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12 Reviews

L.A. Noire

Making a case for brainy gaming

Don't let that Rockstar logo lead you to think that you're getting a GTA or a Red Dead Redemption, similar though they are. No, you're getting a Table Tennis - Rockstar bringing its signature quality to bear on a genre it had previously ignored. In this case, it's the point-and-click adventure, as previously deployed to dismal effect in Ubisoft's unloved CSI games.

It's a weird, mutant strain, almost invisible under a myriad of action sequences and layers of meticulous period detail, but it's there: instead of waving a cursor around to find a hotspot, you guide detective Cole Phelps through each crime scene awaiting the controller buzz that indicates an item you can inspect. Do so and you'll either get a clue in the notebook or a hint that it's useless; occasionally you'll have to solve a very simple puzzle by arranging a few pieces together. It's a slow, contemplative and almost entirely relaxing experience, clearly built with an eye on fans of CSI rather than CoD.

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Everybody lies

Which isn't to say that the latter are left out. A regular flow of car chases, shootouts and fist fights link the cases together - remarkably, in a way that complements rather than clashes - and they're all delivered in a style familiar to any Liberty City veteran, albeit without quite as much polish. There's a generous quantity of collectible items and action-focused side missions, too. But they're an oddly hardcore aside to a very casual main event of clue-hunting and interrogation.

The latter is the game's standout highlight: the motion-captured facial animation is a watershed moment in gaming, setting the bar for everything that follows it. It's not photo-realistic, but it makes characters seem far more human, and makes the interrogations feel compelling in a way that is entirely new.

Underneath, it's less advanced - the structure of each question is a surprisingly simple three-way choice. The trick is not knowing that people are lying - most suspects fidget like five-year-olds when forced into an untruth - but being able to prove it. To claim outright falsehood needs specific proof in your notebook, which you often don't have or can't identify. The Doubt option requires no evidence, but can provide some unexpectedly varied accusations, and Truth feels almost redundant - a testament to the game's consistently bleak world.

The correct way forward is rarely clear, and while this can feel like a powerful insight into the nature of police work, at other points it just feels unfair. It's at its most powerful in cases that end with two suspects and the command to charge only one of them: you can be left genuinely uncertain as to who's the bad guy and genuinely guilty when a tirade from your boss reveals you sent an innocent man to jail. At other times, it feels like trial and error is the only way to identify the right option.

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The justification for this is that in LA Noire, getting everything 'right' is merely an option for obsessive completists; it's possible to get everything wrong and still proceeed, just with a lower score. The game's unshakeable commitment to the story means that you can't help but continue; it's inclusive, but can leave you feeling more passenger than driver.

Meanwhile the background is rendered in loving detail throughout, with both your co-workers and the city itself created in moving detail. It might lack the sheer scale of its stablemates, but LA is a big and surprisingly diverse place, and the expanding, twisting, ever-gloomier storyline makes a point of showing it off from the grand civic buildings to the rapidly-expanding suburbs, all under the gaze of the Hollywoodland sign and to the sound of spot-on period music.

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