by Ryan Phillip Hardesty, reviewed on
Noir is often considered a genre left to movies and literature. Bullets, booze, femme fatales and moral shades of gray have been explored in cinema via Humphrey Bogart and in books via Raymond Chandler. The themes and ideas exposed have generally been kept away from the video game audience but Australia’s Team Bondi have decided to bring those things to the masses with L.A. Noire, as well as promising a few significant changes to the gaming industry itself.
Set in Los Angeles in 1947, you’ll play as Cole Phelps, a policeman and World War 2 vet with ambitions the size of the very city he inhabits. The city itself will be massive in scope, something the developers have striven hard to accomplish. Looking over photos, records and street plans from that day and age, Team Bondi reconstructed what Los Angeles would’ve actually looked like during that time all the way down to the small alleyways and store names. This urban expansion makes more sense when one realizes that Rockstar Games, the fellows behind the Grand Theft Auto series, are publishing L.A. Noire as well as providing some development support. Once again, a sprawling cityscape will be the playground.
Well, mostly your playground. You’re playing a policeman after all, not a mob associate or gangbanger, so your trigger finger will have to be partially subdued. Though you’ll have freedom to go anywhere you want and do anything, your directive is much more focused than in any GTA game. Starting as a simple beat cop, Cole Phelps (voiced by Mad Men’s Aaron Stanton) has been spat out into the rough world of post-war America, a landscape crawling with corrupt cops, drug pushers, murderers and hosts of other characters that seek to make Cole’s life as a man in blue a treacherous one. But he deals with it. Cole Phelps is one of the few good ones, ready to take it to the streets, fueled by his dreams of reaching the homicide department.
Your rise through the ranks will be steady throughout L.A. Noire. From beat cop you rise to robbery to vice and other police departments until you reach homicide, acquiring a new partner with each desk you make it to. Your partner will, obviously, be a significant tool as you perform your investigations. Should you get stuck in a situation with no obvious clues you can ask your partner for help and they may prod you in the right direction. Need to take a long drive across town to the next plot advancement? Sure, you could simply jump there with the push of a button, but you could also enjoy the ride and chat it up with your partner about the suspects and evidence (and maybe stop a few crimes that could happen along the way).
But all this crime-solving won’t be as simple as asking your partner for an easy clue. In fact, scene investigation is a key component of L.A. Noire, designed as a challenge to all the eagle-eyes out there. There will be no highlighted items, no clear path to follow. Many of the crimes in the game are based off of actual crimes during that time, thus many of the crime scenes have been painstakingly recreated as well. The guys at Team Bondi scoured newspaper clippings and police reports and photos, carefully reconstructing the murders and robberies and chases that occurred in the dark corners of L.A. The developers have even written endings to crimes that wound up unsolved. All this meticulous crafting has left a refreshingly realistic world for your detective skills to explore.
All clue-sleuthing will wind up in your notebook, possibly your most vital instrument in L.A. Noire. Whereas characters in the GTA games relied on guns, Cole Phelps will keep his notebook closer to the vest than any other item in his possession. See a brand name etched upon a murder weapon? Jot it down. Something strange written on a piece of paper next to a dead body? Record what it says. A witness said something about a mysterious black car driving by? Make those words eternal. Your notebook will be one of the biggest aspects to your rise through the ranks.