Title: L.A. Noire

Platform: PS3 (360, PC)

ESRB Rating: M

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Developer: Team Bondi, Rockstar Leeds

Rating: ★★★★½

Review by: Bill Jones

Rockstar Games, as a developer and publisher, has been no stranger to pushing the boundaries of the gaming industry. Whether it’s pushing the envelope of what type of content is acceptable in games, breaking open the 3D open-world genre or reinventing the Western, Rockstar has often found itself ahead of the curve, boldly trying new ideas. So it’s no wonder the publisher’s collaboration with Team Bondi is such a riveting success and arguably reinvents what video games can be once again.

L.A. Noire is part open-world, part 1940s Los Angeles recreation, part noir revival, part third-person shooter and part detective simulator. And not only does it excel at all of these things individually, but, more impressively, it excels at bringing them all together in a fantastic manner that feels like something truly fresh for the world of gaming.

The game puts gamers primarily in the shoes of Cole Phelps, an LAPD detective with a U.S. Marine Corps history from World War II. As the game progresses, L.A. Noire smartly uses job promotions and different divisions of a police department to give Phelps a variety of cases. No matter what division, the cases largely focus on investigations and interrogations.

Phelps visits a crime scene, where the player is tasked with collecting evidence. That evidence is then used to put together a case. The clues take players to new locations for more investigations, gunfights and, most importantly, interrogations, where good police work pays off in being able to call suspects out on their lies. L.A. Noire focuses on realistic visuals, with facial ticks that give away suspects. It’s up to the gamer to determine if they have evidence to call a person on a lie, simply doubt the information or realize when they’re telling the truth.

The fact that the game looks good enough to support that kind of system is a testament to the quality of L.A. Noire. By pioneering new facial capture and mapping technology, the game is able to present characters that, at least up top, appear to have the mannerisms of real people, not just crudely created video game models. It is one of the crowning achievements of the title.

But the environment also cannot be ignored. The developers painstakingly recreated a version of a 1940s Los Angeles long since past, with levels of detail and scale that are both equally astonishing. And though gamers can expedite most missions by fast traveling to landmarks, part of the fun comes in cruising the cityscape in old cars and keeping an eye on things in town.

That’s also where players will encounter the side missions, which obviously aren’t as deep as the main tale, but usually provide a lot of third-person shootout fun. It is also neat how Team Bondi and Rockstar integrate these missions, as well as DLC, into the game. But it is the story that drives L.A. Noire here, and players will easily become invested in the characters and their motives, as well as the smaller and overarching mysteries. In terms of storytelling, L.A. Noire is a game that just as many people will enjoy watching from the couch as those playing it.

Of course, as L.A. Noire tries so hard to break ground and strive to be something more than the common video game, it is easier to notice some of its faults. Though most of the time it feels realistic, the branching interrogations make for a few moments in which the different scenarios offered by the actors don’t always click — mostly notably that Cole can seemingly go from zero to 60, in terms of emotion, in a split second, and gets awfully angry at some suspects who maybe don’t seem deserving of his wrath. I was also a bit disappointed by the story’s conclusion, which is a big deal when the game focuses on story, and a mystery at that.

But L.A. Noire is one of those games that tries so many new things and gets so many of them right that it’s simply a joy to play. The journey is just as much fun as the destination, and it will surely find itself at the top of maybe gamers’ “Best of 2011” lists. With great pacing mixing action-oriented gameplay with a long story and methodical investigations, fantastic graphics achievements, groundbreaking mechanics, a beautiful rendition of historic Los Angeles, and acting that is above and beyond, L.A. Noire is almost impossible to ignore.

For more info, lanoire.com

Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.