In the early cases, the game holds your hand through these processes, and as a result, they can feel narrow and artificial. For instance, at one point, you need to get a confession from a suspect. If you botch the interrogation, the suspect will dismiss you, at which point your commanding officer will tell you to get back in there and get a confession out of the suspect, starting the whole thing over. It's also typically very obvious early on when a suspect or witness is not being entirely honest, as he or she makes an exaggerated show of looking nervous or shifty eyed. But once the training wheels come off, the process gets a lot more interesting. It becomes entirely possible to miss vital clues at crime scenes or fail to get important information from a witness and to progress through a case, and suspects behave more naturally, which makes them tougher to read.
Would the guy who played Ted's dad in the Bill & Ted movies lie to you?
When you're stumped about the right approach to take, you can spend a point of intuition, which bears unmistakable similarities to the lifelines on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Intuition can be used either to remove one of the incorrect approaches--eliminating Lie, for instance, and leaving you to choose between Truth and Doubt--or to see what approach other players took at that particular moment in the interrogation. Intuition can also be used to highlight the location of every important piece of evidence while investigating a crime scene. You don't earn intuition points very quickly so they must be spent sparingly, and they serve as a bit of help without taking all the detective work out of your hands. There's only one save file that the game updates automatically, so you can't just restart when an interrogation goes badly, but this is for the best. It's far more interesting to just rely on your instincts and finish the case to see how things play out, at which point you can restart the case and try for a better outcome if you like. Cases can definitely take some very different turns depending on your actions, which makes replaying them worthwhile. In one case, for instance, you might end up shooting a potentially innocent man and earning the scorn of Captain Donnelly, or you might put away a social menace, at which point Donnelly takes you and your partner out for a celebratory drink.
Regardless of whom you put away, you may come away from some cases with the troubling feeling that you didn't get the right man. That may sound unsatisfying, and in a way it is, but it's a good kind of unsatisfying. Noir isn't about tidy resolutions and happy endings. It's often about the cases where the truth is elusive--the cases that keep cops up at night. And L.A. Noire rewards your patience. A story strand left unresolved in one case may come up again a few cases later, and something you thought would be left unclear may finally come into focus. Less satisfying is the way that the resolution of one story case doesn't have any bearing on the next. For instance, even if you completely botch the aforementioned case and Donnelly rains fire and brimstone down on you and your partner, the next case begins with him showering you with praise. L.A. Noire has an overarching story to tell, and it's a good one, but the inelegant way in which it keeps that story on track can be jarring.
The beautiful L.A. River features in The Consul's Car, a case that was previously exclusive to the PS3.
L.A. still had streetcars in 1947, but it was a city quickly becoming dominated by the automobile, and that's the only way to travel in L.A. Noire. Thankfully, driving is fun. Whether you steer them with a gamepad or the keyboard, cars are responsive and swift, which is particularly important during the game's many car chases. Still, it's not so enjoyable that you'll always relish the thought of driving from one end of the game's large map to the other; thankfully, you can usually opt to have your partner drive, which functions as a fast-travel option for getting to your selected destination. The cars are also nicely detailed, and you can admire any vehicle you've driven in the game's vehicle showroom.
The gunplay is very easy to pick up. You can hide behind cover, and pop out to squeeze off shots. Aim assist options are available, and if you're playing with a gamepad, you may want them on, but the precision afforded by mouse control makes them unnecessary. The shooting itself feels fine, but it's the context and the atmosphere that make some firefights stand out. A pursuit through catacombs, a gunfight in a historic movie theater, and the tumultuous climactic shoot-out are just a few of the moments throughout L.A. Noire that have a cinematic sense of place and style. Although the objectives often describe your goal as subduing suspects, once the bullets start flying, the only way out for the criminals is in the coroner's wagon. Shooting suspects in the legs a few times proves to be as fatal as popping them in the head once. The grim brand of justice that Phelps doles out in these situations is certainly in keeping with the game's somber tone, but it's disappointing that you can't try to keep these criminals alive so that they can face a trial.
Not everyone you pursue ends up dead, though. You regularly find yourself pursuing suspects on foot, and these chases don't always end with someone headed to the morgue. Pursuing suspects is easy. You just try to keep Phelps headed straight for his target; he handles all the climbing over fences and leaping between rooftops automatically. In some cases, you have the option of trying to bring the suspect to a halt by firing a warning shot. To do this, you must keep your reticle fixed on the fleeing suspect for a few seconds as a meter fills up. But strangely, there are many chases in which you're not given this option. (When you can attempt it, you'll know because Phelps will have his gun in his hand.) It's clear that the game doesn't want you to stop suspects before you've experienced the thrilling chase through a crumbling movie set that awaits you or whatever else it may have in store, but this restriction nonetheless feels artificial and limiting.
I'm not sure 1947 Los Angeles is ready for that tie, Cole.
Gunfights, foot chases, car chases, and the occasional simple brawl don't just spring up during cases. They're also a regular part of the street crimes that are reported over the radio, which you can choose to respond to or ignore. There are 40 street crimes in all, spread across each of the desks that Cole occupies--traffic, homicide and so on. They're typically brief; you report to the scene of the crime and a car chase, shoot-out, or other action sequence ensues. These aren't as interesting as the action sequences that occur during cases, where you have a deeper personal investment in the action and the stakes are higher. But they make this Los Angeles feel more alive and troubled, and they're a good way to earn experience, which scores you intuition points and occasionally a spiffy new suit.
For all of its attention to detail, L.A. Noire hits the occasional false note. For instance, the way people you pass on the street constantly comment loudly to nobody in particular about having seen you in the papers or indicate that you could use a bath is awkward, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in a world that tries so hard to be believable. But this is a minor nitpick with a game that gets under your skin the way few games do. L.A. Noire's length can vary significantly, depending on how many street crimes you respond to and how much of your own driving you do, but in any case, the 26 story cases (up from 21 in the original console release) make for a complete and satisfying experience. You come into contact with the seamy side of the movie industry and with major players in the gambling racket; you meet working stiffs and powerful businessmen; you encounter low-ranking mob thugs and Mickey Cohen, one of the most powerful gangsters in Los Angeles at the time. L.A. Noire is a unique game with a terrific sense of period atmosphere, absorbing investigation mechanics, and a haunting tale with plenty of moments that would be right at home in a classic film noir. Those smoky nights spent listening to jazz at the Blue Room, and the price you paid for them, will stay with you long after you've retired your badge and gun.
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