The alluring world of L.A. Noire, driven by film noire classics and gritty crime fiction, is as compelling as it is confronting. The game’s main protagonist in Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran who will work his way up the ranks of the LAPD throughout the game, is the perfect hard-hitting and direct character that fuels L.A. Noire’s fascinating narrative. The situations you’ll confront as Phelps vary from sad to agitating and these crimes help set the scene in 1940’s Los Angeles. The investigation elements and usage of motion-capturing form the foundation of L.A. Noire’s core gameplay mechanics, and although early sections of the game feel rather limited, the intriguing and fascinating interrogation elements keep the experience feeling fresh and challenging. L.A. Noire most definitely is not a game for everyone, but its gritty storytelling techniques, fascinating characters and satisfying mechanics make it one of the most original and engaging experiences in the impressive Rockstar Games portfolio.
What L.A. Noire Got Right
1940’s style – Anyone with a fondness for film noir and 1940’s style will be intoxicated by L.A. Noire’s style and tone. The glitz and glamour of Tinsel Town briskly radiates its alluring glow throughout the game. Yet despite the city’s fascinating aura, a dark, corrupt side compromises the city’s values, dictating an aggressive authoritarian approach Cole Phelps must abide by. Anyone familiar with Los Angeles architecture will be pleased to see city landmarks used in the game, and the intoxicating grittiness of the streets and homes you’ll visit set the scene for the game’s narrative.
Enjoyable noir story – There is good use of flashbacks in L.A. Noire, moments that detail the troubled life of Cole Phelps without jarring the progression of the main gameplay experience. Phelps is showcased as a flawed hero with a troubled past, and we’re detailed his life via intriguing cutscenes that blend in well with the flow of the game. The story takes a while to get going, due in part to early hand holding cases, but later cases are as dark as they are fascinating. L.A. Noire’s story is definitely not restricted to fans of noir, but anyone that is a fan should find pleasure in the game’s obvious inspirations.
Great use of motion-capture, believable performances – The use of MotionScan technology, which scans a real actors’ facial expressions for use in the game, offers an absorbing sense of realism whenever interviewing a person of interest. The performance of the actor is accurately plastered onto the virtual character in the game, allowing for levels of detail that truly need to be seen to be believed. The use of such technology within the confounds of the core gameplay helps define the experience that is L.A. Noire, driven by our own abilities to assume and judge a person’s honesty based not only on their tone but also their appearance.
Compelling interrogation and investigation mechanics – L.A. Noire presents the ability to determine the next move based on body language and tone, an impressive aspect of the gameplay that presents an abundance of challenge. Interviewing a suspect in a crime requires stern attention and the ability to recognise any irregularities in behaviour and body language, challenging us to incorporate genuine human emotions and responses into how we play the game. Interrogation allows us to take in L.A. Noire’s use of motion-capturing to engage with characters that have realistic twitches and movements, and this helps drive one of the most important aspects of the game’s mechanics. Furthermore, investigating crime scenes and searching for clues is an inviting way to get you involved with the processes of crime solving.
Exciting shootouts – The shooting mechanics are simple and accessible enough, and anyone with even a limited knowledge of mechanics in GTA IV shouldn’t have any trouble in this department. The shootouts themselves take you through some of Los Angeles’s most memorable landmarks, and these moments definitely help separate the more memorable shootouts from the more jarring ones. Team Bondi obviously wanted to recreate the suspenseful edge-of-your-seat police chases from the movies, and although they often come off feeling rather artificial, stopping a suspect before they get away is surprisingly satisfying. You can also use Phelps’s weapon to fire off a warning shot, but you’ll need to keep the weapon aimed at the suspect for a short period of time before it locks on. This feature works well as it allows you to incorporate realistic police procedure into the game’s police work.
Street crimes give an interesting insight into virtual LA – If you choose to break away from the main story and explore 1940’s Los Angeles you’ll often come across street crimes that demand immediate attention. Call-outs over the police radio will direct you to a crime taking place near by, and although these crimes lack the emotional weight of the cases in the main story, they give a nice insight into the city, giving this virtual recreation of Los Angeles plenty of life away from the main narrative.
Rewarding sense of progression – The intuitive ranking system in L.A. Noire rewards you with insight for locating landmarks, successfully interrogating POI’s and finding all crime scene clues. Insight is essentially XP, a ranking system that unlocks new outfits and pushes Cole up the ranks of the LAPD. “Intuition Points” are also earned, which can be used to temporarily reveal evidence in a crime scene, or remove one of the interrogation options. This system acts as an engaging reward system, making life just that little bit easier when you’re a bit lost.
Superb attention to detail – L.A. Noire employs a compelling process of investigation techniques to progress. This relies on a level of detail that helps drive the experience, as rummaging through garbage and picking up random items on the street contribute to the progression of investigations. Everything in the game – fashion, architecture, cars and music – all have a superb level of detail that really help project the 1940’s atmosphere and set the scene for the unraveling gritty tale of corruption and murder.
What L.A. Noire Got Wrong
Slow start – L.A. Noire challenges you in all of the right ways, but its early handholding cases jar the experience early on. This is countered by the game’s sense of progression later on as Phelps makes his way up the ranks of the LAPD, however, the early investigations lack the depth and shock value that really drive the experience later on. That said, the stories attached to these early missions are still fascinating and shocking, although not quite as memorable as those towards the end of the game.
Artificial moments early on – The first few hours in L.A. Noire feel a little too restricted, which can leave the experience feeling artificial and not as free as one might come to expect from a game like this. The complex processes that you’ll employ later in the game aren’t as useful early on, and while in the context of the story and the progressive nature of the experience this is to be expected – to start slowly and build into a challenging conclusion – some parts seem to be a little too much on the restricted side of things. For example, if you ask the wrong questions and ruin an interrogation you’ll simply be asked to go back and get a confession out of the suspect, leading to a complete rehash of the same conversation you had with the character initially.
When you look at L.A. Noire as an entire experience there is very little to fault. The early training wheels that leave the game feeling artificial are thankfully eventually removed, revealing a compelling and engaging experience that takes full advantage of film noir storytelling techniques and the alluring glow of 1940’s Los Angeles, recreated wonderfully by the team at Team Bondi. The street crimes allow you to break away from the main story and experience the city as you wish. The game’s interrogation elements are rather fascinating, as they rely on your own ability to read a character’s body language. L.A. Noire wants you to employ every real sense of judgment you use in your every day life to solve the crimes that plague 1940’s Los Angeles. The use of MotionScan to project realistic facial expressions and body language will fascinate you, and the way in which we interact and solve the crimes in L.A. Noire are exactly what keep the experience feeling so fresh and memorable.