From the get go LA Noire is a bit of an anomaly. It's a game you can play with people watching - even participating - but you can't play it with any distractions. Almost every sentence spoken contains something utterly vital, and the ones that don't seem to anyway.
It's an odd game in that way. You'll find yourself hanging on every word said by any character around you - like you're attempting to unfurl some grand conspiracy while others watch - but there typically isn't one to be found. For a mystery game, it does an exemplary effort in delivering all the information you need - even to its own detriment.
Take the ending, for example. Saying anything at all will spoil it. Still, it's odd that a game so firmly in the mystery genre - a genre for video games it is bringing to the new millenium - and it should play out with no surprises whatsoever - to some extent this is to the game's credit, as it wraps up perfectly, but I can't help but have hoped to finish with some kind of wonderment.
On the subject of spoilers though, it will prove a tough game to spoil. It's an entirely linear affair - so it will always end at the same place - but at the same time there's a significant amount of wiggle room available. How you solve a case can change everything from whether you're able to make charges stick to who you finger as the killer.
The MotionScan technology does amazing things for the empathy you feel for your suspects as well. You can visibly see every emotion they have - and it connects you so much more than any game has before. It means you'll want to put the bad guys away, and should you mess up and put away someone you don't think deserved it, you'll feel that much worse for it.
How could you put away someone who doesn't deserve it? As I found out, it's quite easy. In cases where you have evidence enough to put away both suspects, you might forget a critical piece of evidence and then ruin someone's life by charging them with the crime. In cases where the evidence is great for others they might out-lie you - leaving you forced to pin the case to someone with less convincing evidence but a terrible poker face.
I found I had the most trouble with interrogations - especially towards the end of the game. A lot of it had to do with distractions, as I mentioned earlier, but the game noticeably ramps up the difficulty factor the further you get into the game.
Nevertheless, it has to be said - if you ever find yourself stumped, stay away from any sort of online FAQ. At least on your first try, do your very best to solve each case on your own. A percentage of the game's thrill is steeped in the idea of pitting yourself against someone who doesn't want to be sent to the gas chamber/put away for life, and you're cheating yourself of that experience if you don't earn it.
The story is almost flawless. The character development is out of this world - from case to case you learn more about your persons of interest, across each desk you understand more about your partner and across the entire game the main character - Cole Phelps - evolves into something utterly different from what he started out as.
That said, there are a few hiccups - elements which don't really exist as they should in the game, or are anomalous compared to the quality of the rest of the plot. It's hard to point them out without spoiling huge portions of the game, but they all seem to occur towards the end of the game. We're talking tiny elements which only seem large when compared to the rest of the game's level of quality - but they're still there.
Also there are some interesting bugs evident in the experience - though only one was eye-opening. There were significant frame-rate issues in some situations - not during normal play of the game, but in specific action sequences. All up, these issues made for less than 1% of the game but they were there, and it was surprising to them detracting from the overall quality.
Like other Rockstar games the gameplay can get stale if you simply sit there and do case after case after case. It becomes a chore - happily Team Bondi injected their post-War LA with distractions to keep things fresh. Solving street crimes is a fun way to get into the action without having to chase down leads - show up and the crime is actually in progress, so there's no real detective work needed.
I also found myself getting distracted with chasing down and collecting cars - as far as I could tell 'unlocking' a car made no discernible difference to the game world, but there's a charm to automobiles of that era that I found myself incapable of steering away from.
Charm is really what LA Noire is all about. LA in the 1950s is a beautiful city - well it is as represented by this game. The game oozes atmosphere everywhere you go - I spent a significant amount of time just driving around looking at stuff (and it wound up helping me later, when the game had me scouring LA Landmarks for clues to the whereabouts of a killer).
The atmosphere is boosted by the games score - though while there were a significant amount of actual songs present in the game, I noticed more than a few times that some songs would repeat. The game uses its own orchestral soundtrack to direct the player and let them know how they're going - a few notes in a certain way can tell you when you've found a clue, when you've interrogated a suspect correctly or when you're retracing your own steps.
From the multi-threaded plot down to the variety of suits Cole wears, LA Noire has an unmistakable charisma about it - it's a fantastic game. A few anomalous missteps hold it back from being 'the next big thing', but if it was perfect to begin with they'd have nowhere to grow. As it is now, I really want to see what Team Bondi do next - and I want to see how the rest of the games industry uses the MotionScan technology... if they're up to the challenge.
This game is definitely Game Of The Year material. It's been some considerable time since a triple-a game has captivated me in such a way without needing multiplayer to pick up the slack of the story mode (Call Of Duty anyone?). I would have to put this game in my mythical and theoretical list of "Top 5" games.