LA Noire is an action adventure sandbox game produced by Rockstar and developed by Rockstar and Team Bondi. It is available on the Xbox360 and Playstation 3. It takes place in 1947 Los Angeles.
LA Noire revolves around Cole Phelps, a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. It starts with Cole being a lowly beat cop and evolves to him working four separate desks as a detective: Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson. He goes through many cases, some being historical.
One of the biggest selling points of LA Noire is the inclusion of the Black Dahlia and Lipstick Murder cases that plagued Los Angeles in the mid 1940s. The game does an excellent job in creating new cases that revolve around this lore, but is fundamentally flawed in one aspect. The problem is that to continue the story, you must arrest a suspect at the end of every case.
The Black Dahlia case is famous simply because the murderer was never caught. The Lipstick Murders is similar because the person arrested recanted his confession. These two combined leaves lots of speculation as to a suspect still being out there in the time LA Noire takes place. LA Noire plays on this speculation by having similar murders as cases.
One of the Black Dahlia style victims
The game makes it apparent that the person you arrest did not commit the crime. They do this in an obvious way and a few subtle ways. The obvious: At the start of every case, they show the crime happening. On many cases, it is blatantly obvious that the person the game wants you to arrest is not the perpetrator. The subtle: Throughout the case and even after the case, Cole admits that he is speculative if he arrested the correct person. Both of these let the player know they are not arresting the correct person. So, in order to progress the story, the player must arrest the incorrect suspect.
Looking back at the cases I can see this flaw getting a slight pass. The captain during those cases is a real hard head that wants results. So, in order to not get chewed out, you need to make arrests. I can see a lot of police stations at that time being like that. With this taken into effect, some may let this flaw slide. Even so, this could have been avoided by not showing the crime at the beginning of every case or not showing the perp. Albeit, they do not show the face, but it is rather obvious that the person arrested is not the murderer just from those quick cinemas. The doubt that Cole brings into play is nominal compared to that opening cinema.
The Dahlia style murders are far from the main story. The main story revolves around Cole’s past and its connection with the cases he is working. Cole is considered a WWII hero, receiving the Silver Star. The game shows Cole’s history in the war through black and white cut scenes at the end of most cases. His history interacts much with the later cases in the games and creates a wonderful tale.
Another story element they included is through collectible newspapers found at crime scenes. Once you inspect these newspapers, a cinema begins of the story behind the headline. It is a supplemental story that runs parallel with Cole’s cases.
At the beginning of the game, these three storylines can become very confusing. Their connection is not entirely apparent until the later stages in the game. So, for the first half of the game, these cut scenes actually hamper it by confusing the player, the newspapers especially.
The confusing extra scenes combined with the quirks in the Dahlia cases really create a poor first half of the story. The story starts to get real good right around the end of the Dahlia cases, which is half way through the game. If you are able to get through the confusion and mediocrity, the story is well worth it. I just wish they were able to execute the Dahlia style cases better.
The gameplay of LA Noire is hit or miss. It brings a lot of new and interesting things to the table while failing in many other aspects. There seems to be a succinct break between good and bad as well. The time where you are actually being a detective is wonderful, but a lot of the open world elements are not as well done.
One of the shining points of LA Noire is actually being a detective. Cole arrives at every crime scene having to look for clues to aid him in apprehending a suspect. The way this is executed is almost perfect. Cole has free range of the crime scene to inspect everything he could want. While this is happening, a mysterious song plays in the background. Once all the clues in an area are discovered, the music stops playing. This helps out greatly because you instantly know if there are more clues to be found or if you can stop searching.
When approaching a clue, the controller vibrates and a subtle chime plays over the music. Cole then picks up the clue and inspects it by rotating the analog stick. If the clue is pertinent to the investigation, the controller will vibrate again when inspecting it at the correct angle. All of these subtle hints, like the music and the controller shaking, help alleviate stress when investigating an area.
The clues will lead to new branches in the investigation. You will then have the option to explore new areas for more clues that will help your case. Many of these branches can be optional and some may be closed off if you did not obtain the proper clues.
Cole investigating a coin to see if it is a potential clue
The other side to being a detective is interviewing witnesses and interrogating suspects. This sounds like a simple dialogue, but is so much more. When interviewing someone, there comes a point where Cole needs to either believe a statement or disprove it. This is done by three options: Truth, Doubt, and Lie. Selecting “Truth” means Cole fully believes the statement. “Doubt” means Cole will try and press more information about of the person by being, essentially, rude. “Lie” means Cole will blatantly call the person a liar and then use a clue previously found to prove the statement was a lie.
Now, you do not just blindly pick a choice. The main way you decide which option to use is by observing the person’s actions after their claim. LA Noire has implemented a great deal in the mannerisms of suspects. If someone is telling the truth, they will generally look you dead in the eyes without a problem. If someone is lying, they will be rather fidgety. This, of course, does not work on everyone. Some people are so confident in their lie that they appear to be telling the truth. So, you need to use a combination of what you already know from the investigation in combination with some intuition.
When you choose the right option a musical cue will sound to let you know. It is vital to get these correct because they normally lead to new clues. Also, when you are interrogating someone to arrest, you need to get so many questions correct in order to make the arrest.
LA Noire feels like the successor to point and click adventures because of these two elements. You are searching for clues to solve puzzles and talk with others in the same manner. These aspects of the game are executed near flawlessly. The only problem I have with them is the searching for clues. They do include a lot of useless clues in a crime scene, like beer bottles and generic household items. These become somewhat of a pest when you just want to find the clues, but are mostly negligible.
An interesting hint system has been included to help investigation and interrogations. The game gives “intuition points.” You can spend these points on investigation to show the location of all the clues in an area. Points can also be spent during interrogation. One way is to remove one of the interrogation options. Another way is to show you what others that played the game have picked. This is a very cool way to help and feels like you are playing Who Wants to be a Millionaire
Your notebook carries all the vital information needed for interrogations
If you have ever played a Rockstar game before, you do not need to read this part. The driving is terrible. Every vehicle drives like a tank. You would think that after so many years, they would try to improve on the driving. It is inexcusable. The game is an open world style game in which driving is the only form of transportation (you do not want to walk everywhere). The game does slightly fix the displeasure of driving by giving you the option to let your partner drive instead. But, doing this means you miss out on side missions. Also, the main missions sometimes include a car chase, which can be rather difficult with how the cars drive.
The shooting is simple yet rewarding. I think it is because I am a police detective, wearing an awesome vintage suit. A lot of the set pieces feel like I am in the movie The Untouchables, blowing away mobsters. They seem to have an excellent mix of era weapons that all feel good to shoot. There is a cover system that is also simple and effective. The firefights feel great when they are story driven, but can be rather monotonous after awhile.
The fist fighting is also simple and rewarding. You can punch, block, dodge, and grapple. The moves feel like they came out of the 1940s. It is not too difficult, but if you are not paying attention you will get floored. For some reason, the people of the 1940s are willing to throw down over no provocation -- be prepared to fight.
A car chase sequence
The side missions are the worst part of the game. The main cases are executed with brilliance while the side missions are completely tacked on and pointless. They all start off rather interesting. When driving around the city, a dispatcher will call and request for aid at a certain spot in the city. You then drive to the area, which can be pretty far away, and a quick cut scene will begin. This includes a rather cool sounding title and maybe a bit of back story. What actually transpires after that quick scene is a shootout, a fist fight, or a car chase. There is no evolution of that small story.
For example, one side mission I did was called “Commies.” I thought that was a pretty interesting title and was rather excited to play. There were hostages being held at a bank. Cole and his partner run up to a police car and talk to the officer there. He informed me that there were people inside threatening to shoot the hostages and they needed to do something quick. I then proceed to walk into the building and shot three people in the head. End of side mission. There was no challenge. The only part of the side mission that mentioned communists was the title. It was a great disappointment.
Luckily, side missions are completely optional. If you do not want to know about them, you can have your partner drive you everywhere. But, they could have done so much more with them. It appears like they attempted to put some back story in them with the interesting titles, but completely failed.
If LA Noire stuck with just the detective parts of the game, there would be no qualms. Instead they needed to integrate it into an open world. This is not a bad idea, but they were unable to put as much attention into the gameplay of both. For this, half of it is really innovative while the other have is tiring and played out.
Graphics and Style
LA Noire is beautiful. More specifically, the characters are amazingly realistic. They really worked on the faces and it shows. They needed to make the faces detailed enough to pull of the interviews properly and they succeeded. The method used involved thirty or so cameras while the characters said their lines. This picked up on all the mannerisms and details when conversing. Combine the amazing detail with stellar voice acting and it sometimes feels like you are watching a movie.
Looks like Cole is pissed off, but check out that detail!
This attention to detail does not stop solely at the characters. 1947 Los Angeles has been recreated almost perfectly. There are plenty of landmarks. Most of the cars are actually cars, not knock offs that resemble real cars. The part I enjoy the most are the clothes. Most of the men wear a suit with a matching hat, which is typical of that era (even a matching pocket square). It all makes the player feel like they are in that era.
The music is also from the era. I am not a Big Band buff, but there are some songs that are instantly recognizable they play on the radio. They also include an entire original score that goes along well with the Noire motif. Noire films normally have very mellow and mood driven songs. They fit very well with a lot of this game, but there are some points the music clashes.
The developers have done an excellent job in recreating mid 40s LA. Every aspect of the graphics and style have been well thought through to help immerse the player in this world. I have heard tails of constant graphical glitches though. These seem to be extremely common in open world games. I have only noticed textures not loading as quickly as they should once. It is sad, but glitches seem to be more and more common with this generation.
It is hard to place a specific verdict on LA Noire. Everyone should play the story through once. It is extremely well written. The story is more than worth the confusion in the beginning. The only draw back with the story is if it is worth a replay. I personally will not play this game again. There are lots of collectibles and extras that can be done, but the main draw for me was the story. If the side missions were actually done with more care, that would give me an excuse to go back through the game and play them all.
The graphics and voice acting are exquisite. The recreation of LA and the time era is almost flawless. Half of the gameplay is great and innovative. The other half is boring and tiresome. The fighting and the firefights are rewarding at times, but they sometimes just forced upon you.
I guess what it comes down to is if I feel like I received my money’s worth. I think it is safe to say I did. I was very skeptical in the beginning, but after the half way point, the story really started to pick up. I really want to recommend this game as a rental, but the sheer length prevents me from doing this. Thus, this game is a buy, but it is okay to wait until the price drops.
Thumbs Up Buy
But, wait until the price drops
Writer’s additional comments:
For those that play for achievements, I earned 585 points on my play through. Some of the other achievements appear to be very difficult. At the end of every mission, you are graded on a 5 point scale. There is an achievement for 5 starring every mission. This can be extremely time-consuming.
This game should not be played by the weak of heart. If you have problems with sex, violence, nudity, drugs, or defilement of dead bodies, do not play this game. I have a hard time with drug usage and overdoses. Track marks are what really bother me. So, when I had to inspect a dead body with track marks, it was difficult. There are a lot of situations that may make people uncomfortable in this game.
One of the parts of the faces that I was most impressed by were the teeth. In a lot of games that go for realism, the teeth always end up looking like chiclets. This is very apparent in Mass Effect 2. That is now one of the first things I look for.