- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another example of attempting to meld a video game with cinema arrives via L.A. Noire (Rockstar Games and Team Bondi, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99), an interactive crime thriller spread out over three discs that takes a gamer back to the 1940s and the seedier side of Los Angeles.

In control of LAPD Officer Cole Phelps, the player deals with murder, arson, bank robbery, and multiple street crimes that require he find the perpetrators without always resorting to gunplay.

Dripping with atmosphere plucked from the days when James Cagney and George Raft hammed it up in darkened alleys, the game beautifully recreates 1947 with vintage locales, including Westlake Tar Pits and Grauman’s Chinese Theater along with landmarks such as the Hollywoodland sign.

It’s going to take some old-fashioned detective work in this evolving open world to become part of a more cerebral, more controlled Grand Theft Auto experience.

While cracking cases, such as the Silk Stocking Murder and the Gas Man, (to build his rank up to detective), Cole has plenty of options to get the job done as he explores the City of Angels and its outlying areas.

He can drive the squad car (rather recklessly under my command) or commandeer any of the nearly 100 vehicle types, get into fistfights and shootouts with feisty criminals, chase by foot and capture suspects (with some spectacular movement), work with partners, get radio support from headquarters, refer to a notebook for suspect data or logged evidence, and carefully investigate crime scenes (detailed down to moving parts of a dead body).

My favorite moments were interrogations, where deciding whether a suspect is lying can come down to whether he will look you in the eye, bite his lip, gaze in the wrong direction, display a nervous twitch and other subtle bits of odd behavior.

Developers achieved these detailed facial expressions via an intricate motion-capture system that makes the characters, including Cole, played by “Mad Men” star Aaron Staton, really come to life.

In fact, more than 400 actors take part in the game, a stunning achievement also embellished with the lengthy dialogue sequences, retro musical score and a narrator that sounds a bit like Jack Webb of “Dragnet.”

Despite the tech might, the cases can get repetitive and characters’ body models are still gaming-quality clunky. The overall package is just not as emotional or noirish as Sony’s Heavy Rain.

Players looking for quick gratification and stress-relieving action need not apply — the 20-hour story often evolves at the pace of a television miniseries with lots of well-acted cut scenes supporting Cole’s adventures.

No doubt, I was part of something artistically special in L.A. Noire, but it never quite broke out of too-familiar gaming arenas to feel revolutionary.

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