L.A. Noire, released Tuesday by Rockstar Games (the makers of the popular Grand Theft Auto series), is being hailed as revolutionary for its rich narrative and lifelike renderings. (See a trailer below.) Players try to solve a grisly murder case in 1947 Los Angeles, similar to the infamous Black Dahlia killing, by investigating crime scenes and interrogating witnesses. The characters are being commended for their incredibly realistic expressions, and are based on actual actors (including Aaron Staton, who plays Ken Cosgrove on Mad Men) rather than animations. Some are calling L.A. Noire a contender for "game of the year." Is it really 2011's best offering?

Yes, it's like a classic film: There's "enough evidence to label L.A. Noire as a potential game of the year," says Brett Molina at USA Today. Rockstar Games could have just "cranked out" a period-piece version of Grand Theft Auto, but they've gone above and beyond. The game is "surprisingly mature" — and reminiscent of classic movies like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. The crime scenes are wonderfully complex, and the interrogations are quite intense, making great use of technology to show characters' subtle facial movements. This one's a winner.
"Review: L.A. Noire makes its case for game of the year" 

It's just so real and emotive: "For video games, the real world is the final frontier," and L.A. Noire feels far more "real" than your average hit video game, says Seth Schiesel in The New York Times. Its story is "deeply moving and relevant," and the game is mature enough to take itself seriously. "The Rockstar hallmark — gritty, believable, wry dialogue — is on full display," but there's also an emotional power. The game's thematic focus is on the difficulty WWII vets have adjusting to civilian life — taking orders from  spouses instead of killing enemies. It "treats this very human reality with a deft, mature hand that lends all the police-procedural gameplay an emotional heft rarely felt in video games."
"1947 mystery that matters now" 

But it's not perfect: L.A. Noire's use of "pinpoint-precise motion-capture technology to record the faces of actors as they recite their lines" makes the characters look like real people, says Chris Kohler in Wired. Too bad the game mechanics are so simple, and the action sequences rather dull. Still, this game is gripping, and shows us what the "future of high-end video games" will look like.
"Review: Searching for meaning in the faces of L.A. Noire"