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L.A. Noire review

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There's little freedom in this noir crime epic, but the great characters, plot and production values will keep you entertained to the end

L.A. Noire comes from the same company as the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. It uses the same game engine as the last GTA to recreate a sprawling urban environment. Furthermore it’s concerned with similar themes as GTA, with crime being at the very heart of its story. But despite all these similarities, L.A. Noire is a very, very different kind of game.

L.A. Noire
The clue’s in the name, with all your noir genre staples present here

Set in 1940’s post-war Los Angeles, L.A. Noire puts you in shoes of up-and-coming LAPD officer Cole Phelps. Phelps was a war hero, though he doesn’t like to talk about it, and after the fighting ended he joined the police force, where you follow his meteoric rise through the ranks. As the title suggests this is pure film noir distilled into video game form. But movies such as The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil and L.A. Confidential aren’t the only influence here; in addition there’s a big helping of modern TV conventions.

L.A. Noire Phelps and Berkowsky
Here’s Phelps, left. The faces looks considerably better in motion than in stills

The characters, dialogue and plot structure are all immediately reminiscent of an HBO TV series. In fact you may recognise Phelps, as he’s played by Aaron Stanton – Ken Cosgrove in Mad Men. Beyond this, the dense and snappy dialogue is certainly realistic and gritty enough to pass muster on the now-revered US cable channel.

In terms of structure, the game is divided into 21 cases, most of which equate roughly to a TV episode’s worth of play. Just like most TV series, the early episodes largely stand alone, but a clear plot arc connecting the cases appears around half-way through the game.

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