When it first released in May of 2011, L.A. Noire launched to largely positive reviews, most notably for its unique story-driven gameplay and impressive visual presentation. At the time of its initial release, L.A. Noire set itself for the majority of games released at the time by having a greater emphasis on dialogue and storytelling over gameplay, a trend that would continue on and made popular by games like TellTale’s The Walking Dead and Dontnod’s Life is Strange. It also had a unique motion scan facial capture technology which allowed developers to better capture the subtle details of the actor’s face for their game character in ways that haven’t been done before.
Furthermore, it was integrated into the gameplay through a unique interrogation gameplay mechanic which had players using these facial cues in order to determine whether a witness/suspect was being honest or not with their statements. Like many games from the PS3 and Xbox 360, L.A. Noire gets a port on modern platforms six years later. While the port doesn’t add much aside from improved graphics on the Xbox One and PS4 versions, L.A. Noire still manages to feel like a distinct game due to the noir setting that is still rare these days, and the fact that there still hasn’t been any other game quite like it since its initial launch.
L.A. Noire Remastered: Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Rockstar San Diego, Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 14 November 2017
Price: £34.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Set in a post-WWII 1940’s Los Angeles, L.A. Noire follows the tale of Cole Phelps, a war hero who works in the city as a policeman with the grand ambition of helping to clean up his city. As he begins to solve more cases leading up to some high profile arrests, he rises through the ranks of the police force, eventually becoming a detective across various desks such as vice and homicide. Much like other games published by Rockstar, L.A. Noire is set in an open world. However, where other games are located in fictional cities or places that are references or nods to real-world locations, L.A. Noire is set in the actual city of Los Angeles. The layout is modelled after the city during that time period, complete with famous landmarks such as Hollywood Boulevard, the classic Egyptian Theater, and references to the now famous freeway system.
Despite being in an open world setting, the game isn’t quite like Rockstar’s other hits such as Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto. Unlike other open world games that give you the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want within the sandbox, you can’t simply grab a gun and start a random shooting spree in LA whenever you feel like it. As a detective, Cole is expected to uphold the law and protect citizens, so you’re more limited as to what actions you can take in the open world. While it makes sense to limit player actions because of this, it also means there are fewer things to do in the large city. You aren’t even able to draw your weapon unless you’re placed in a situation where you have to use it.
There aren’t any real creative or fun activities that you would find in other open world games. The only activities that the game presents outside of the main story cases involve completing random street crimes and gathering the collectibles. Street crime activities are relegated to helping catch a criminal on the run or dealing with some more serious criminal activities such as a shootout at a bank robbery. While the idea of stopping a bank heist in the middle of its tracks seems fun, the poor gun controls make it feel like more of a hindrance than a fun activity. The real meat and potatoes of L.A. Noire come in the 21 main case missions that serve as the campaign of the game, each focusing on a case file which leads into the next one after you complete it.
Each case plays out largely the same way. You start off at the police station where the captain assigns a new case for Cole and his partner which involves investigating a recent crime. Afterwards, you and your partner scour the crime scene to gather evidence and discover clues. Each clue has a musical note attached to it so you know that there is something to investigate in the area which may include a gun, shoes, documents, driver licenses, and even the corpse if there is a murder victim. Once all the clues and evidence have been gathered, you’re left to interview a witness or a suspect in order to gather more information.
The interview/interrogation feature of the game is easily L.A. Noire’s most distinctive game mechanic, and where it stands out from other narrative heavy adventure games. When you interview a witness or person of interest, you are tasked with figuring out whether or not they are telling you the truth. After each statement you are presented with 3 options: Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Accuse. Good cop indicates that you believe the person is being truthful, bad cop indicates that you believe the person is withholding information or being partially dishonest, and the accuse option allows you to call out the witness for lying while presenting evidence that disproves or contradicts their statement. These options are different from the original choices of “Truth”, “Doubt”, and “Lie” in the game’s initial release, but function in the exact same way. While having evidence is a good way of telling if someone is lying, the first two options are a bit harder to gauge.
Much like real officers conducting an interrogation, Cole has to rely on physical cues by the witness in order to tell if they’re being truthful or not. Cues such as touching their face while giving their response, avoiding eye contact, and turning their head away from the interrogator are all ways in which the player can figure out if their suspect is being dishonest. You don’t have to be an expert in body language in order to make the correct decision, however. Many of the expressions seem exaggerated for the purpose of making it clear that they are leaning towards being coy or deceitful, though there are a few that are subtle and can be a bit difficult to gauge. Picking one of the three options also controls Cole’s reactions to the person, sometimes in unintentionally hilarious ways.
If Cole suspects the person of being honest, his response is usually calm and collected. If he suspects them of hiding something or outright lying, he isn’t afraid to bite their head off, often acting hostile, forceful or threatening to arrest them for impeding a police investigation with the bad cop option. While the change in conversation options may suggest that there is more freedom in your choices and that there is no right or wrong choices, you are given different piano notes indicating whether you made the right or wrong conversation response, and the game will indicate how many of the response options you’ve gotten incorrectly after each interview and at the end of the case.
While being able to identify the correct response is a key component of the game and helpful in completing the case and nabbing the bad guy, the game doesn’t really penalize you for failing to correctly guess the right response in these interrogation puzzles. Failure usually means that Cole will have to find another clue to help the investigation along, and will negatively affect your score rating at the end, but there is never a game over screen if you happen to make the wrong choice, so there isn’t too much pressure in making sure you make the right call in every situation. However, it can be rather funny seeing Cole act belligerently towards a grieving widow while questioning her, even when she’s telling the truth. The system isn’t perfect, as there are situations in which the correct response seems to contradict the suspects body movements/behavior (or even the evidence you’ve collected), but L.A. Noire does a good job of rewarding players who are critical thinkers that are mindful of the witness/suspects behavior, and the evidence you’ve gathered for the most part.
Once you have officially charged a criminal, you are given a score of your performance throughout each case. Depending on your performance by the end of the case, you’ll be given a star rating out of five which reflects how well you did during the case. Factors that are considered for this rating include how many conversation answers you got correct during the interviews, how many pieces of evidence you collected, and how much property damage you did to the city during the investigation. Throughout Phelps’ career, you’ll end up working in different desks such as traffic, homicide, vice and arson. Each individual case contributes to the overall narrative within each desk (which serves as acts). During each desk, Phelps will be introduced to new partners and characters, which are largely self-contained within each act, though there are a few characters that you’ll run into several times throughout the campaign.
Six years after its initial release, L.A. Noire still feels like a fresh and unique experience. The classic 1940’s time period coupled with the unique interrogation techniques through the motion scan facial technology makes L.A. Noire stand out from any of Rockstar’s open world game. The improved graphical updates on for the current gen systems give L.A. Noire a more modern look with better textures, enhanced lighting and 4K resolution for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions of the game. These improvements make the already impressive interrogation scenes stand out more, as you focus on every little detail of the suspect’s facial tics and subtle body language in order to determine whether or not they are telling you the whole truth, or trying to mislead Cole. However, these improvements don’t really fix some of the fundamental flaws when the game first came out, which include repetitive gameplay elements, an open world with little to do, and gunplay controls that are clunky and awkward. Still, if you never got around to playing L.A. Noire when it first came out in 2011, the new remaster is the best way to experience this unique crime thriller.
L.A. Noire Remastered
- Is still a unique and fresh game thanks to its setting, gameplay, and facial animations
- Interrogation scenes rewards mindful players and critical thinkers
- Engaging story that ties all the cases in a compelling manner
- Upgraded graphical updates make an already impressive visual game look even better
- Repetitive gameplay elements
- Open world that feels rather barren
- Gun controls are clunky and awkward