Fashionably late: We take a look at L.A. Noire's PC version
Almost six months later and Team Bondi's film noir inspired crime thriller, L.A. Noire, comes to the PC having dazzled critics and gamers on the home consoles back in May. We play as Cole Phelps, now an officer of the Los Angeles PD having returned from WWII's Pacific theatre.
Outside of cases, there are forty street crimes you can get involved in
We start with Cole as a cop on the beat who quickly gets recognised for having a talent at sniffing out clues and following up leads. The first cases are an introduction to the game's core mechanics like how to search a crime scene, how to study items that could be evidence and generally how to get about the game world like running, climbing and of course driving.
Soon enough a promotion lands us on the Traffic Desk, which is the first real set of cases with major crimes to solve. We're always provided a partner to work with to help keep us immersed in this 1940's recreation of Los Angeles, which is faithfully reconstructed by Team Bondi. Of course the great selling point of L.A. Noire are the characters themselves which appear staggeringly life like thanks to the studio's method of capturing the actors' performances, which involved many close up shots of their faces. The result is truly amazing especially if you're viewing it for the first time.
The reason behind this extravagant motion capture method is to provide L.A. Noire one of its cornerstone features: interviewing suspects. The cases you go through rely on talking to people you meet, either as witnesses to a crime or as a potential perp. Of course not everyone is willing to speak openly to a cop so that's where the players ability to 'read' a person's face comes in to it and that wouldn't be anywhere near as impactful without these almost live action facial performances. The vocal performances are just as grand and really help sell these digital denizens.
Before throwing yourself headlong into an interview though, whether at someone's home or back a Central, it's best you comb those crime scenes for every scrap of evidence you can find. Discovered clues get added to your notebook which lets Cole review what he knows of the case so far and stores info on everyone and locations of note. It also stores our intuition points which are earned as we rank up. These can be spent helping us locate a clue we might otherwise have missed or to have an incorrect response removed when we're grilling someone for info. When we've asked a question and the person has given us an answer its then we select whether we believe them, doubt them or accuse them of outright lying.
If we should point the finger and say they telling us a pack of big whoppers then we'll need to back up our claim with some relevant evidence we've got against them. Clues help interrogations to spot lies but also open up questions that could lead to breaking the case, or to suspecting someone else. If you pick an incorrect response then you run the danger of the person clamming up or never finding out a crucial piece of information.
Some things can be learnt later via other means but chances are low you'll be scoring a maximum pat on the back once the case is closed. Unfortunately even if we do terribly in a case the story moves forward as if no screw up really happened. Each case is compartmentalised and slowly reveals more of the overall story arc, without being able to alter its trajectory.
The game uses check points for its save system which, initially, looks to keep us from 'cheating' by simply loading a previous point and approaching something a little different – however you only need to quit and load it back up to retry an interrogation from scratch. Sure, this is purely optional but sometimes you want to nail a guy so bad you find yourself refusing to let anything go wrong and so will frustratingly replay entire sections a dozen times to do your best. In this way, the check point save system fails and really they should have just gone with the more vanilla save and load.
Not all clues are straight forward - some need solving...
The game's map is huge and so you'll be getting intimate with the streets of Los Angeles as you put the pedal to the metal, cruising between crime scenes or having decided to respond to any of the forty street crime scenarios that litter L.A Noire. Dispatch will announce there's trouble brewing somewhere and whilst on your way about the city you can choose to respond or not. A little symbol appears on the mini map pointing the way. These are little diversions that help you feel a bit more like a cop and range from stopping a guy jumping off a church, to tackling an armed robbery in progress.
Team Bondi were merciful though as they let you use your partner to drive to a location instead of forcing us to do all the work. If you're like me and enjoying being something of a completionist then you'll thank the stars this feature exists. It'll happen often that you'll be but a stone's throw away from a location when suddenly dispatch comes over the radio detailing yet another call of distress, and it can prove to be a trying experience if it's occurring almost at the other side of the city.
Cover is crucial for Cole then dealing with armed perps but luckily it's easy to get in and out of, and popping up to trade some fire. You have no health bar, only the sound of a heart beat getting louder and the screen being bled of all colour to warn you the end is near. If you happen to not be very good at action or the chase sequences they can be skipped by checking the gameplay options. Also you can turn on or off aids to assist you with finding clues like vibrating near a piece of evidence or letting music play while there are still items to be found.
Rockstar Leeds handled the PC version of L.A. Noire and its keyboard and mouse support is flawless, and the game switches between prompts on-the-fly if you've got a gamepad controller plugged in and feel like swapping. Sure, using the mouse makes aiming easier – especially when handling hostage situations – but overall I actually preferred sticking with my Xbox 360 controller simply for the ease and convenience of having all the buttons within easy reach.
Still it's perfectly fine if you'd prefer the more traditional PC experience of a WASD layout instead. Also the PC gets a number of perks over the home consoles, namely in the field of visual fidelity. I was happy to see that the opening to L.A. Noire when starting a new game from scratch wasn't marred by the frame rate drop I had experienced with the Xbox 360 version back in May. As long as you've got a decent PC rig then L.A. Noire runs like a dream with very short load times, and better textures with a greater viewing distance. Get too close to surfaces or objects though and you'll notice quickly there isn't any fancy DirectX 11 magic going on, but the world is impressive none the less.
I noticed that the latest iteration of Rockstar's Social Club being integrated has taken on a slight Games for Windows Live vibe where it appears at the top. It offers us community stats, game and career progress as well as what achievements are available and what we've unlocked. Thankfully it's not as obnoxious as the version that came with Grand Theft Auto IV on PC, which always demanded attention before the game would start and didn't always perform as it should have.
L.A. Noire is not Grand Theft Auto – that cannot be stated or underscored enough. This is a noir crime thriller that just happens to use an open world approach. There's no home you can own, no garage filled with cars you've 'commandeered'; it's all about Cole Phelps and his journey through the ranks of the LAPD. Outside of street crimes or case locations you won't be drawing your side arm or even tackling law breakers. Sadly outside of the linear desk cases the city of Team Bondi's Los Angeles is in fact quite soulless – the city is merely a backdrop, providing some scenery along the way till you reach your next destination. It's a damn shame more wasn't done to make the city more dynamic and alive with mischief. The PC version includes all the download content goodies for L.A Noire, which means it's the full experience with every desk case to exercise your detective's hunch.
It's not always about snooping - action sequences are plentiful...
It's tough to choose a singular moment so I won't, but instead I'll say the top experience of L.A. Noire is always talking with its rich variety of people, and getting to shout 'spill it!' in a suit and fedora – it's just plain classy.
L.A. NOIRE VERDICT
Rockstar Leeds has done a great job bringing Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire to the PC, which is a thoroughly interesting and at times quite addictive crime thriller. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a case and wanting to uncover what really happened; sifting through the false smiles of NPCs and rubbing their nose in our superior detective work. Cole Phelps feels at home on the desktop and I didn’t experience any problems or hiccups along the way. If you want your brain teased and love the film noir era then L.A. Noire for PC, offering the complete package, cannot be recommended enough.
TOP GAME MOMENT
It’s tough to choose a singular moment so I won’t, but instead I’ll say the top experience of L.A. Noire is always talking with its rich variety of people, and getting to shout ‘spill it!’ in a suit and fedora – it’s just plain classy.