Playing Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire fresh from a surprisingly successful media blackout presents an interesting set of delights. For one, the facial animation and lip syncing is staggeringly good – I’d seen the odd video as we posted them but hadn’t really analysed the details, and to see multiple characters all talking and acting at the level they are shows just how far technology has come, even from the likes of the relatively staid, in comparison at least, Heavy Rain.
It really is impressive – not just on the main characters but on everyone, from sideline extras to supporting roles – every word, every expression, every nuance is captured perfectly, and it instantly grabs your attention. Married with the well delivered lines and superb vocal work, L.A. Noire’s performances are sublime, making the game seem not only more real, but more engaging, more believable. Money well spent, then.
The acting is superb, with plenty of current TV and movie talent making up the credits list.
This works brilliantly, in case you’re wondering. The first few are short and serial in nature, but a promotion an hour or so into the game presents a fresh angle or two and things start to pan out to provide a little flexibility – of course, by this stage the game is holding your hand a lot less, the excellently done tutorial sections at the beginning never getting in the way or feeling contrived but to be free of their shackles is indeed welcome. By the time you’ve learnt how to pursue a fleeing suspect, look for clues, aim and shoot your weapon and even conduct interviews and interrogations you’ll be happy enough to fill your own detective shoes.
The interrogation aspect is one that I found most intruiging. Dialog trees aren’t new to gaming, but here they’re crucial, your skill in establishing whether a suspect (or witness) is lying or telling the truth (or indeed, you have doubts) from their language and mannerisms as important as ensuring that you’ve already found all the evidence you need to successfully carry out the particular conversation. If you can’t, or don’t, the meeting can go astray, and you’ll need to restart.
Hand to hand combat is the only personal downer, but it's something that doesn't spoil the party at all.
Each element of the game, from the slow exploration of a crime scene to frantic shoot-outs or car chases, manages to feel both coherent yet distinct enough to always feel fresh, the only demerit saved for the slightly clunky hand to hand combat that – thankfully – doesn’t really outstay its welcome. The constant changes of pace, interspersed with the smart dialog and logically placed cut-scenes, relays a filmic quality that most games simply fail to manage – if nothing else, Rockstar’s latest is their most cinematic.
But I’m impressed with the whole package. L.A. Noire feels like the sort of game I could really get my teeth into, the storyline already starting to show some interesting qualities as flashbacks hint at troubles sure to raise their heads later on, and it appears 1940s Los Angeles was an exciting place to be. The game controls well, looks absolutely gorgeous, is dripping with atmosphere and could well be the best thing you’ve played for months.
Our review is on the way, the game’s out on Friday.