L.A. Noire is a game developed by the Australian company Team Bondi and is published by Rockstar Games, who also in turn aided with the development of the game (which should be noted because this is so often overlooked but is stated in the credits). The game is a blend of a detective / adventure game that uses an open world to tie everything together.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. No, this is not simply Grand Theft Auto: Los Angeles. To call it that would overlook and diminish the brilliant concept that is this game. Yes, we can say that Red Dead Redemption was very GTA like, but this game shares almost nothing with Grand Theft Auto, except the open world concept, and the RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) game engine. It is its own entity and should be regarded on its own basis.
Now that I got that off my chest, let’s continue.
L.A. Noire takes place in where else, but Los Angeles. The time is 1947, when gangsters and various murderers ran the town and when the LAPD were actually competent, albeit slightly off kilter (contrary to those portrayed in Rush Hour). This is where you, Cole Phelps, enter the story. Now I want to keep this review as spoiler less as possible so bear with me here. Phelps is a returning GI from WWII and wants to make the world a better place, and figures he should do so by joining the LAPD. Needless to say, things don’ go as they should, people are sketchy, and in general, many events occur that aren’t in favour of this better world.
This spoiler free summary is extremely lackluster, and I do apologize, but in this game, the story is the main attraction, and to ruin it would be a shame. What I can say is that the story is deeply involved, with backstory that weaves with the main story, along with side story that does the same. Also, this game actually has an ending that wasn’t a complete letdown, and keeps the action/suspense going straight to the end.
Not only is the story well done but this game also brings in a wonderful cast that help bring the characters to life. Now while Aaron Staton (of Mad Men fame as Ken Cosgrove) does a fine job of his main role and really sells the character, it’s the partners that you work with that bring the game to life. Not only them, but everyone that you interact with as well. As previously stated, there are actually quite a few Mad Men members in the mix, for example Michael Gladis (Paul Kinsley) as a bar tender, and everyone sells there part well, with a few exceptions that are few and far between.
With heavily story driven games in the past, the gameplay wasn’t very engaging or fun (otherwise known as shit). While this doesn’t apply to all games with a well-developed story (see Mass Effect 2), the story in this game is so involved that the developers could have made a spiritual sequel to Heavy Rain and sold that. Instead they created a new sub-genre (that I’ve fondly dubbed ‘Open worlded detective adventure third person shooter driving game’) and in the process made a game that is more likely to be called ‘Heavy Rain: The Game’.
If you couldn’t understand from that previous paragraph, I’m trying to say that the gameplay in L.A. Noire is a solid mix of third person shooting, driving, and detective work. While the two first aspects are done well, and feel tight enough, the latter is where this game derives its unique feel and its enjoyment.
There are two steps to detective work. One consists of you walking around finding clues at a scene, using the rumble and sound cues to determine whether you should inspect the area or not. The other is interrogation, where upon the player must determining whether the suspect (or POI) is telling the truth, lying, or whether you doubt the story. The game does a pretty well job explaining these, and the facial animation makes it easy to read people. If they look sketchy, then doubt, if you have evidence, lie etc. There was only two points in the game where I had to leave due to frustration, or exit to dashboard to reload and try again.
As previously stated, the shooting and driving feel solid, and there are some particular chases in the game that are downright fun to play. Also, if you’re not a fan of driving, then you can let your partner drive you everywhere, and you can simply get back to investigating.
Simply put, the gameplay is solid and keeps the experience fun to play, yet allows for heavy story telling.
The graphics of L.A. Noire is a mixed bag. On one hand, the facial animations are scary in the realism, yet the shading makes the game look ugly.
Pertaining to the facial animations, the game is amazing on both a realistic and technological level. The facial capture that the developers did is perfect for this game, as it allows for the interrogations to be very realistic, and allows the player to notice the small changes that a character makes to determine if they’re lying or not.
The real graphical problem with the game is the shading and lighting. The lighting in the game looks flat, and the downright atrocious shading can detract from the experience. This is slightly depressing, because the people look so realistic. As for the textures, they’re not super detailed but it’s hard when they have a whole city to construct. And the game does use RAGE, which is becoming aged, since it was used for GTA IV and RDR, with the latter having some tweaked settings done by Rockstar San Diego.
Overall, the graphics aren’t atrocious, and they are good, considering that the game was in development for a long time, meaning the engine became out-dated upon release.
In conclusion, L.A. Noire is an extremely well executed game that delivers on all of its promises and is only held back by some slight technical issues.
This game is hard to recommend to everyone, since I do realise that not everyone will find this appealing. But if you’re a fan of story games, drama, Mad Men, or period pieces, be sure to check this game out. If you’re not, then you can check out rvbfreak’s guide and see whether you’re interested or not. I highly recommend this game to anyone who even is remotely interested in it.