L.A. Noire is an police detective story taking place in the late 1940s. It is a adventure game that revolves around solving story cases rather than shooting to a solution. With the clue gathering and the interview process, at times it plays like a modern day point and click adventure. The character walks around and looks for clues and uses the clues to advance to the next part of the level. But unlike most point and click adventure games, L.A. Noire has a lot of driving parts and shooting parts scattered throughout the entire city all while presenting unique realistic face animations all within an open world environment.
You play as Cole Phelps, a Silver Star winning WW2 Marine Lieutenant who joins the L.A.P.D. He is a straight and narrow but flawed by- the- book cop, similar to the classic TV series character Joe Friday from Dragnet. Throughout the game Cole will be paired up with different partners whom add different perspectives to the cases at hand.
The game is broken down into desks, each desk has several cases. Each case operates like it’s own complete episode from the start to a conclusion. There are 18 different non-training cases that progress the story. After each case is solved the game shows a cut scene on Cole’s background and then promptly throws you into the next case. There is no downtime when between cases like many other open world games including Grand Theft Auto. This discourages roaming around, for there is always a next objective that the game will be pushing you to complete. Free roaming is a separate game mode entirely.
The cases follows a set structure though the first half of the game which is the following: commander gives you and your partner a case, you check the crime scene, make a phone call to find an address and start interviewing suspects. Many of the suspects run starting a vehicle chase scene or an on-foot chase scene. Just expect everyone to run because it seems like they all do. Toward the end of most cases, you’ll end up in an action scene or and interview scene working towards a confession. This process can start to feel repetitive, that is, up until a certain point in the game which changes things up a bit.
Story and Interviews
The story of L.A. Noire is excellent. It starts out with a group of training missions as a police recruit to get you antiquated with the settings, the game controls and the game mechanics. Afterward, Cole gets promoted to the Traffic division and that’s when the story actually begins. As the story progresses, Cole will end up working in four different departments including Vice, Arson, Traffic and Homicide. In every department you’ll have a partner to give an additional, and usually pretty reasonable, perspective on the case. The partners also adds to the since of humor, especially when you get teamed up with Rusty. The banter between these two characters is fantastic. The story get a kick start when Cole makes it to the Homicide division, which is the second division he ends up in.
The biggest feature to L.A. Noire is the face animations. Team Bondi created a new face animation capturing technique to accurately capture the small nuances of the actors. It works excellent adding a human element to the characters in the game. The bodies, on the other hand, do not animate with any such finesse. The bodies work well for the story, but the similar movements on all the characters can surely take you out of the moment. For example, there is a part where two characters, male and female, are ascending stairs and they both have the same movements that it looks comical.
The interviewing portions of the game really show the face animation well. You have to, during these parts, listen to a person give a statement and decide to accept what they say as the truth, doubt them or call them out as a liar. Choosing lie requires you to back up the accusation with a type of evidence where doubt is used when they are lying but you have no evidence proving such. The face animations excel at this part adding realism to the game. Seeing a lie/doubt versus the truth is pretty easy. The characters will stare that Cole nearly lifeless when they are telling the truth and fidget when they are lying after they’ve made a statement. With no timer to beat when deciding whether or not they are lying, there is not much pressure other than picking the right piece of evidence. The suspect will continue to fidget the whole time or stare you down hard until you choose something.
Guessing correctly on the interview questions give you intuition points which, when used, can will either remove a wrong answer in the interviewing process or will show all the clues at a crime scene. Intuition points are gained when answering correctly during interviews and finding landmarks or hidden vehicles. These help to narrow down the choices at key interview times so you do not make a bad decision.
A good portion of the your time will be behind the wheel, like similar open world games. The cars are big and heavy and feel that way as you drive them from location to location. Walking is performed with the left stick and pressing R2,RT will cause the character to run. Jumping and leaping fences is performed automatically, making it easy to chase down criminals. Guns cannot be shot at will nor can you walk around and get into random fights with people.
The game becomes a cover based shooter when the guns do come out. Pressing (R1,RB) puts Cole into cover and he can jump out to shoot or blind fire. Cole has regenerating health so if you get hit a couple times, just hang back and you’ll be safe. The enemies rarely try to flank you so you’ll have plenty of time to get your energy back and continue shooting. When chasing down any of the suspects, the game rubber-bands to keep you into the game. It’s almost like the game doesn’t want you to lose.
The side missions are called street crimes and are for people who like to have more action to get some more meat out of this game. The real game is the TV episode like cases that you investigate and solve. There isn’t much variety in the side missions as they are just more of the same chasing or shootout scenes. Other side missions include finding rare cars, landmarks and golden film reels which both are more like a scavenger hunt with little or no incentive except for experience points.
The game really wants you to be successful. It has a possible high setting for auto-aim making shooting easy. You get unlimited ammo with the hand gun and a hefty amount with the shotgun, rifle and machine gun when you pick them up. Though it’s possible to fail some of the interviews, you’ll still be able to progress though the game. There is no real failure except in the action scenes, and in those, the checkpoints are generous. Lastly, if an action scene is too dificult, then the game will give you the option of skipping it and progressing through the story.
Music and Sound
All the audio elements are well done in the game. The voice over work is excellent. The performances of the actors in the game are stellar adding a since of humanity to, what are usually, lifeless dolls in games. The music in the game is also excellent. The radio plays songs from artists like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald which do a great job adding to the atmosphere.
Sound effects are used to give hints and cues. A chime is heard telling you are near a clue. This can be used if you’re not sure what to look for. If in doubt, just walk around and listen for the chime. The game will fill in your notebook for you automatically if you find something important and tell you what to do next.
The game allows you to go back and solve each case repeatedly to obtain a higher scores. This mode is completely disconnected from the main story so any mistakes made during the campaign are final. Getting a better score will gain you experience but that is about it. There are also cars to unlock, but unlocking them doesn’t seem to do anything except mark the cars on your map for you to find again. The cars also tend to disappear after certain cut scenes, so enjoying a ride may only be for a short time. Other than improving your score, there is no real story incentive to go back and gain 5 stars unless you’re achievement and trophy hunting.
L.A. Noire is an excellent adventure game for anyone one that is into solving whodunit’s. The story is well written, like a classic style movie, with twists and turns throughout the game. Non-gamers will be able to connect with the story and the way it’s told through the characters and even makes concessions in difficulty to help non-gamers along through the story.
This game doesn’t encourage chaos and will constantly remind you that you’re are a cop who is to keep law and order in the city. The game wants players to make it through the story, and can make the game seem easy. The story makes up for many of the gaming shortcomings here, and for anyone who is into adventure games or like detective stories, you should surely give L.A. Noire a try.