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The Reel Life Experience

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Game developers have, for the longest time, strived to deliver a ‘film' feel to their games, something that is indistinguishable from regular cinema except that you, the audience, get to control the actions and fate of the central character. A game narrative that can match the storytelling power of cinema; L.A. Noire may just be the game that did it first.

Right from where you step into the boots of Cole Phelps, a WWII war hero who returns to Los Angeles in the late 40s, there is a distinct film noir feel to the game (for those curious, the plot is similar to L. A. Confidential). The story tracks the meteoric rise of Phelps in the L. A. Police Department, and much like L. A. Confidential's protagonist, you have one goal - restore order to the violent streets of Los Angeles at all costs, except selling out. It is this rise through the ranks that forms the basis of L. A. Noire, a game that's structured like a TV serial with each episode packing in an independent case Phelps has to solve while contributing to the overall character and plot development.

At the heart of each episode are the challenges that test Phelp's skills of investigation and deduction, and after being handed a case, you must drive to the crime scene, dig out clues lying innocuously around and then follow up on leads. Clues aren't that obvious to begin with, and you need to walk around the scene till you chance upon something – a blood stain, an object, a calling card – lying around for your to have a lead to follow. You maintain a notebook of important clues as you try and solve the case, and the occasional advice and nuggets of information from the coroner or your partner are essential elements. Phelps may be the hero, but he does not (and cannot) crack cases alone.

Finding and interrogation of a crucial witness is really where L. A. Noire's "Motion Scan" motion-capture technique comes into its own and seriously blurs the line between cinema and game. Using this technique, the producers of the game hired real actors to deliver performances that they captured and reproduced faithfully in the game characters. As you interrogate the witness and try and call out his lies, it is these minute telltale changes in the character's expression that lets you decide whether to call him out on a lie or believe him. Every twitch, grimace or shifty glance tells a tale, and if you're in the habit of checking your phone or your email while listening to dialogues, don't! Looking away for even the slightest while can lead to failure. All in all, the result is a very impressive and realistic cinema experience, and it gets even better when just like a real suspect, the chap on screen deliberately misleads you and sends you off on a wild-goose chase.

Be warned though about the interrogations, even more so when you accuse the suspect of lying. Get it right, and you can get them to open up some more and give you some more clues. Get it wrong, and the chap clams up and refuses to give you more information.

Of course, as with cinema, the game's weakness is that you know that while you feel you are making your own decisions, there is a larger plot unfolding all the while towards a defined end. Even so, L. A. Noire breaks new ground and is highly recommended to any gamer interested to see how far the medium is being stretched. The game, if we can still call it that, is quite unlike anything you'd have played before, with a terrific sense of period atmosphere coupled with a brilliant soundtrack, and most importantly, moments that stay with you long after you've turned the console off.

Rating: 9/10
Price: Rs 2,499 (PS3 and Xbox)

Perfect Fit
Portable scanners, despite the name, have been bulky little beasts, taking up a sizeable chunk of your laptop bag. Not so with the Handi-Scan from the house of Hip Street. This baby is small enough to fit a coat pocket and works off 2 AA batteries and a microSD memory card, allowing you scan pretty much anywhere you need… or want!

Start it up (bear in mind the retail pack does not include a memory card) and the Handi-Scan is ready to scan documents upto 127 cm in length. The design is simple and the only buttons you get are to toggle between from color and black-and-white and to change scanning resolution to Low (300dpi) or High (600dpi). There is a tiny LCD readout display for the status of the memory card, a battery meter, and also the number of scanned documents already present on the memory card. The build quality is pretty top notch yet it is light and handy enough to carry around.

To scan any document, photo or book, all you have to do is place the Handi-Scan on top of the document, and thanks to the four rubber rollers, the device moves smoothly over the scanning surface. It does take a little effort to figure out the right way to scan the first time you use this device, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. Fortunately, an LED glows red when the scanning is not done properly (such as when you swiped too fast or too slow) and takes the guesswork out of whether the scan happened or not. The sides are also neatly marked with guides to indicate the scanning width of the scanning element situated below, so that you place the Scanny correctly on the document to be scanned.

Scan results are accurate, and color reproduction is excellent given the size of this device. Granted, they aren't as good as a flatbed scanner, but perfectly acceptable for most purposes. Hip Street has included ABBYY Screenshot Reader OCR software to convert scanned documents into editable documents such as Word and Excel files, which makes a lot of sense for the on-the-go traveller.

Couple of things to keep in mind. First, the device lets you use any Micro SD card of up to 32 GB capacity but does not have any internal memory of its own. You can use this in conjunction with a PC via the mini-USB port, which lets you connect the device to the PC to transfer the scanned documents. Expect regular AA Alkaline batteries to be good for about 170-180 color scans before they run out of juice.

Rating: 8/10
Price: Rs 6,439

First Of A New Kind
Is this the device that will turn things around for Nokia in the smartphone segment? Sporting a 3.9-inch AMOLED screen and packing in 16GB or 64GB of onboard memory and 1GB of RAM, the N9 isn't just a nice slab of metal. It is the first device to run Nokia's MeeGo platform, and going by initial impressions, the interface is nothing like what we've seen from Nokia so far! Specs are top notch, and then there's this neat party trick – the ability to pair Bluetooth devices over NFC (near field communication) simply by tapping the two devices together!
Price: tba

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