L.A Noire began its life as a Playstation 3 exclusive developed by Team Bondi that looked like it would never actually see the light of day. The exclusivity to Sony was dropped and Rockstar picked it up as the publisher, allowing Team Bondi to finally make their vision a reality.
L.A Noire, like a few select games from the past few years, is different to anything else you have played before but… is that a good or bad thing?
Welcome to Los Angeles circa 1947 and the world of crime, murder, deceit, drugs and the life of Cole Phelps, a World War II war hero who has just joined the police force and is quickly on the up and up thanks to his keen investigatory skills and intuition.
L.A Noire is not your typical open-world action game that everyone expects when they see the Rockstar logo. Team Bondi have been working behind the scenes to try and create something different to the norm, something that also relies a lot on a new type of technology that captures facial animation on a never-before seen level. More on that later, though.
The game isn’t just about staring at faces mind you, there’s a lot of detective work that needs to be done as well.
L.A Noire is heavily structured around a large, linear story that wants to be told, with the campaign split over the different desks (homicide, traffic, arson, vice) that Cole works at during his career, with the main meat of the game served up as the individual cases that need to be solved.
If there is one way to explain the campaign, it’s that it’s like a detective TV series, where each episode presents a case that needs to be solved, but a bigger, more important story progresses over the course of the entire series (very similar to shows like Castle for example).
Cases usually begin with Cole and his current partner at the time being assigned to a case, after which you then head out to the scene of the crime to get working. You are required to poke around the crime scene to find and examine all of the possible evidence as well as take statements from any witnesses or chat with the coroner about cause/time of death and so on.
Everything runs through Cole’s little notebook, which serves as the information hub to your cases and lists everything from people of interest to evidence found, locations and so on. Once you have some leads, you may head off from there to question possible suspects, family members etc as well go and investigate other locations.
The ultimate goal of every case is to collect evidence, investigate locations and question people until you have enough to make an arrest. You may get caught up in the occasional car chase, rooftop rundown or shoot out but besides those, prepare to spend your time doing detective work and questioning people, so there’s no Grand Theft Auto craziness to be had here, it’s just not that type of game.
Working a crime scene or location can be more about patience than it is about skill or intuition. You usually spend your time walking around the scenes towards anything that looks like it could be interesting, in the hope that you will feel your controller vibrate to inform you that you have just found something that can be inspected. Once you have pressed the action button to inspect the object, you zoom in and are able to rotate the object in your hand using the thumbstick to inspect it further.
It can often be very difficult to see points of interest from the third person perspective when walking around looking for clues and I really can’t understand why they didn’t just add a first person button that allows you to stop and take a better look around you from the eyes of Phelps rather than walk around and around hoping for your controller to vibrate. The more evidence and information you find, the more ammo you will have for later on, so while you will still be able to make it through the game without finding all the evidence, you will want to try and get all of it as often as possible.
While Los Angeles has been painstakingly recreated to represent all the glory of its 1947 self, that doesn’t mean that you actually have to see most of it. You are given the option to drive around in L.A Noire if you like, or if not, you can simply opt for your partner to drive instead, which essentially just skips you to your destination. While driving around, you are also given the option to respond to street crimes which count as side missions that usually involve shootouts, car chases and so on. If you do want a bit of action thrown into the mix, this is usually the place to find it.
Car chases can be fun, but are sometimes also a nightmarish patience-tester as your perp flings his 1940’s lump of automobile around corners with more ability to grip and swerve than a modern day Formula One. The shootouts that also take place in the game come with a decent cover system that allows for taking cover, blind firing and all of the usual elements that we have come to expect these days (strangely enough, I never did find out if there was an actual reload button though).
So while L.A Noire does try to fill the excitement gap a little with some actions set-pieces, it does feel a little obvious that they were added as a bit of an afterthought and something that doesn’t really fit in with the core gameplay.
Speaking of which…