L.A. Noire is the latest Rockstar open world game. Contrary to games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, in which the player was allowed to do unlawful acts, in Noire you are a cop, a detective and are required to follow the law as you solve cases. This fundamentally changes the gameplay and makes the title feel fresh. Yes folks, Rockstar has done it again. L.A. Noire is a classic.
L.A. Noire is set in the 1940’s, right after the end of World War II. The game takes place in Los Angeles, pre-highways, as the city is fast rising into the metropolis we know today. You play the role of Detective Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran that is hailed as a hero of the war. Like many of Rockstar’s past protagonists, Cole is inherently flawed and carries plenty of drama and emotional baggage on him. This is one of the great traits of Rockstar’s characters: they are not purely black or white, they are gray and thus, they feel real. Cole tries really hard to solve every case and do what is expected of him, but at the same time that he is fighting criminals, he is also fighting the memories of the war and the expectations placed upon him. In a way, he feels just like any of us. He is fighting the good fight and trying to do the right thing, but he makes mistakes (even some very costly ones) and has to deal with the consequences. Although I still favor John Marston from Red Dead Redemption as the best protagonist of any Rockstar game, Cole Phelps is not that far away.
In a way, it is difficult to call L.A. Noire an open world game. The game is very story-driven and focuses on solving a linear path of cases. When a certain amount of cases are completed you are promoted to a new desk. Each desk has to deal with different types of crimes. Homicide obviously deals with killings, Vice deals with drugs, Arson deals with fires and so on. Still, the gameplay through all the cases is similar. Search crime scenes and other locations of interest for clues; interrogate suspects, travel from one place to the next and eventually, the cases end with an arrest, a chase or a shootout. Yes, there are some open world elements, like side missions (called street crimes) that pop-up every once in a while and hunting for landmarks and film reels, but the game feels more linear than any other Rockstar “open” world game to date. That in itself is not a bad thing, for the cases are well designed and a true pleasure to complete, while the story is interesting enough.
Cases typically begin at the Police HQ where you are notified of the event. You can drive yourself to the location or ask your partner to drive, which is a nice way to skip lengthy trips. Be aware that side missions only pop up when you are driving a police vehicle to a destination and if you skip all the trips you won’t see any during the case solving process. However, you can select a free roam option from the “Select a Case” menu once you complete every desk. Each desk has unique “street crimes” or side missions to complete, so it is important to “free roam” on every desk to complete them all. After you arrive at the destination you get a brief description of the scene by a fellow police officer or the coroner if someone died. Then it is up to you to search for clues. If you wish to make it easier, the game has different aids to help you find clues, such as a musical chime or controller vibration when you are near a clue. After gathering clues, you must either, go to a different location based on the clues you found, or interrogate someone who was at the scene. A typical case involves searching multiple locations for clues, interrogating multiple suspects and one or more “action sequences”, like a car chase, on-foot chase, shootout or a brawl. In some cases, you must decide which suspect to charge with the crimes and the game does a good job of making things challenging. I found myself charging the wrong person a couple of times.
The interrogations are the best part about the gameplay. It is important to pay attention to every word that is being said, in addition to the facial expressions of the person you are interrogating. There has been a lot said about the game’s facial capture engine and let me state that, yes, L.A. Noire has the best faces and best facial expressions of any game I have ever seen. The fact that you can tell when someone is lying or hiding something simply by subtle details in their expressions speaks volumes to the game’s facial capture technology. It is truly a benchmark game in that regard. When a suspect finishes a statement, you can proceed with one of three options: Truth, Lie or Doubt. Truth means that you believe that person’s statement and Cole’s subsequent answer is usually positive or well-mannered. Doubt means that you don’t believe the suspect’s statement (or feel that there is something more to it) but Cole doesn’t have any evidence to back up his claim. In this case, Cole’s subsequent answer would be (in most cases) harsh and threatening. The same applies to Lie, but in the case of Lie, you need to back it up with evidence, so don’t pick that one unless you are certain you have the necessary evidence to contradict the suspect. Choosing the wrong answer usually leads to Cole missing on an important piece of evidence or possible clue.
The action sequences are nothing to write home about, but they are far from boring. Brawls are timing based, as you can punch, block and grapple your foes. The shooting sequences require you to effectively use cover, blind-fire and pop and shoot techniques to succeed, but they have been done better in other games. Car chases are exciting, but they have been more exciting in other games. The fact that the cars are from the 1940’s and rarely top 80 MPH tempers the excitement somewhat. On-foot chases are limited as well since they usually end in one of three pre-determined ways: You tackle the suspect down and arrest him, the suspect finds cover and turns around, starting a shoot-out sequence or you fire a warning shot and the suspect stops. The thing is the game usually chooses what you will do. I have been close enough to tackle a suspect, but since a shootout is supposed to happen at some point, I can’t tackle him. You can’t use warning shots in every chase, only in those that can end with that particular method. This hurts the game since you know what to expect when you realize that you don’t have a particular option for this chase. Like I said, it’s not like the action is bad, but the investigations and interrogations are so well done that they overshadow everything else.
If there is one thing I dislike about the game is that it is impossible to fail. You can fail at everything (outside of the action sequences) and jail the wrong person, but the story will move on. Sure, your case rating (from 1 to 5 stars) will be extremely low, but the story moves along just fine.
Although the Facial Capture technology is ground breaking, the rest of the graphics are comparable to GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption. That is hardly a bad thing, but they don’t push any boundaries. Characters animate well, the cars look realistic and everything, from the way the people are dressed to the cars and the buildings really carries a 1940’s vibe. There are some graphical deficiencies, however. Sometimes characters will stutter in place, particularly when going for cover during a shootout. Sometimes you will get stuck on objects that you should be able to hop over. And of course, the latest YouTube sensation, disappearing Cole! Yes, Cole is swallowed by the ground! To be fair, it only happened to me once in 15+ hours, but the fact that a ton of YouTube videos out there show this glitch means that a lot of people are experiencing it. Still, the atmosphere of the game is incredible and the graphics are pretty solid.
The sound in L.A. Noire is stellar, particularly the character voices. In a game that has so much dialogue and relies so heavily on the ability of the actors to convey the emotion each interrogation demands, L.A. Noire meets the challenge head on and succeeds with stellar performances. Even unimportant characters sound great! Every voice fits every personality and I wouldn’t want to change a single one of them. Be aware that some of the spoken dialogue and the subject matter might offend some people, but that’s the way people spoke back then! African Americans were still called “Negroes”, women were called “Broads” and it seems like hitting a woman or having sex with underage girls was a common (if frowned upon) offense. It shocked me a little bit to say the least, but this is part of L.A. Noire’s superb job of capturing the time period. It’s also a not so subtle reminder that we, as a society, have progressed a lot in terms of the equality of rights and the respect we have for each other’s races and gender.
The sound effects are also right on, from the car’s engines, the squealing tires and the sound of metal on metal crashes to the sound of guns blazing and fists landing on noses.
Going through the game once (without a guide) will take you around 10 hours and that’s the main story alone. If you want to complete the 40 “street crimes”, find the 50 Hollywood Film Reels, the 30 or so landmarks and drive the 100 or so cars (all requirements for 100% complete and Platinum Trophy) and replay every case to get a 5* rating (also a requirement) it will take you an extra 15 hours easily. 25-30 hours total is not bad for an open world game, but the game lacks multiplayer or any of the “diversions” Red Dead Redemption had to extend replay value. It seems like Rockstar is committed to releasing more cases as DLC though.
L.A. Noire is a great game that fundamentally changes the Rockstar formula. A more linear approach and focus on clue-searching and interrogations lead to a more cerebral experience and a slower paced game. In other words, if you liked GTA and Red Dead Redemption you won’t necessarily like Noire. The game lacks the chaotic “do anything and kill anyone you want” mentality of those others games, has far less “diversions” or extra content when compared to those two franchises and not only requires, but DEMANDS that you pay attention to the story and the dialogue. Therefore, it’s not going to be for everyone.
But, if you like more cerebral and story focused games, like a mixture of the classic adventures like Sam & Max or Secret of Monkey Island with a little bit of the C.S.I. PC games and a sprinkle of action thrown in, you will be in heaven. The story is so good and the gameplay feels so fresh that it will captivate you.
Graphics 8.5 The graphics look really good, especially the amazing facial animations. Minor graphical glitches hurt what is otherwise a fantastic looking game.
Gameplay 9.0 Noire requires patience, for it is a slower-paced game with a focus on investiagtions and story-telling. Do not expect to cause random mayhem! The game sprinkles in enough action sequences to keep things from getting stale.
Sound 9.8 L.A. Noire features some of the best voicework ever in a game. Even the minor characters sound great. The rest of the audio is top-notch, from the music to the sound effects.
Lasting Appeal 9.5 Beating the game once takes around 10-12 hours. If you try to complete all the side missions, finish every case with a 5 star rating and complete all the trophies, expect 20+ hours.
Fun Factor 9.2 L.A. Noire changes the formula in several ways, but it is still a ton of fun. Be aware that you need to pay attention to the story and enjoy conversation-heavy games in order to maximize your enjoyment.
Overall 9.2 [ Amazing ] legend