L.A. Noire Review

Cole Phelps!

The good:
– Gorgeous setting
– Stellar voice acting

The bad:
– More linear than you would think
– Unnecessarily disgusting homicide cases
– Distastefully inspired by real world cases

Ever wanted to be a detective? Cruise around America in a Cadillac solving crimes in the olden days? Well, now you can live the dream, although you’ll soon find that Los Angeles isn’t quite as sound as the movies would have you believe. This dark, mysterious crime thriller throws you straight in at the deep end as you wade through the lies, the secrets, and the corruption of twentieth century Los Angeles in search of the truth. But everyone’s got something to hide, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop you finding out.

“A city on the verge of greatness”, the narrator begins. The Second World War had just ended and the nation was enjoying an economic boom. The television was being introduced into the home and the Golden Age of Hollywood was upon us. Yet beneath the surface, beneath all the wealth, the prosperity, and the glamour, lay a much darker reality. Stories of cold-blooded murder and serial killers on the loose. Corruption and conspiracy in high places. Deals done behind locked doors. And one rookie police officer is tasked with getting to the bottom of it…

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Cole Phelps, the man himself.

That man is Cole Phelps, a new beat cop in the Los Angeles Police Department, played by homeboy Aaron Staton. Phelps is a former United States Marine; he returned from the war and joined the LAPD as a patrol officer. The story follows his journey from a police officer to eventually a top detective. Throughout the game you will work alongside your partners and encounter the game’s many antagonists. It does a fantastic job of creating memorable characters thanks to its outstanding script and near flawless acting. Well, apart from your partner. Your partner is not a smart man. He runs and falls off any high ledge he can find. He wanders out into traffic like a drugged ape. And one time when I told him to wait in the car, he somehow brought it inside with him.

L.A. Noire gets its atmosphere spot on, consistently reminding us that we’re in post-war Los Angeles, the City of Lies, with its dark, murky colours and eerie music. The length of the game exceeds twenty hours, as each case has a slow, thorough pace and you’ll soon learn if it’s not for you. Admittedly the game is pretty linear, but it does a good job of not feeling so, as it doesn’t hold your hand all the way through. You’ll spend hours scouring crime scenes for clues and the game really makes you think like a detective, putting pieces of the puzzle together and asking witnesses what they know. What’s great is that the evidence you find actually has weight during interrogations, and your thoroughness is rewarded at the end of the case.

As I said, you start off as a beat cop at the patrol desk, which serves as a bit of a tutorial, but you soon progress onto the four main detective desks: traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. In my opinion, you’re better off playing in bursts, otherwise it can feel a little repetitive. And be warned, it contains some nasty content, as you could expect from the developer, Rockstar, also responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series. There is an abundance of strong language and an unnecessary amount of violence and gore. The homicide desk is especially brutal, showing full frontal female nudity and even signs of rape. In my opinion, the arson desk is the best, as it is often considered the most boring desk in the LAPD, but a string of house fires and a new housing development program turn out to all be connected, leading to the most sinister and brutal climax in the game.


Aaron Staton in the Motionscan studio.

Cases are interesting, not just because of the shootouts and car chases, but because the characters are well acted. That’s right, not just voice acted, but acted. By real actors. That’s thanks to a technology called MotionScan, which uses 32 high-definition cameras to surround a subject and record them at 30 frames-per-second. The end result of this is a highly detailed 3D model of the character which looks and moves extremely realistically. The only downside is that the faces and bodies become a little disjointed because only the faces use Motionscan. This process must have taken a lot, lot longer to do than normal, but it was worth the effort because it’s what makes the cutscenes and interrogations so mouth-wateringly good. The whole game surrounds these interrogations, whether it be asking a neighbour what they heard last night, or grilling a suspect in Interview Room 1. During these you will refer to your trusty notebook, which lists questions to ask, evidence you’ve collected, people of interest, and important locations. You will have to read the faces of the person to determine whether they’re telling the truth or whether they’re lying. Most of the time they’re lying, though. The real challenge becomes telling when to doubt what they’re saying and when to accuse them of lying.


The city’s your oyster.

L.A. Noire, as you know, is an open-world game, which means that you can explore the city however you want, and drive to your missions when you’re ready. Now it’s no Grand Theft Auto world, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still fun to free roam around 1940s Los Angeles for a short time, watching folk wander by without a care in the world. The crime scenes are rich in detail, littered with objects to inspect, and the insides of houses are particularly beautiful with their old-fashioned furniture and mantelpieces lined with family photographs.

With the open city of L.A. and the more than 21 hours of dialogue, it’s no surprise that the game requires three discs on the Xbox 360, although the Playstation 3 can contain it on one Blu-ray disc. Despite both versions running at 720p and using 2x multi-sampling anti-aliasing, the image quality is slightly better on PS3. Both versions also target 30 frames per second and are capped at it, yet they both drop a noticeable amount during busy scenes with lots happening simultaneously. Overall, the PS3 version stays a few frames per second higher than its Microsoft competitor, and since the PS3 was the lead platform it was developed for, I recommend getting it for that if possible.

As with every AAA game, it’s not without its flaws. For a big open city, it could have done with some better side activities like going for a pint of beer or a game of bowling with your friends. It’s obvious that Rockstar put a lot of effort in to recreate L.A. from the 1940s, but without much activity in the city, there’s not much point in exploring it. Sure, you can discover the key landmarks or collect the bonus cars dotted around the map, but with no dispatch calls available in civilian cars, there isn’t much point. Newspapers can be found, which play cutscenes of the story behind the headline. Those are some of the better things to do, along with dispatch calls which take you to street crimes which serve as single-scene side missions. Some dispatch calls feel like a chore though, so be sure to have your partner drive you to these. One last thing, the ending. I myself found it a tad disappointing, but others may not. In a way I guess it keeps with the dark theme, but that’s just my opinion.

To summarize, L.A. Noire is a great, rewarding game that plays a lot like a movie as opposed to a game – in a good way. It has Rockstar’s signature all over it and the facial animations and acting are outstanding. I give it a 8 out of 10, however, because honestly, underneath all the polish, the basic structure is kind of bare. For example, if you fail every single question during the interrogations, sometimes the case just moves on! And you get roughly the same result! So it needs more actual branches to go down, with different results – this would give it more replayability too. But overall I found it hard to put down and it did make me want to be a real detective. You know a game is good if you turn off the console and keep thinking about what went on in the case. The music is memorable, as is the rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ badass, Cole Phelps. The story, acting, character development, dark theme, and cinematic moments add up to a very satisfying experience. My advice to you: go out there, give them your money, and get this game!

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