Anthony's Film Review
(Video Game, 2011)
Rockstar Games presents a fantastic detective video game set in shady 1940s Los Angeles...
When you think of the video game company Rockstar Games, you usually think of its flagship game series Grand Theft Auto, which allows players to assume the roles of violent street criminals. This is a game series I myself have definitely enjoyed. Still, after some time, I asked myself one question. Is there a game that is like GTA but allows the player to be a police officer rather than a criminal? It doesn't necessarily need to have the Rockstar label on it. It just has to provide a GTA-like experience from the other side of the law.
Sure enough, there is such a game. Australian game developer Team Bondi created L.A. Noire with help from Rockstar Games. This is a game that looks and feels like GTA, yet provides a more unique experience compared to GTA. In addition, L.A. Noire features very impressive graphics, an outstanding cast, and a gripping crime thriller story. The result is a game where everything looks and feels all too real. I would even argue that L.A. Noire helps people understand the grind and risk of police work.
You, the player, assume the role of Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran who has joined the Los Angeles Police Department. The year is 1947, a time when America is witnessing renewed prosperity and also the year when Elizabeth Short, dubbed the "Black Dahlia," was horrifically murdered (with her corpse severed in half by a killer who, sadly, remains unidentified). The city of L.A. has people living productive lives as well as shady people comprising the seedy underbelly. In the center of it all is the LAPD, which is constantly struggling to improve its public image.
The gameplay controls are similar to those of the Rockstar game Grand Theft Auto IV. You can walk and run as well as fight if the situation calls for a fistfight. Sometimes, you will be involved in shootouts, where you can aim and shoot guns as well as take cover behind walls and various large objects. If a suspect flees on foot, it is up to you to run, climb and descend ladders and drain pipes, and leap over walls to ultimately catch him. And of course, you get to drive various vehicles, whether to get somewhere during a case or to chase a suspect escaping in a fast car.
There are two things, however, that make L.A. Noire unique: investigation and interrogation. When you enter a crime scene or a location belonging to a suspect or person of interest, you have the chance to look around, examine things closely, and put relevant clues into your notebook. With the clues handy, you interview suspects and persons of interest by asking a list of questions. For each response to a question, you must determine your own response by selecting one of three options: Truth, if you believe the person is telling the truth; Doubt, if you think the person is lying or holding back but you have no way to prove it; or Lie, if the person's statement contradicts a clue you have, in which case you must select that clue from the list to make a successful accusation. If you read the facial expressions and mannerisms well so that you get all or most questions right, you'll get plenty of new info. If not, alternate events may occur to ensure that you get the most vital info for the case.
The ability to read faces during interrogations is made possible by realistic computer animation that painstakingly reproduces individual facial movements. As a result, the characters in L.A. Noire look so realistic that you could swear that these are real people in a live-action movie. (In fact, I looked at the photos of many of the voice actors for the game, and was amazed that their actual faces are on the characters they play.) It is difficult to dismiss any character as forgettable, because every person, no matter how minor the role is, is a living breathing human being. The first time I played this game, I was blown away by the graphics and admired how video games have truly come a long way from their roots.
As Cole Phelps, you work in five LAPD divisions with different partners under different supervisors. You start out in the Patrol division, doing simple work as a uniformed cop alongside Ralph Dunn (in short cases that serve as a tutorial for the game). Then you get promoted and become a detective in Traffic, serving alongside Detective Stefan Bekowsky and under Captain Gordon Leary as you investigate vehicle crimes. Afterwards, you move into Homicide with the cynical drunk Detective Rusty Galloway under the stiff Irish Captain James Donnelly, Vice alongside the smug and corrupt Detective Roy Earle under Lieutenant Archie Colmyer, and Arson with the morose Detective Herschel Biggs under Captain Lachlan McKelty. The cases you work to solve encompass a variety of matters, including an abandoned car with a massive amount of blood splattered inside, women murdered and left naked in the open, a missing boxer, two burnt houses that share an unexpected coincidence, a nightclub massacre, a Hollywood sex scandal, and mysterious clues pointing to the Black Dahlia killer (who is fictionalized in this game). You can definitely expect to encounter a variety of characters, like abusive husbands, a condescending socialist writer, drug smugglers, unethical doctors, a gruff real estate developer, a pedophile outside a high school, a beautiful German jazz singer, and even the infamous L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen (another real-life figure fictionalized in this game).
Although the game involves solving one case after another, not every case is a self-contained story. That's because three story arcs occur in this game, one each for the Homicide, Vice, and Arson divisions. In addition, there are 13 newspapers scattered throughout the cases, which allow you to watch cutscenes providing a glimpse into events related to two of the three story arcs. Then there are World War II flashback sequences played between cases. These mini-movies show Cole Phelps leading a platoon on Okinawa in a battle against the Japanese, providing insight into the character of Phelps and details of past events that ultimately influence major events of the present. All of these storytelling methods produce one complex yet compelling tale, the kind that L.A. crime writers such as Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy might conceive.
If you still want another fun thing or two, L.A. Noire has a few fun side games, similar to how Grand Theft Auto provides side games in addition to the main story-based missions. You can drive around L.A. to identify places that the game designates as landmarks. You can also wander the city on foot to find golden film reels and badges (the latter is available only as bonus content) scattered throughout the city. Finally, you can help resolve street crimes, which are quick action sequences that may involve gunning down armed bank robbers, chasing a pervert with a camera, stopping a violent gang war, chasing a mentally ill man, and other situations with fistfights, gunfights, foot chases, and car chases.
Simply put, L.A. Noire is a masterpiece video game, providing an exciting gameplay experience in the context of an immersive world and a gripping story. It's also a game that holds nothing back, given the graphic imagery, strong profane language, and sensitive adult subject matter portrayed here. Though the game is fictional and, at times, historically inaccurate, it makes you look at 1940s Los Angeles in a different way if you haven't thought too much about the city's shady underworld from that decade. Overall, I enjoyed L.A. Noire so much that I played the whole game twice. Now I wonder if Rockstar will release another police action game in the future. It doesn't have to be set in the same location or time period again, but at least it can use L.A. Noire as a solid model to build upon.
For more information about L.A. Noire, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.