L.A. Noire Review

Hours Played: Roughly 40 hours

 No Choice of Difficulty

 Console Played On: Xbox 360

Very few things can be considered ground-breaking, truly innovative, and original. The gaming industry, just like any other, thrives on products that take old ideas and synthesize them to make something new. If you take a look at L.A. Noire by its individual components, it doesn’t seem to deserve all the hype that it’s been receiving. The combat is very simplistic, and it can have very clunky controls now and then. The world is huge and expansive, but there just isn’t much to do in it other than the main objectives. The story is serious and truly meant for a mature audience, but it isn’t the first game to have such a tale. The detective elements are compelling and very well presented, but it boils down to being just a combination of Phoenix Wright and old-school adventure games. However, these aren’t standalone elements. They are each an integral piece of a cohesive whole. So even though each individual component of L.A. Noire isn’t perfect, the game is absolutely spectacular when taken as a whole. If any game this year moves the gaming industry forward, it will be L.A. Noire.

 

Master sleuth, master detective.

 

L.A. Noire is a film noir styled game that puts you in the shoes of Cole Phelps, an L.A. police officer seeking to climb the ranks of the LAPD after returning home to America from fighting the Japanese in World War II. By solving cases, street crimes, and showing the department how a real detective does their job, Phelps quickly becomes one of the most renowned and valued detectives in L.A. But as Phelps progresses, it becomes clear that there is a larger and more devious plot surrounding many of his cases. As Phelps, it is your job to clean up the streets of a post WWII Los Angeles, no matter how bad it might get for your family, your friends, your coworkers, or even yourself during your investigations.
Like Fallout and Bioshock before it, L.A. Noire is a game that excels at creating an immersive atmosphere that transports you to the streets of L.A. in the late 1940’s. The city has been accurately recreated in the game, with roughly 90% of the city being an accurate recreation of the city. Everything from the cars and clothing styles to the smallest cigarette packet seems to have been taken right out of the 40’s. The speech and colloquialisms are recreated, the racial fears and racisms are accurately and maturely represented, and it truly feels like this is as close as anyone will get to experience this time period again. Team Bondi have really gone out of their way to give this game the best presentation and production values possible, and it definitely pays off. The visuals of the game are surprisingly crisp and detailed for a game of this size. The attention to detail, from the recreated city buildings to the contents of the garbage can in a random house, is breathtaking. The game always makes it seem like each part of the world is just as important as any other, no matter how small. The audio is also a real treat to behold. The voice acting (or just acting, but more on that later) is phenomenal in every single person. The team has really gone out of their way to get some really terrific performances from the actors, making each character feel like a living, breathing person. This atmosphere is the most incredible part of L.A. Noire, and it sucks you into the world like no other game before it.

The cases in L.A. Noire are the strongest and most powerful moments of the game, and thankfully, they take up the majority of the games content. Each case is usually an individual story that can be experienced on its own, but they occasionally have an overarching plot during a few cases, especially towards the games finale. The cases have Phelps coming to a crime scene, looking for clues, than interviewing suspicious individuals, often making you travel all over the city. Searching for clues behaves like an old-school adventure game, where you look around for objects of importance, and you think about ways that these objects or clues can be used to help you, at least in L.A. Noire’s case (sorry for the bad pun… I couldn’t resist). It adds to the already incredible atmosphere of being a detective, and it is also compelling to get all the clues in order to get a better understanding of the interesting cases and crimes. As finely crafted as the clue hunting aspects are, the interrogations are perhaps the most enjoyable aspects in the game. When interrogating, Cole asks questions, and you have to decide if the suspect is telling the truth, if he is being economical with the truth, or if he is outright lying. What makes this such a fun aspect of the game is that the faces you are trying to analyse are real faces; through new technology, an actor’s entire likeness has been converted into the game. You actually have to read a person’s face in order to find the right answer and, although challenging, the knowledge that you are analysing a person’s face makes it so much more satisfying when you successfully interrogate someone. After acquiring all the clues and interviewing the suspects, the game either automatically arrests the most suspicious individual or it gives you a choice between two suspects. Either way, the cases are closed in a satisfying manner, and the story continues on matter what the outcome is.

That is kind of the only problem with the detective aspects of this game. Team Bondi have a story they want to tell, yet their gameplay aspects are so intertwined with the story that a players decisions can greatly alter the outcome of any case. So no matter how you do on a case, bad or good, Phelps will still be praised for being a great cop. It sometimes offers explanations as to why this is happening, but they are usually very cheap and simplistic answers that do not help. It can feel really odd when you are failing each case miserably, and your captain is praising you in between each one. It’s a small gripe, but it weakens the effect that each case has on you.

I don't always fail, but when I do, nobody cares.

With that said, the cases still have the power to absolutely affect the player both mentally and emotionally. The more story based cases offer an emotional tale about the troubles of reintegrating one’s self in society after fighting a war, but the cases can really keep you up at night. When you screw up a case and put the wrong person behind bars, it feels like you`ve failed the police force, and you feel just as ashamed as Cole does. Even when you have all the evidence that points to a certain person, the gut feeling that someone else did it can gnaw at your mind, even after the case is completed. It’s as similar feeling to pondering whether you made the right choices in a game like Mass Effect, and it really shows video games progressing as an artisitic medium.

L.A. Noire is told in an episodic structure, with each case being its own individual entity within a grander story. This structure does wonders for the gameplay, since it heavily promotes sittings of one or two hours spent solving on case, allowing for more burst-like playing. If you want a game that you can play hours on end for, don’t fret, because L.A. Noire’s plot and atmosphere can easily suck you in if you so desire. It’s the kind of game where you can play at your own pace, and never feel punished or cheated by it. Each case offers a slight progression in Cole’s story for redemption and acceptance, whether through events in the story or through flashbacks of his time in the war. At first, the game appears to simply be individual story after individual story. But as the game progresses, each chapter offers more and more details in terms of the main plot, and it almost feels like a Shakespearean story where the most vital events happen in a brief few moments at the story’s conclusion. It is an interesting method of telling the story and it helps strengthen the game’s uneven ending, but it often feels like the player isn’t given enough of a reason to care about Cole early on. Events happen to him over the course of the game, many of them that should make the player feel for him, but there is no reason to. It is not until much later into the game that Cole is given a real personality, and all the things we were supposed to feel just come in a sudden rush near the end. The pacing and structure isn’t perfect, but it is a unique way of telling the story that isn’t done enough in gaming, which makes the few mistakes slightly more forgivable. Overall, it has more benefits that negatives, and it makes this one of the more accessible big budget titles in terms of time spent playing it.

Hmm... my detective intuition is telling me that this man is dead.

Sadly, I have to go over the many problems that are present throughout L.A. Noire. Most noticeably and importantly, the combat is sub-par. The combat is similar to that of previous Rockstar titles such as Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto 4, but with a few tweaks that, sadly, make it much less enjoyable. Getting into and out of cover is very clunky, and Cole often time simply steps away out of cover into the open instead of moving like a sane person. Aiming and shooting is exactly like RDR, with a more forgiving auto-aim mechanic. The major problem with the combat is that it feels way to simplified and easy. Enemies go down in two or three shots, Cole has a ton of health, ammo is unlimited, there is always cover to hide behind, and the game even lets you skip combat events if you die too much. The combat seems to be there simply to appeal to the shooter crowd, but it is too poorly implemented and too rarely used to actually make any of them want to play the game.
Outside the cases and optional street crimes, the world is rather empty. There just isn’t anything to do. There are many collectibles to find, but they don’t give you anything significant to warrant you scouring Los Angeles for them. Even if the world is full of live and breathtaking to behold, it would have been nice to have more side-quests and more incentive to explore the city and reasons to stay in it.
Another potential problem with this game is that it doesn’t really have a target audience. A detective game like this has never really been made before, and it is more of a niche title than the blockbuster that it sells itself as. Many people will not enjoy this game, simply because it is not their type of game. It is slow-paced, mature, intelligent, and very story centric. Many people will not be able to get past the fact that you aren’t doing something exciting every minute.

L.A. Noire succeeds where others fail. Not because its atmosphere is engrossing, not because the detective work is intricate and satisfying, not because the game is authentic and inspired, and not because it is a serious and mature crime-drama. It is because it masterfully blends each of these elements into a near perfect whole, while minimalizing its faults as much as possible. It’s a game that knows its strengths and weaknesses, and morphs itself around them to better its self. It is a game that everyone should at least try because of how different and unique it is; even if you think you might not enjoy it. It is a precursor of a future where the video game industry can successfully produce mature and sophisticated stories and products. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is one hell of a cup for those who enjoy it.

Pros

– Amazing character animations
– Engrossing atmosphere
– Great sophisticated and mature story
– Unique
– Detective gameplay is great

Cons

– Poor combat mechanics
– World is empty
– Not for everyone
– Too forgiving with case work

Overall: 9/10

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