I’ve always disliked the notion that one relies on entertainment to escape everyday life. Yet, when experiencing entertainment – whether it be a book, film, or a video game – I value immersion above all. Not because my life is unfulfilling, but because if I’m going to experience another world, why hold back? Often times, if the immersion isn’t there, I will put it there – force it in there with my rampant and uncontrollable imagination. I will inhabit the lead character. If there’s an ensemble cast of characters, I will insert myself in that cast. If I so much as listen to a song, I do more than just lip sync along. I envision myself as the lead singer, which made it really weird when I was listening to Avril Lavigne earlier today.
However, immersion only gets me so far. I always hit a wall. That’s because, try as I might, I am not Jack Bauer. I am not Gordon Freeman, nor am I Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. I am not a Stark of Winterfell and I do not live on an island with the castaways of Lost, and if I did, I surely would’ve been killed off early on. L.A. Noire is different. I am not Cole Phelps of the Los Angeles Police Department, but I am his partner. Not Rusty or Herschel, but something more… an invisible right hand man. I tell him who’s telling the truth and who’s lying through their teeth. I tell him who to charge and, every so often, which cars to “acquire.” And he always listens to me, even when we’re both pretty sure I’m wrong.
Saying that L.A. Noire is an absorbing game is like saying Dennis the Menace was a difficult kid. That kid was a goddamn nightmare. Paper towels are absorbing, L.A. Noire is a spiritual experience. The gripping narrative, intelligent gameplay, and stunning MotionScan technology all work together to create one of the most enthralling games I’ve ever played. While there were bumps in the figurative road that would briefly pull me out of the experience, the immersion that makes the game so special lasted all the way through to the end credits.
Cole Phelps is your protagonist, a young up-and-comer in the L.A.P.D. Cole is portrayed, both in voice and likeness, by Mad Men‘s Aaron Staton. The voice and look behind a videogame character usually isn’t that important. In fact, it’s usually just Nolan North. But with L.A. Noire’s MotionScan tech, the actors are actually allowed to act and it comes through in impressive detail. In fact, if you’re a television or film buff at all, you’ll likely recognize more than a few faces throughout the game.
While “police procedural” isn’t typically a videogame genre, it applies here. The game is divided into cases, which themselves are divided between four departments – traffic, homicide, AD vice, and arson. Each case will get handed to you and your partner by your captain. You’ll head to the crime scene and search for clues, which will lead you to other locations and eventually to a suspect or two. This game isn’t for everyone and the methodical clue-gathering is going to be the deciding factor for most players. Players who just want to pump led into some 1940s gangsters are going to be mighty disappointed when they’re rooting around in a dead lady’s purse looking for her lipstick. That isn’t to say the game is devoid of action – it certainly isn’t. But the “meat” of the game is cerebral, hunting for clues and interrogating suspects. If you’re looking for more of a run and gun post-war experience, we’d suggest Mafia II instead.
A lot of the promotional material for the game emphasized the MotionScan, and with good reason. It’s an amazing bit of technology and you couldn’t have a game like this without it. A large portion of the game involves interrogating suspects and knowing whether they’re being honest or not. There’s no honesty meter displayed in the corner of the screen. There’s simply the suspect, their tone of voice, and their tics. Once they respond to a question, you have three possible options. If you’re confident they’re being honest, you can accept what they say as truth. If what they say directly contradicts information you’ve already gathered, call their bluff and make them sweat. You don’t need to remember every clue you find, it’s all recorded in your notebook which you can (and should) reference as much as you want. And then there’s the “doubt” option, for when you think they’re lying or holding back the truth but you don’t have the evidence to prove it.