L.A. Noire: It’s about the details

May 27, 2011

L.A. Noire is a hard game to quantify. It is entirely unlike most games from Rockstar, or most other developers for that matter. It’s more of a gritty take on an interactive virtual novel than anything else. Whatever it is, though, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

You play as Cole Phelps, a war hero and fledgling cop who’s trying to make the streets of 1940s Los Angeles safer for the people. Cole starts out as a beat cop, but by the end of the tutorial phase is promoted to traffic detective. The goal of the game is to rise through the ranks until you reach the top desk, Arson. Rarely will you concentrate on the goal though, because the gameplay is so enticing and draws you in so much.

L.A. Noire’s story is split into a number of individual cases that you’ll work at each desk, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson, with each one consisting of several phases. You’ll find yourself searching crime scenes for evidence, questioning witnesses, chasing down suspects on foot and by car, interrogating suspects, and even participating in a few shootouts. While each case plays out similarly, it never felt tedious or repetitive because the environment and cases are so well realized in the world that Team Bondi recreated. The gameplay really reminds me of a fully-fleshed out Phoenix Wright game, from the search for evidence to the interactions with those you talk to. When questioning a witness or suspect, you have the option to accept their statement as truth, doubt them, or outright accuse them of lying. Though, when accusing someone one of a lie, you have to have evidence to back up your assertion. Depending on how you treat each witness and suspect, the cases all play out in different ways. Getting interactions wrong could lead to cases taking longer than they otherwise would take, harmful endings for people who could have been saved, or arrests of the wrong suspect. The game takes all of this in stride and gives you a rating on each case. This gives L.A. Noire more replayability than you may think, since you can replay cases later in an attempt to do a better job or get a different ending.

To reduce the difficulty of the game for those who need it, Team Bondi included Intuition Points. These can be used to pinpoint evidence at a crime scene, get rid of one wrong response to a statement, or display the correct piece of evidence to use when accusing someone of lying. You get one each time you get enough experience to reach a new rank, of which there are 20. Thus, you can use a maximum of 20 hints in a single playthrough.

The graphics in L.A. Noire are phenomenal. The people are instantly recognizable by their faces, and facial expressions are amazingly accurate. The only gripe we have is that every woman looks to be in their mid-40s or 50s, even the children. The city itself is a nearly-faithful recreation of late 1940s downtown Los Angeles, and is enjoyable to just cruise around when you aren’t in a hurry to get to a crime scene. The soundtrack is vintage 1940s as well. (We did recognize a song or two also used in Fallout 3, amusingly.) As for the voice acting, the already-good work is helped a lot by the quality of the facial expressions accompanying the lines.

It may not be what most people expected out of a Rockstar-published title, but L.A. Noire is without a doubt one of our favorite games to date, and should be experienced by anyone.

Pros: Facial expressions are amazingly accurate, portrayal of 1940s LA is spot-on

Cons: Women all look old, no matter how old they are supposed to be

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.