Thursday, May 19, 2011

L.A. Noire First Impressions - Spoiler Free

I'm only a couple hours into L.A. Noire, and I thought I would share some of my initial impressions of the game. What Team Bondi and Rockstar have accomplished with this game is evolutionary. It's not without it's criticisms, however, which I have peppered throughout this article.
The acting (and that's what we need to call it. This is no mere voice over) is impressive. It will be debated, but I think this could be the first game to actually breach the "uncanny valley," at least when it comes to the character's faces. Heavy Rain made a valiant attempt, but the process Team Bondi uses to capture actors' emotions and facial animations is what sells it. However, this same process, which puts that fully video-captured head onto a computer generated body also causes my eyes to occasionally question what it is seeing. Most of the time, the complete package sells itself. But there were a few times during my first case as a Traffic Detective that something just looked a little off. I think it's because of how real the characters look, but I have a more empathetic connection to Cole Phelps (the character you play in the game), then I've ever had in a game. And hopefully he grows as a character as the game goes on. I think it's safe to say, Cole and I would probably not be friends in real life. In fact, I think he's kind of a douchebag.
I'm playing the Xbox 360 version, and because of Microsoft's extremely small disc capacity in comparison to the PS3's Blu Ray disc, the game ships on 3 discs. I took the time install all 3 discs onto my 360's hard drive (FYI, took about 45 minutes and uses up 20 GB of hard drive space), which in doing so is suppose to reduce the load times and increase performance. While load times are not an issue (amazingly, there are virtually none), I've had two instances where I saw significant frame rate drops that turned my game into a slide slow. Has anyone else had this problem? And if so, are you playing the game off the hard drive or off the disc? Also, are you playing in color, or have you tried playing in black and white? I haven't had any overheating issues, but apparently they're out there.
My favorite part of the game, and what I believe is the killer app for L.A Noire, is Los Angeles itself. This is the most fully realized open world city ever. As most of us already know, Team Bondi used over 180,000 period photos to recreate 1947 L.A. And when you are driving around in the game, you can see they put those
photos to good use, right down to the Hollywoodland sign. The roads are worn and beat up. Trash cans and dumpsters are full, and trash is strewn about the city. Kick a can, a box, or a pile of wood in an alley or side street, and rats shuffle away. The traffic lights even have those old school "Stop" and "Go" signs that pop up when a light turns red or green.
Call the city the Yellow Pages because it's been used and abused and completely feels lived in.
I've spent well over half my time just driving around the city. I cruised Sunset Drive and
Hollywood Blvd. I drove passed Grauman's Chinese and the Roosevelt Hotel. Driving down Sunset I passed the Palladium, where late last year, I saw Faith No More play a show in real life. It's cool to see these locations that I'm familiar with as they were 64 years ago. Something I didn't know until recently was that most of the cars that are in the game are based on the cars from Jay Leno's collection. The section of L.A. that was recreated for this game is a huge chunk. In fact, if you were to drive from the L.A. River on the East side of the map to the West side of Hollywood in game, it will take you 25-30 minutes driving at full speed. And yet, I'm unjustly disappointed in the size of the map. Since I live in Hermosa Beach, I'd like to venture out to the Beach Cities, even if they were barely there in the late '40s.
All this, and I haven't even talked about the main story and the investigations you do as a cop rising through the ranks of the L.A.P.D. In keeping with the no spoilers theme, all I will say is I'm very much digging it. It reminds me of the old school PC adventure games I played in the late '80s and early '90s. Yet, not in a retro way. More of the sense of accomplishment you feel from discovering all the clues and using those to ask the right questions in your interrogations to get the conviction.
If you are playing this game, and haven't joined the Social Club, just do it. The stat tracking alone is impressive.

TL;DR: Get your dic on and experience L.A. Noire for yourself! It's well worth the trip to 1947.