Seedy underbelly of LA
L.A. Noire is Rockstar’s latest foray into the open world genre. Set in 1940’s Los Angeles, the game is a gritty look into the seedy underbelly of L.A. at the time. Polluted by crime, gangs, mafia and corrupt cops, the city is reeking with filth. Team Bondi bring you in to play as one Cole Phelps, a soldier back from WWII who is getting back into the habit of normal life by working at the LAPD. Aaron Stanton of Mad Men fame takes on the role of Cole’s voice and even likeness.
Team Bondi takes us into a story shot from Cole’s eyes, as he goes through his career in the LAPD. He starts out at the Traffic desk and then moves on up through to Vice. The game breaks down into missions, or ‘cases’ which - when successfully solved - move Cole up the ladder.
True crimes of the day
The cases make up the meat of the game, with each of them filling some of the core themes of film noir; crime, sex, moral ambiguity, corruption and drugs make up the perfect backshot of what is probably Rockstar’s most risky project yet. In fact, very early on you go through a case where you uncover what seems to be a ring designed to capture young wannabe Hollywood actresses, drug them up, and force sex upon them. That's certainly one of the strongest themes a game has had to deal with.
Each case revolves around a mix of investigation, questioning and action, the perfect combination for detective style film noir... or is it game noir? While it’s easy to see that many segments have drawn inspiration from other games, the only part of it that feels very ‘ripped’ is the questioning, which is very similar to that of Heavy Rain. But, outside of that, everything else seems like a homage more than anything.
The game world is a perfect replica of late 40’s L.A., and while the game doesn’t present you with any side quests or minigames to distract you from your mission, the world is detailed with such precision that it seems you can be perfectly fine wandering around just soaking in the atmosphere. But that isn’t the only thing that is replicated: each and every case is at the very least based on true events that occurred during those years.
Pushing the technology forward
L.A. Noire has been known to be in development for at least 4 years, so the fact that it shows so much polish is hardly a surprise. Rockstar have a good reputation for letting games build to the point where their story and representation are absolutely perfect. Much of the development time has been devoted to facial motion capture technology that was used to capture the actors' reading the lines.
This was done in 3D, whereas normal facial motion capture is pseudo 2D in that it only captures a front-on perspective. This can sometimes lead to stiff animation where the characters feel unnatural, and frequently enter the uncanny valley (where the resemblance is close, but something is just slightly amiss). This sort of technology has allowed for what will quite probably go down as the most accurate facial expressions in the history of games, which is more or less necessary considering that you have to use every clue available to tell if a witness is lying, telling the truth or attempting to hide something.
True gem in the making
L.A. Noire has a huge amount of precise detail and story, covering events and issues that are still prevalent within today’s society. With such a faithful recreation of 40’s noir, Rockstar and Team Bondi seem set to make an absolute hit. We can barely wait to get our hands on this one.