L.A. Noire occupies a unique spot in gaming history. Arriving at a time in which games were trying desperately hard to be like movies (you could argue they still are), it managed to deliver a narrative experience that few others have been able to match in the years since. It’s not perfect, and this upgrade doesn’t improve on some of the main issues the game has, but it remains noteworthy for pushing boundaries in the industry.
Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s (with flashbacks to the early 1940s), L.A. Noire is a story of redemption and moral ambiguity. Corruption is rife throughout the city, despite it being the hotbed of American economic growth and prosperity. It’s diverse and lively, new industries such as movies and automobile manufacturing emerged and the whole city started to take shape. The reason I mention his is that the part of L.A. created for the game is as much a character as anyone else in the movie. It’s a marvel that the setting has been recreated so accurately with all the history of L.A. shown to the player rather than explained.
More importantly though, it’s the perfectly setting for the story of a war hero’s progression from beat cop to big shot detective. And on the face of it that’s the story of this game. You could play for five or six hours and just think it was a procedural crime drama in the format of a game. But as with all good Noires, the story is underpinned through subtle nods to a troubled past (and troubled present in some cases). Once things get moving after you’ve sunk a few hours into the game the pacing improves, and you start to see what L.A. Noire is about. It’s not a procedural crime drama at all. In fact, you begin to realise that it’s a story of redemption and forgiveness. I don’t want to say anymore for fear of giving the story away but stick with it and the threads will come together to deliver a very good narrative experience.
The one thing severely lacking though is any sort of meaningful character development. The protagonist, Cole Phelps, is woefully under explored for the entire first half of the game, leaving players to guess his motivations and backstory after each cryptic flashback cutscene. It’s difficult to understand why Phelps is doing the things he’s doing as a result, and while the concept is sound, the pacing of these flashbacks and the information you’re given really throws the game off. It wasn’t until about eight hours in that I even realised the character I was playing as had a wife and children – and I only knew about that because I was paying attention to a throwaway comment he made to his partner when driving to a crime-scene.
You might be hoping that the developers put more care into crafting the backstories of the supporting cast at the expense of the protagonists but unfortunately your hope is misplaced. It’s a similar story here too, with most of the supporting cast not developing any sort of history or personality until the second half of the game. It’s shame that this is case, considering the love that clearly went into crafting LA.
The gameplay in L.A. Noire is still Nancy Drew meets Grand Theft Auto. Picture high speed car chases, brawls and gun fights interspersed with searching for clues and interrogating suspects. The action sequences are very fun (and thankfully skippable if you fail a few times in a row) and you’ll appreciate the way they shake things up. The interrogations will always be my favourite element though. Not in the history of gaming has so much effort been put into crafting genuine and accurate facial animation to allow for this kind of mechanic. You ask a question, examine the suspect and then decide whether to play good cop, bad cop or accuse with evidence. The level of detail in the suspect’s face steers you towards certain answers and while it’s not always easy, it’s so rewarding when you get it right. My only other qualm on the gameplay is that it is too often interrupted by long, cryptic and unenjoyable cutscenes. I feel it could have been reduced significantly and not impacted the overall story of the game.
In terms of how the game looks, well, as you’d expect from it being remastered it looks much better. Everything looks cleaner and more polished. The audio stays basically the same but by comparison is stands out as a bit shaky. On an Xbox One X there’s a huge improvement from the original and even a strong improvement from the Xbox One. The best part of this of course is that it also makes the game easier to play as a result. The MotionScan technology pioneered here looks better than ever and the gameplay (particularly interrogations) is more fluid as a result.