LOS ANGELES is a sun-baked Eden built on the broken dreams of blonde Midwestern girls and Phil Jackson's chi. Dig beneath that façade, however, past the bones of all those dead Lassies, and you'll discover a sinister world of natty fedoras, endlessly long gams, and murder.
I'm describing Rockstar Games' latest epic, L.A. Noire, but that's also a fairly realistic descriptor for the real city, and therein is the game's greatest achievement: I wasn't around in 1947, but from what I've seen, the virtual world you experience in the game is as close to a replica of that era's reality as you get. All the landmarks, all the repressed post-war sex symbols, all the non-native palm trees—they're all here. The accuracy is stunning.
Of course, this being a Rockstar game, the audio and aesthetics are spot-on, but you could've guessed at that. Especially impressive, though, is the new facial animation system L.A. Noire employs. I don't have room to get into a technical explanation, but the effect is so convincing that in my professional opinion, a wizard did it.
I realize many gamers will dismiss L.A. Noire, either due to that stupid extra "e" in the title, or because they weren't fans of the Grand Theft Auto style that made Rockstar so famous. Fair enough. You'll be happy to hear that L.A. Noire is the least GTA-esque game the company has ever made. There are superficial similarities, but if anything, L.A. Noire's closer to a classic Sierra adventure game like 1987's Police Quest, only with far more cerebral problems to solve.
I won't claim the game is perfect. L.A. Noire's control scheme could use more polish (a flaw particularly noticeable during gunfights), but aside from that and a certain superfluous vowel, the game is brilliant. Now that Rockstar has successfully translated the noir, western, and gangster film genres to interactive epics, one wonders what genre they'll do next. Fingers crossed for Bollywood.