Like no other game in recently memory, L.A. Noire has the opportunity to legitimately connect with a mainstream audience of ardent non-gamers, and nobody knows this better than its own creators. Aside from the widely appealing nature of its two most fundamental elements – it’s partially an evolution of that most accessible of genres, the point and click adventure, and partially a reimagining of the long dormant detective genre – it has also been carefully structured to suit as many people as possible. In addition to adding pad rumble and musical cues to the crime scene environments so that clues aren’t ever a nightmare to detect – the hardcore are free to turn these stabilisers off, incidentally – there are a number of other smart mechanics in place too.
Firstly, the third-person gunplay and action sequences – Rockstar’s cardinal bread and butter up until this point – can be bypassed entirely. It’s extremely easy to forget just how intimidating a current-gen console controller must look to a non-gamer, and by leaving just the (leisurely paced) crime scenes as the only segments that demand full usage of the dual thumbsticks, nobody is likely to be too disheartened by any aspect of the gameplay. As you progress you also earn a series of ‘Intuition’ points, which can either be used to assist in an interrogation – by giving you a trio of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-style shortcut options – or alternatively can be used to cause all of a particular crime scene’s clues to appear on your mini-map.
There are times when L.A. Noire may sound like the kind of thing that should have come bundled with its own pen and a notebook, but again, Rockstar and Team Bondi are only too aware of this fact, and have made every piece of information that you’ve gathered – essential or otherwise – constantly accessible to you. If you think that you’ve spotted an incriminating kink in someone’s story during a cutscene, or want to revisit a previous conversation for any other reason, you can simply take a glance at Phelp’s own notepad at the touch of a button, which contains every single word of dialogue that has been spoken in the game up until that point. So, with all those boosters and assists in place, isn’t L.A. Noire a tedious, easy-as-pie waste of time?
Not a chance. Videogames probably don’t come any more ambitious or ground-breaking than L.A. Noire, and they certainly don’t come much more involving. Playing out like a marathon, interactive HBO boxset, the game’s plot is a calculated mish-mash of the real and the fictional, with a hardboiled cast of distinctive characters interacting with crimes that have been directly inspired by actual cases that really did take place in Los Angeles during the late 1940’s. It’s a game that demands concentration and patience – at least the same amount that you’d lavish on a high-quality movie or TV show – and rushing through would make for easily the most detrimental way to experience it. If you’re a sucker for Trophies or Achievements, do everything that you can to keep them in the back of your mind. You won’t regret it.
The multi-faceted plot is consistently gripping when you’re up to your ears in a case, but it’s the intermittent seeds of mystery (sown early on) that make for the most invigorating aspects of L.A. Noire’s story. How exactly did Cole Phelps earn his Silver Star during the war? And what’s the deal with that manipulative (and possibly delusional) psychiatrist? The structure that was promised months ago by Rockstar – self-contained chapters that eventually expand into something far broader – is pulled off with lordly impudence, and despite the fact that there is nothing shocking about the revelation that the Los Angeles police department’s power structure rots upwards, the plot’s enthralling final spasms are far from easy to foresee or second guess.
Once you’ve found the perfect equilibrium during the interrogations – and you’re able to balance hard evidence with what you can or can’t derive from the actors’ performances – like a great novel, it becomes pretty hard to put the damn thing down. L.A. Noire is riveting thriller, an uncommonly sociable gaming experience and a rich, painstaking recreation of a very specific time and place. The imminent tidal wave of drab imitators is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but L.A. Noire – a videogame as significant as any in Rockstar’s incomparable back catalogue – feels like a blistering one-of-a-kind.
Watch the L.A. Noire trailer here: