L.A. Noire Looks to Elevate Gaming to New Level

It seems that I have made a glaring omission in my article about the most anticipated games of 2011. I should have totally included the upcoming detective thriller L.A. Noire to my list, because dammit, it’s looks and sounds so sophisticated.

Video games have the unfortunate reputation of either being a kid’s medium or a bloody, violence fueled wasteland where young men pretend to shoot aliens, zombies, or people. When I hear non-gaming pundits talk about games they immediately turn to the usual hooker beatings and general mayhem from the Grand Theft Auto series or just how violent games are in general.

Not that L.A. Noire is all fairies and moonbeams. Set in 1947 Los Angeles, it is a hard boiled detective story that pulls from real life crime cases of the time. Obviously it draws inspiration in both plot and aesthetics from the film noir genre, with its sordid tales of crime, sex, and moral ambiguity. Its visual style pays homage to the low key lighting and use of shadow common to the genre. Also, everyone wears hats. There will be times when Detective Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton from Mad Men)  will have to use his gun, but the core part of the gameplay will be good old police work. This includes investigating the crime scene for clues and evidence and just as importantly-interrogating witnesses.

Now here’s where L.A. Noire gets real intriguing. Using some pretty state of the art facial recognition technology, Team Bondi has developed character faces in this game that are so realistic that being able to recognize if a suspect or person of interest is lying is a major part of the game. How the detective reacts to the person he is questioning determines how the case is handled. Hopefully, the game will strike just the right balance of fast action and slower paced investigation.

The human face is full of so many subtle expressions that recreating it to look less like a cartoon and cross over into genuine realism is no easy task. The uncanny valley is a difficult place to get past in computer animation, especially when you try to recover from the nightmares induced by the empty, soulless eyes of characters in movies like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and The Polar Express.

Look into those eyes. Try not to let your mind reel from madness.

But judging from the screenshots and clips from the following video which is a more in depth look at the game, the character faces in  L.A. Noire looks like the best I’ve ever seen. It’s also refreshing to play on the right side of the law this time instead of a hardened criminal. With its classical jazz soundtrack and recreation of 1940′s Los Angeles, L.A. Noire could be a treat for both gamers and film buffs alike.

L.A. Noire will be released this year for the PS3 and the Xbox 360.

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