By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
AT FIRST GLANCE, it’s not wrong to think of L.A. Noire as a spin-off of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series. Developed by Team Bondi and also published by Rockstar, the action-adventure detective game feels like a GTA release, thrusting the player into the shoes of budding detective Cole Phelps as he drives around the city of Los Angeles and engages in chases, gunfights, and interrogations to solve cases to the best of his abilities.
That said, L.A. Noire stands very well on its own, as evidenced by the favorable reviews it received back in 2011, when it was originally launched on the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and the PC. Now, having found its way to current-generation consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and the Switch, its re-release features enhanced textures and updated graphics, as well as bundles all its accompanying downloadable content into one neat little package.
To recap, L.A. Noire follows the story of Phelps, an officer of the L.A. Police Department who, after solving a high-profile murder case, is promoted to the role of detective, finds himself embroiled in a scheme seemingly far bigger than he can handle, and works to find the mastermind of the crime.
The setting and atmosphere are where L.A. Noire truly shines. Cut scenes set the tone for each particular case, with the narration an absolute must to establish the story. Character depth and interaction are outstandingly presented through both the dialogue and the action. And with Phelps able to check crime scenes, the player is treated to an immersive experience. He searches for evidence, examines blood spatter and discarded cigarettes, explores dark alleyways, climbs up metal pipes to reach rooftops — all in an effort to move forward and see how everything ties up.
Not surprisingly, L.A. Noire is best appreciated the first time around, with the player having absolutely no idea what to expect, what trails to follow, or what questions to ask. While frustrating at the outset, there’s something particularly thrilling about making mistakes and acting accordingly — not unlike, well, real life.
Significantly, L.A. Noire focuses on the process more than on the outcome. When seeming dead ends pan out and trails are found, suspects tend to either keel over or fight it out — exposing the game’s weaker aspects. Hand-to-hand combat can be dull and boring, and shootouts, while heavy on the adrenaline, suffer from stiff and occasionally unresponsive controls both on the PS4 and the Switch. The thrill of seeing the hat on Cole’s head fly off with a gunshot, or of villains go ragdoll after being hit, gives way to annoyance, even irritation. And the action never seems to encourage the type of run-and-go-wild feeling other Rockstar games engender.
Meanwhile, the fun derived from tooting the police siren as Phelps go places, or from interviewing suspects and taking their statements, gives way to monotony after the fifth or sixth case of the same old, same old. While the set pieces provide diversity, there’s a distinct lack of things to do outside of the main tasks of each case. L.A. Noire can thus feel barren and lifeless, a surprising turn considering how much effort was made to induce realism.
Which, in the final analysis, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. L.A. Noire has never touted itself as an open-world title, and while it does have its flaws, it’s a refreshing treat, with its 20 or so hours of playtime filled not with padding, but with actual attention to detail and story. While it’s not overly amazing, with some audio equalization issues coming up now and then on the PS4 and the Switch, it’s certainly an experience to be had. It figures to be particularly compelling for players who have never tried it before. If nothing else, it deserves praise for lasting just long enough to engross players without overstaying its welcome.
In sum, fans of the open-world genre or previous owners of L.A. Noire may find its second run-through a miss as very little has been changed and most of its value comes from the main storyline, which, when finished, leaves very little left to do. On the other hand, it’s a hearty recommend for gamers who have never played it before and are on the lookout for a story-driven release. It’s got all the trappings of a cop/detective drama and plays well enough to justify its asking price.
Video Game Review
L. A. Noire
Sony PlayStation 4/Nintendo Switch
• Engrossing storyline coupled with an immersive environment
• Outstanding set pieces
• Superb voice acting and narration, adding to the innate pull of investigation and interrogation sequences
• Controls are a mixed bag and hover between clunky to unresponsive at times
• Very little to do after the main story has been finished
• Sound equalization issues detract from the overall experience