the crime or not.

The biggest indication as to whether or not he’s on the right track or not is the use of music in the game. It’s possibly a little too subtle in places, but it’s a nice idea. Not only does it give you an inkling that you may be close to a clue, but it also lets you know if you made a good call in your line of questioning. Or not. However it’s too late as far as interviewing people are concerned, as it always happens after the fact, so you have to rely on not what they say, but how they say it.

The game boasts some impressive tech in terms of the faces of characters. You can actually recognise people off the TV, on your TV. The guy who ‘plays’ Phelps for instance, Aaron Staton, is best known for his turn on the retro TV series Mad Men as Ken Cosgrove (he’s not the only cast member to turn up in the game either, so keep ‘em peeled Mad Men fans). The level of detail is remarkable. It certainly helps blur the line between playing a game and watching a film.

It’s not the only thing to give the game a cinematic feel however. Everything about the game is cinematic: the dialogue is sharper than Sean Bean; the soundtrack befits the era its set; and the cut-scenes echo film noir classics.

A slight let down is the character of Phelps himself. He’s a real stickler for the law, and the word ‘maverick’ is certainly not in his vocabulary. It might have been preferable to have gone with a private dick; a guy that wouldn’t mind stepping on toes to get to the truth; someone who’d be happy to do the two-step with the law, while eying up the dubious competition on the dance floor.

The game is also on the formulaic side; go here, talk to so and so, check evidence, interrogate, close case. What saves it is its atmosphere. Just as they captured the essence of the west with RDR, L.A. Noire is a sponge that has soaked up every bit of 1940’s LA. All in all it’s a totally immersive experience making it modern classic.

As I finally took out the disc and put it back in its box, I felt slightly smug with myself: another case closed.

four out of five