The devil is in the details.
You don’t get a lot of games set in the 1950’s these days. Not that you ever really had a lot of them, the post WW2 era of gangsters and jazz has been left mostly unexplored by developers. LA Noire takes the player on an in-depth journey back into the blooming post war time period where cops didn’t need search warrants and corruption was just a part of the system. You soon come to realize that being an honest cop in a dirty town isn’t as easy as one might think.
In LA Noire you live the life of Cole Phelps, a returning war hero out to spread justice throughout the vile streets of LA as an cop in the LAPD. Unlike other standout titles in this particular niche genre such as Mafia where you worked your way up from a nobody to the head of an organized crime family - in Noire you’re on the other side of the fence, upholding the law and conducting yourself by a strict set of rules. Right at the outset you’ll notice that Phelps is honest and dedicated to a fault and almost over zealous in bringing criminals to justice. Although it might seem jarring at first just how valiant our main protagonist appears to be, as the story will slowly unfold you’ll come to realize why Cole acts the way he does and what makes him tick. The story told is that of corruption, murder and fraud. Most cops in the LAPD at that time were concerned with making an arrest and pleasing the papers rather than actually solving the case. As an honest cop trying to make things right, you will often be at odds with your partners that accompany Phelps along the majority of the game. Throughout a series of unrelated cases you will start to uncover the bigger picture by way of flashbacks and simply solid detective work. True to it’s name, LA Noire will take you down some dark paths uncovering grizzly murders or exploitation of minors to name a few culminating in a grand finale.
You will advance through the ranks of the LAPD initially starting as a simple uniform patrolman, before getting your big break and making the rank of detective. The early portions of the game are meant as a steady tutorial that eases you gently into the big shoes of a full crime investigator and teach you the basics necessary down the road. The entire game is split into singular self contained Cases which progress the player through the story in a linear fashion. As you advance through the plot Phelps will earn promotions that advance him from a Patrolman to a detective at the Traffic incident desk to Homicide and so forth.
During each new case you will be dropped into an open world environment of Los Angeles and given free reign over your actions. Noire is a detective game at the forefront and as such the bulk of the “action” is investigating leads and examining clues. You will have to come to terms with the somewhat restricted open world experience in that you will not be able to brandish your side arm unless the game does it for you and hitting civilians with your car will negatively affect your score at the end of each case. The gameplay breaks down into a familiar pattern of investigating the crime scene, gathering evidence and interviewing persons of interest. Although you can drive anywhere and do anything, there is usually a very linear path to follow once you get down to actually solving whichever crime you might be investigating. At any time Cole can bring up a notebook to look over clues, locations and persons of interest you’ve investigated thus far. Gathering clues is not especially difficult as the game gives you audio and controller clues in the form of a slight vibration when you’re near an object you can pick up and examine. What ends up happening is you steer Cole like a bulldozer ramming him into anything that might look like a clue waiting for your controller to vibrate and the familiar musical note to ring. Examining potential evidence is interesting and interactive. As you pick up objects the camera will come in for a very close zoom allowing you to rotate around whatever you might be holding in order to find any additional info - like the serial number on a guns barrel for instance which will help you in locating the owner at a gun shop. Almost all items you examine have great detail and the first time you pickup a tiny matchbook off the ground and bring it in closer to read the highly detailed address on the label it makes an impression. Once all clues have been explored in any given area another musical clue will sound off letting you know theres nothing left to examine and you can move on to questioning witnesses.
The interview process is the key feature of LA Noire. There have been a lot of talk regarding the technology behind facial animations employed in the game and let me say it lives up to the hype. Characters will display a whole range of emotions in a single conversation often giving away the answer to your question before they’ve even finished speaking. During the questioning of suspects you play a sort of mini game where the goal is to ascertain whether the person you’re speaking to is telling you the truth or not. This part of the game is brilliant and tragically flawed at the same time. Phelps will bring out his notebook with potential questions you can ask. After posing the question you then observe the suspect as they reply trying to gauge their response after which you are given three options: Truth, if you think they were honest in their reply, Doubt if you think they are lying but don’t have the evidence to back that up or Lie when you accuse them of lying and you will have to pick a piece of evidence from your gathered clues in order to backup your accusation. It’s a simple system that works extremely well but has the awful flaw of not knowing what Cole will say when you choose each option. There is always only one proper choice and the game will let you know with both a musical cue and a checkmark or an x in your notebook whether you got the proper response. Very often the line of dialog Phelps will say when you choose the Lie option will veer completely off topic from what the original question was even about. You might ask someone about where his wife went the night before and as you choose the Lie option Cole will accuse them of going to a pokergame. You’re just never quite sure if you have the right evidence to back up your claims since it’s not clear where the conversation might go before you make your choice. You can use intuition points which you gain from ranking up in order to “eliminate the wrong answer” or “ask the community” to aid your line of questioning when you’re not sure of the proper response. Despite the minor shortcomings the sometimes lend more guesswork than need-be the act of questioning a subject is always an exciting game of cat and mouse and both the writing and voice acting is top notch.
Apart from solving cases LA Noire has only one other major activity to take part in which is responding to street crimes that randomly pop up over dispatch when you’re in an LAPD vehicle. Credit needs to be given to the developer as every single street crime, of the total 40 ingame, has it’s own unique story and setting. While most boil down to a simple case of arriving at the scene and having to subdue a bank robbery or chase down a purse thief - every single one of those events has unique writing and voice acting which go a long way in lifting the feel of repetition you usually get from randomly generated side missions. In addition to the street crimes theres a handful of collection type activities such as driving every one of the 95 unique vehicles in the game or discovering all landmarks in the city. While not especially interesting they do give you something to do between driving from crime scene to crime scene.
LA Noire is a game brimming with atmosphere and attention to detail. Despite being centered around talking and slowly investigating clues, all other parts show high polish. Character animations for simple things such as vaulting over a fence or climbing a ladder are amazingly well animated and smooth in such a way that you’d think they were prescripted. When you are confronted with a shootout situation the controls feel on par with your average shooter offering a fully realized cover mechanic and responsive enemies that go down from a few pistol rounds. The driving, which if you choose to do it yourself there is plenty of in the game feels great. Cars from the 1950’s swerve, creak and squeak just as you’d expect them to when put to the test of apprehending a getaway driver. Sound design is impeccable with music and dialog full of slang lifted straight out of the 50’s that feels authentic and researched. The story flows at just the right pace, changing things up right at the moment when the plot starts getting a little stale. Not enough can be said about the amazing voice acting throughout the entire experience. Every new partner that Phelps interacts with is memorable and unique in their disposition and approach towards police work.
Although not without faults, the issues present in the game are minor nuisances in the face of the grand picture. Cars will at times disappear after you’ve turned your back to them for a second. Textures will sometimes be slow on loading in leaving muddy low res walls. There was a handful of times when some dialog lines simply didn’t play for a character. The controls for simply walking around can sometimes be clunky forcing you to fidget around in order to get a prompt for looking at a clue. At times I experienced some pretty choppy framerates during the more intense action sequences. Still, none of that detracted my enjoyment of this game one bit as I worked towards unfolding the mysteries of LA.
LA Noire is simply outstanding. There is no other game that captures the time and atmosphere as well as this title does. The story stays true to the name showing you the seedy underbelly of a system full of corrupt officials and cops on a steady mob payroll. If you’re tired of playing games with no substance, and are ready finally experience a title with some depth to it then I cannot recommend LA Noire enough. With over 20 hours of gameplay and additional DLC cases that can be purchased on the side you’ll have your hands full for quite some time. I highly recommend it.