A Grippingly Gritty 1940s Noir Masterpiece
An honest review of L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire. It’s a game I’d actually played a small part of a few years ago.
At that time in my life, I’d just finished university and had moved back home to live with my dad.
Life had had some big lessons for me during that period. A few failed relationships, more drinking and clubbing than one would care to admit to and the responsibility of living on my own had started to shape me as a person.
My love for gaming hadn’t diminished though.
My dad had never been into video games. On the odd occasion he’d attempted to play a game of FIFA with me, he’d repeatedly panic and press the pass button when 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper (sorry dad)!
Of course, I found this funny but he didn’t.
So when I originally started playing the beginning of L.A. Noire some 7 years ago, it was the first game he’d really taken a proper interest in.
Being into detective/ murder solving books and TV shows, this was the type of story he enjoyed.
I would often sit down at around 11pm (still on that student sleeping pattern) to play a small amount of this game and my dad would sit and watch too.
We shared control of the first few cases but after watching him repeatedly crashing the car into walls, we decided I’d do the driving and he would do the “investigating”.
Looking back, I suppose it became something we bonded over, catching up on what had happened in each others’ lives over the past few years.
We never did finish playing it and I eventually moved out and went on with my life, becoming the real life adult (yeah right) that I am today.
So when I started to get requests from my wonderful subscribers on my YouTube channel to play L.A. Noire, I jumped at the opportunity.
It was time to reimmerse myself in the beautiful but sometimes dark world of L.A. Noire once more.
Post-War Hero Turned Detective
We play as Cole Phelps, a returned World War II hero who was commended for his actions in Okinawa.
Phelps joined the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) upon returning home and we start his story as a Patrol officer who is flung straight in at the deep end when a shooting takes place on his beat.
Fulfilling his job requirements with never ending enthusiasm and a burning desire to succeed, Phelps is singled out for promotion to the Traffic desk.
He had now made it as an official detective!
This is when the game properly begins, with the former events forming what is essentially a tutorial to get the player ready and equipped for the main game.
In the hope of not spoiling too much for those who will play the game themselves or watch my playthrough (you can find the entire playlist at the bottom of this article), we follow Phelps as his career progresses through different “desks” starting with Traffic before moving on to Homicide, Ad-Vice and Arson.
All this happens whilst an underlying plot develops, shrouded in conspiracy and mystery.
Is Phelps the saviour a corrupt LAPD needs to be able to clean up its act? Or will the glamorous lifestyle of a well renowned detective prove to be the corruption to Phelps’ moral compass which will change his life for the worst?
The thing with the noir genre (as one of my lovely subscribers informed me of) is that the hero is always flawed in some way. Not squeaky clean. Not infallible.
Open-World Los Angeles
When L.A. Noire was first released, it was during the video game revolution which saw developers shifting towards open-world games instead of the more traditional linear path.
I’m a fan of open-world but not if it feels empty. What I mean by that is, some just feel like side missions or events are crammed in just to fill the space but don’t feel as though they actually contribute anything to the game.
I was pleased to find this wasn’t the case in L.A. Noire. In fact, I loved the 1940s Los Angeles that the developers had created for us to play in. It even has all of the well known landmarks that the player can go round and collect if they feel so inclined.
The side missions are fun. Even though I didn’t play them on my YouTube series, I went back after completing the game to play through them all.
We encounter characters met on some of the main cases and see what trouble they’ve now get themselves into (or not). They contribute to the story and give the city and its residents a greater reach.
The vehicles are all real life 1940s American vehicles. To be honest, it all feels very genuine and you believe you are actually in that time period. It’s beautifully done and very enjoyable.
Even the music on the radio is made up of classic 1940s songs that are very well known. Another little detail that Rockstar does well in their GTA games too.
Being a game that incorporates interrogations and questioning of suspects, MotionScan technology was used to enhance player experience.
The result being lots of cameras being set up on the actors’ faces to try to realistically capture facial expressions. These facial expressions help the player determine whether a suspect is being truthful or hiding something.
Actually, for the most part this works pretty well. Every so often, a very odd or unrealistic expression will pop up but it’s not a particularly common occurrence.
The one issue I found with this technology is certain “tells” a suspect displayed would keep being shown infinitely. Not exactly what would happen in real life (see below).
It’s certainly a flawed system but added a quite unique side to the game. I’m actually surprised more developers haven’t used similar technology in their games since.
Perhaps it’s too time consuming or difficult to get right?
Overall Thoughts & Feelings
So what do I think of L.A. Noire now that I’ve finally managed to complete the whole game all these years later?
The game is beautiful. The visuals are lovely and the remastered version adds that extra sharpness which makes it feel like a current gen game.
I love the setting of the game too. The feel and atmosphere of it are both great.
The story is a good length and I found myself completely invested in uncovering the conspiracy surrounding the “secret organisation” running Los Angeles.
I enjoyed the additional dimension the MotionScan technology brought to the game even though I feel it was slightly flawed and could have been implemented better.
The main problem I have with L.A. Noire is that some of the cases just feel a little tired and repetitive.
The middle of the game sees Phelps investigating cases which follow the same formula – Investigate the crime scene, chase down a fleeing suspect in a vehicle or on foot, interrogate the suspect and rinse and repeat.
Every now and again, a completely different style would be thrown in which was a breath of fresh air but for me, there were just too many of the prior mentioned cases.
I would rather the game be a little shorter and feel every case was unique and played differently.
Now I understand that in real life, a detective’s job probably follows that exact formula, but video games don’t have to be completely realistic. That’s the joy of video games, they can be anything!
Sometimes developers feel the need to focus on realism but too much of that takes away from the fun in my view.
Mind you, that’s not to say this is a bad game. Far from it in fact! It’s just not a perfect game because of these flaws.
I still thoroughly enjoyed playing as Cole Phelps in a 1940s Los Angeles and trying to clean up a corrupt LAPD.
All in all, good fun for the vast majority of the game and definitely a must play for anybody who enjoys the noir or murder mystery genres.
If you’d like to see my full playthrough of this game over on my YouTube channel, you can access the playlist right here: