Anyone going into L.A. Noire expecting Grand Theft Auto set in 1940's Los Angeles is going to come away disappointed. Red Dead Redemption might have taken the GTA formula and masterfully transported it to a Wild West setting, but L.A. Noire tries to do no such thing. Good thing too, because as much as I enjoyed RDR, L.A. Noire comes off as a truly unique experience.
The game's main hook is its new facial animation capture technology and in my opinion Team Bondi pulls it off beautifully. It truly is impressive tech. And it does not stop there, the entire visual package is top notch. 1940's L.A. has been recreated with a surprising level of detail. The city is large and sprawling, the lighting engine is excellent and the animations (as has been the case with all recent Rockstar games) are incredibly life-like. The game suffers from some pop-up, texture fill-in and the occasional frame-rate drop, but I don't know of an open world games that doesn't.
On the audio side the level of quality continues (if not surpasses the visuals). Excellent voice-acting and some fantastic music transport you into the game world. The entire audio/visual package is top notch.
Gameplay is much slower paced than prior Rockstar open world games, but also much more focused. Similar to Mafia II, the game world is open for you to explore, however, the game is linear and story-driven with practically no incentive to go off the beaten path. So while you can drive around aimlessly and explore, there is little incentive to do so aside from the occasional crime which will come through your police scanner. The game is broken down into acts which are basically the different cases you'll be trying to solve. The majority of your time will be spent driving to various crime scenes or to question P.O.I's (persons of interest) related to your case. Thrown into the mix are car chases, on foot chases, fist fights and gun battles. Unlike in GTA, you cannot un-holster your weapon at any time in L.A. Noire. Gunplay only becomes an option when the game deems it appropriate. Some may find this as restricting your freedom, but it doesn't bother me much. You are a detective after all, no need to be capping civilians in this game.
The newest gameplay mechanic comes during the interrogation sections. During these scenes you ask individuals a series of predetermined questions and then decide whether they are being truthful or lying based on their response. This is where the facial animation really comes into play since you need to study how they respond not just by their words, but their mannerisms. Shifty eyes or a nervous twitch are telltale signs that a subject may not be entirely truthful. It is too early for me to tell how deep this system is, but it has been different and enjoyable so far.
L.A. Noire has been a refreshing change of pace. Fantastic atmosphere and top notch production values, along with unique gameplay. I applaud Team Bondi for trying something different with a such a high budget title. I hope it pays off for them. I'll give further impressions as I experience more of the game.