L.A. Noire [X360, PS3]
Few game developers can boast a track record like Rockstar
Games. Responsible for smash hits like the Grand Theft Auto series and last
year's standout Red Dead Redemption, the studio is famed for output that toes
the line between film and games.
With this week's release of gritty 1940s detective drama L.A.
Noire for the Xbox 360 and PS3, however, Rockstar has raised the bar for what
constitutes a cinematic video game experience. Boasting groundbreaking
facial-mapping technology, an all-star cast and a lifelike recreation of
1940s Los Angeles, it's already being tipped as one of the year's best games.
"Ever since it first worked out how to assemble pixels so
that they resembled something more recognisable than aliens," says The
Guardian, "the games industry has dreamed of creating one thing above all
else - a game that is indistinguishable from a film, except that you can
control the lead character. With L.A. Noire, it just might, finally, have found
the embodiment of that particular holy grail."
And writer Steve Boxer is in no doubt about where to lay the
credit for that unprecedented cinematic feel.
"The new MotionScan system used to capture actors'
performances simply produces more convincing facial animation than we have ever
seen in a game," says Boxer, who calls the game's recreation of Los Angeles "gloriously
convincing...it has all the period charm of Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men." That's
unsurprising: the game's lead, detective Cole Phelps, is masterfully played by
Mad Men's Aaron Staton, while a number of his AMC co-stars also crop up in the
Over at Destructoid, reviewer Jim Sterling is, to put it mildly, impressed.
"No game released this generation has tackled the subject
matter found in L.A. Noire with the same degree of intelligence and respect,"
he writes, "and no game has blended gameplay from various genres so seamlessly,
in a way that delivers something far more unique in experience than the sum of
Unlike Hollywood movies, however, L.A. Noire doesn't concern itself with telling the perfect tale.
"There's only one save file that the game updates automatically," points out Gamespot's
Carolyn Petit, "so you can't just restart when an interrogation goes badly." In
other words, if you screw up, L.A. Noire won't hesitate to confront you with
the consequences of your errors. It "isn't about tidy resolutions and happy
endings," says Petit, "'it's often about the cases where the truth is
elusive--the cases that keep cops up at night."
So yes, it's often gruesome and depressing, but it's realism
of a different sort that troubles some critics, including IGN's Hilary
"Things are perhaps too true to real police work -
repetitive, redundant, and unsurprising," he says, though he, like many others,
finds much to like in its stellar voice work and soundtrack. Still, scoring it
an 8.5, Goldstein says the game "never adds up," feeling its "amazing
pieces...don't quite amount to an incredible game."
A few other critics score the game in the 8s, typically
citing concerns over uneven gameplay, a few control issues, and an occasional
reliance on guesswork over skill. But praise for the game's storytelling and
superb performances is universal, and a slew of perfect marks nudge the game's
average score comfortably over the 90% line
at Metacritic. We suspect that's enough to make even the most hard-boiled of
noir heroes crack a self-satisfied grin.
The Witcher 2:
Assassins of Kings [PC]
And if that wasn't enough, here's the second standout
release of the week. Sequel to a superb 2007 role-playing game, The Witcher 2
continues the story of grey-haired monster hunter Geralt and his dark fantasy
world of bandits, witches, and, uh, women of the night. Reviews are coming in a
touch slower than L.A. Noire -- it's a hefty game -- but early signs are it's
every bit as good as its stellar predecessor, if not a little better. In other
words, it's lining up to be an expensive week for gamers. Sorry.
Mystery Case Files:
Thirteenth Skull [Y!]
Not enough mystery for you? If L.A. Noire's uncompromisingly
gritty style isn't your bag (or its $60 price tag is a bit steep), perhaps the
latest in the smash hit Mystery Case Files series will be a better fit. Set in
a creepy Louisiana mansion in the heart of the bayou, it's packing everything
you want from a great hidden-object adventure: loads of levels, a gripping
plot, a top soundtrack, and an eeevil pirate ghost.
Fable III [PC]
Lauded by critics as the best so far in the series, Fable
III comes to the PC this week. Picking up a half-century after the second game
left off, you (and your trusty treasure-sniffing dog) are set the task of
overthrowing your tyrannical brother and ruling a kingdom -- for good or evil.
Dollhouse Story [Y!]
Spiders? Child's play. Axe murderers? Whatever. Zombies?
Don't make me laugh. Everyone knows the two scariest things in the world are
animated dolls and clowns --- and this game features both, in abundance. Part
hidden-object adventure, part puzzle game collection and all kinds of creepy,
Stray Souls's selection of 38 locations across 12 chapters will scare the pants
off you. If you thought Stephen King's "It" was bad, you're in for
some sleepless nights.
Fallout: New Vegas: Honest
Hearts [X360, PC]
Post-apocalyptic hit Fallout: New Vegas gets its second
piece of downloadable content this week, zipping players off to the Zion
National Park in Utah, where new areas, new enemies, and new weapons all await
them. They'll also get a chance to hobnob with the legendary Burned Man, a
former general in Caesar's Legion who fell out of favor with the boss. And then
fell into the Grand Canyon. On fire. He's probably not in the best of shape,
we're guessing. It's available on Xbox Live and PC now, and it'll be up on the
Playstation Network as soon as the downtime dust has settled.
Sega Rally Online
Based on classic rally racers Sega Rally 3 and Sega Rally
Revo, this downloadable, arcadey speedster is the perfect way to scratch your
offroad itch until Dirt 3 launches next week. Available on the 360 now, it'll
be along on the Playstation 3 just as soon as the store updates, we assume.
Feel like a trip back in time? Check out the Wii's Virtual
Console service this week, and you'll find 1995 time-traveling epic Chrono
Trigger ready and waiting for you to download. It's renowned as one of the best
SNES games ever made, boasts credits from the creators of the Final Fantasy,
Dragon Ball, and Dragon Quest franchises, and helped revolutionize the
direction of role-playing games. Find out why.