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L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is a 2011 action-adventure neo-noir crime video game developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games. It was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. L.A. Noire is set in Los Angeles in 1947 and challenges the player, controlling a Los Angeles Police Department officer, to solve a range of cases across five departments. Players must investigate crime scenes for clues, follow up leads, and interrogate suspects, and the players' success at these activities will impact how much of the cases' stories are revealed.

The game draws heavily from both the plot and aesthetic elements of film noir, stylistic films made popular in the 1940s and 1950s that share similar visual styles and themes, including crime and moral ambiguity. The game uses a distinctive colour palette, but in homage to film noir it includes the option to play the game in black and white. Various plot elements reference the major themes of gum-shoe detective and mobster stories such as Key Largo, Chinatown, The Untouchables, The Black Dahlia, and L.A. Confidential.

L.A. Noire is notable for using Depth Analysis's newly developed technology MotionScan, whereby the actors portraying the game's characters were recorded by 32 surrounding cameras to capture facial expressions from every angle. The technology is central to the game's interrogation mechanic, as players must use the suspects' reactions to questioning to judge whether or not they are lying. L.A. Noire is the first video game to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. Upon release, the game received wide acclaim for its advances in storytelling and facial animation technology. As of February 2012, both PC and console versions have sold nearly 5 million copies combined.

L.A. Noire Plot

The story begins with Officer Cole Phelps (Aaron Staton) on the Patrol Desk at the Wilshire Division 7 Police Station as a fairly new member of the police department in 1947 Los Angeles, California, successfully investigating a murder with his partner, Officer Ralph Dunn (Rodney Scott). The game follows Phelps' progress through the ranks and through different departments, such as the Homicide department, where he defeats a serial killer (Andrew Lukich) (who is depicted as the perpetrator of the real life Black Dahlia murder, and who happens to be the half-brother of an unnamed high-level American politician, a fact which Phelps and his partner are warned by their superior to never speak publicly about), and shows the collapse of his reputation and marriage to Marie after being publicly exposed on falling for German lounge singer Elsa Lichtmann (Erika Heynatz).

When a U.S. Marine from Phelps's former unit is found brutally murdered, Phelps discovers many of his former squad members are being assassinated as well, and after meeting with his old comrade, Jack Kelso (Gil McKinney), he deduces that the men in his unit were selling surplus morphine after stealing a large supply from the USS Coolridge, the ship that carried the unit back to Los Angeles at the end of World War II. The men are being killed by mobsters who are working for Mickey Cohen (Patrick Fischler) who controls the drug trade and resent the competition.

Further investigations by Phelps and Kelso lead them to discover that the money from the morphine sales is being used to fund a program known as "The Suburban Redevelopment Fund." They discover that while the fund publicly has good intentions — to build houses for homecoming American servicemen — it is actually a front for an insurance fraud scam, run by a tycoon named Leland Monroe (John Noble), where sub-standard houses are built and then fall victim to arson in order apparently to claim the insurance money. This is finally revealed to be only a small part of the fraud, as the true fraud was against the federal government regarding eminent domain. The Suburban Redevelopment Fund aimed to build entire communities, albeit with matchstick houses, to fool the federal government into paying much higher prices for the land where they were constructed, as they are in the path of the proposed Whitnall Parkway in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles. The scam involves local businessmen, dignitaries and even the police chief. It also involves Monroe and a pop-psychiatrist named Harlan Fontaine (Peter Blomquist) and a headstrong member of Phelps and Kelso's unit, corpsman Courtney Sheldon (Chad Todhunter), who is later killed by Fontaine. After a shoot-out at Monroe's mansion by Kelso, it is revealed that the arsonist killed Fontaine and has kidnapped Elsa Lichtmann. It also revealed that the arsonist was Ira Hogeboom, a former flamethrower operator from Phelps' and Kelso's unit, suffering from PTSD and schizophrenia after inadvertently killing a large number of civilians in what was thought to be an enemy encampment at the Battle of Okinawa on (then) Lieutenant Cole Phelps' orders. Hogeboom was being manipulated by Fontaine to torch the houses of holdouts who refused to sell out to the Suburban Redevelopment Fund, in order to (unbeknownst to Hogeboom) aid the insurance fraud - but after Hogeboom inadvertently incinerates a house with an entire family inside, Hogeboom goes completely insane.

At the Los Angeles River Tunnels, while trying to rescue the kidnapped Elsa, Phelps and Kelso fight their way through corrupt policemen and thugs trying to stop them from exposing the Suburban Redevelopment Fund scam. Outside the tunnels, the Assistant DA blocks the corrupt chief of police from sending additional officers after Phelps, and makes a deal where he sells out the other Fund conspirators. Kelso kills Hogeboom to put him out of his mental anguish and he and Phelps rescue Elsa and flee from the tunnels while struggling against a sewer level that is rising after heavy rain. Eventually, the trio finds an open manhole that they use to get Elsa up to the surface. As the water begins to rise, Phelps voluntarily lifts Kelso to the surface as well; as there is no one else to help Phelps, he says a final goodbye to his comrades as a current sweeps him away, killing him.

Later, a funeral is held for Phelps. Biggs says to Kelso that Phelps was never his friend. Kelso acknowledges that, and says that he was never his enemy. Biggs says that Phelps knew that, as the speech for Phelps finishes. It is revealed during the funeral ceremony that Leland Monroe was brought to justice, but the other SRF conspirators (the Police Chief, the newspaper editor, Vice Squad Detective Roy Earle, among others) have apparently escaped justice - as they are all present at Phelps' funeral speaking (hypocritically) in his honor.

In the epilogue post-credits in a flashback scene Kelso, Sheldon, and their other fellow G.I.'s find surplus morphine on their ship home. Sheldon convinces the others to sell the drugs, making a profit. However, Kelso refuses, telling Sheldon and the others that his respect for them as soldiers will be ceased if they go through with the drug profiting. They do, leading to the events of the game.

L.A. Noire Gameplay

The game takes place in the year 1947, in the city of Los Angeles, a city of glamour, fame, and wealth, but also where crime, vice, and corruption are rife. The player assumes the role of Los Angeles Police Department Officer, and later Detective, Cole Phelps. The game starts with Phelps as a uniformed patrolman, and follows his career as he advances through the police department bureaus (desks) of Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Two more desks, Bunco and Burglary, were cut from the final version of the game as the game would not have fit on one Blu-ray Disc. This decision caused the removal of 11 more cases. Instead of missions or levels, the game assigns the player with cases. Each desk gives the player a new partner who will help Phelps in his investigations. After each case, the player will receive a rating of 1–5 stars depending on their performance in both interrogations and searching for clues. In some cases, when searching an area for clues to the crime, players can also find newspapers. Besides reading the story, the newspapers give access to a short cinematic that either covers a part of the game's overarching plot or a flashback to Phelps' war memories. Near the end of the final desk, Arson, the player assumes control of Phelps's old Marine comrade Jack Kelso, who becomes the protagonist for most of the rest of the game; although different in appearance and personality, he controls identically to Phelps.

The game blends investigative elements such as mystery and crime solving, with fast-paced action sequences, including on-foot and car chases, hand-to-hand combat, interrogations and gunfights. In addition to the storyline cases, the player can work on optional side-investigations known as Street Crimes, which are 40 unassigned cases that are not related to the case that they are working on. In some street crimes, the suspects are people that the player has met in previous cases. The player can travel on foot, as well as in various vehicles. When driving vehicles, the player may drive the full route to the next location, or have their partner drive instead (if the partner drives, the game will automatically skip to the destination). The player can also ask the partner for directions. During the trip to the destination, the player and the partner will have a conversation involving the case or other topics. The player also has a total of ten detective suits available; an initial six, plus four downloadable ones. The suits are equipped with special abilities, such as increased damage protection.

Phelps interrogating a witness at a crime scene. Part of the gameplay includes interrogating both witnesses and suspects in order to progress through the case.

When the player is interrogating suspects and witnesses, the player must listen to the story that they give and also must pay close attention to the look on their faces. The player will be given the option to either believe them, doubt them or accuse them of lying. If the player accuses them of lying, the player must have evidence to prove that they're lying. If the player interrogates two people at the police station, the player will be able to decide who to charge with the crime. The captain's attitude will tell if the player charged the right person.

If the player is having trouble completing an action sequence, after three failed attempts, they will have the option to skip past and continue through the narrative.

Since the player is a police officer, weapons are only allowed in appropriate circumstances and only when a player is working on a case where a weapon is warranted. However, the player is allowed to commandeer civilian cars. The game features a free roam mode called "The Streets of L.A.", which is unlocked on completion of a desk. In this mode, there are no storyline cases included. Instead, the player can solve street crimes, search for gold film reels, landmarks and badges (some of which contribute to 100% completion of the game) or just drive around the city.

L.A. Noire received critical acclaim upon release. It holds an overall score of 89 out of 100 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and an overall score of 83 out of 100 for the PC on Metacritic. GameRankings rated the PlayStation 3 version 88.15%, the Xbox 360 version 87.93% and the PC version 81.70%. L.A. Noire has been widely praised for its advances in storytelling and facial animation technology.

The first review was published by UK newspaper The Guardian, which awarded the game a perfect score, and stated "Ever since it first worked out how to assemble pixels so that they resembled something more recognisable than aliens, the games industry has dreamed of creating one thing above all else – a game that is indistinguishable from a film, except that you can control the lead character. With L.A. Noire, it just might, finally, have found the embodiment of that particular holy grail."

IGN gave the game 8.5 out of 10, stating "L.A. Noire may not reach the emotional heights of a game like Heavy Rain, but it's something everyone must try out. It reaches high and almost succeeds as a brilliant new type of video game narrative." GameTrailers gave the game a 9.1 out of 10, concluding that "L.A. Noire floors you out of the gate, loses some steam due to repetition, but eventually wins the day thanks to its subtlety, attention to detail, and stunning character interaction." Gamespot's Carolyn Petit awarded the game a 9 out of 10, concluding that "L.A. Noire's absorbing investigations and intoxicating sense of style make it an unforgettable journey through the seamy side of the City of Angels." GameZone gave the game an 8.5/10, stating "The story is intriguing, albeit a little slow at first. L.A. Noire takes an old school approach toward its storytelling. It’s a much slower approach, similar to older movies, with a heavy emphasis on detail. It is that attention to detail that sets L.A. Noire apart from other games and makes it enjoyable to play."

Edge praised the facial technology, and pointed out that while there are no other major aspects of the game that had not been done better elsewhere, the fact that Team Bondi had brought together such a wide range of game genres in such a stylish, atmospheric, and cohesive manner was an achievement that few developers had managed. Joystiq gave the game a score of 9, and stated that "L.A. Noire may not always be 'fun' in the traditional sense, but it's also unsatisfied with being 'merely fun,' and the result of that aspiration is something that no one who cares about video games should miss."

Official PlayStation Magazine gave it 9 out of 10, and stated that "In many ways, L.A. Noire is similar to an AMC series... It's a slow build, but once hooked, we couldn't get enough of this provocative adventure, with its compelling characters and innovative gameplay. It's not perfect, but it's also unlike anything else on the PS3 right now." Official Xbox Magazine gave it 8 out of 10, and concluded with "Yes, it's flawed, but L.A. Noire is an honest-to-goodness detective crime thriller – a genuine breath of fresh air that values narrative and story above all else in an age where scripted action sequences and online deathmatch rule the day. It's the closest thing Xbox has to PlayStation's unique adventurer Heavy Rain." GamesMaster gave the game 92%, and concluded that L.A. Noire is "Rockstar's most mature take on open-world fun to date, brought to life with incredible tech."

Despite the overall positive reception, some reviewers thought that the game had too many redundancies in the cases and left too little control to the player, leading to the game being boring at times. Although 1UP gave it a perfect score, they also warned that the extended cut-scenes in the game could make some players feel they lost control of the action.

Responding to criticism that accused the character's bodies of being lifeless, despite the game's use of motion capture, Brendan McNamara stated in an interview with Eurogamer, "People were saying people were dead from the neck down. That's because we had all this animation in the neck and all this animation in the face, but the clothes don't move. Once you get to the level that people can actually see that level of realism, then people expect to see clothes moving and the rest of the body moving in a way we can't replicate in video games." In the same interview McNamara also responded to queries about why Phelps sometimes responds with particularly aggressive lines of dialogue during interrogation scenes. "It's funny. A lot of people say Aaron turns into a psycho. When we originally wrote the game the questions you asked were coax, force and lie. It was actually force because it was a more aggressive answer. That's the way we recorded it. But when the game came out it was truth, doubt or lie. Everyone always says Aaron on the second question is a psycho. So that's not his fault."

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