L.A. Noire is one of the best graphic adventure games in recent memory and one that sets a new standard for the genre.
L.A. Noire is one of those rare and special titles that comes along once every generation and even though it might be a while until we see another graphic adventure done with such pizzazz and consistency, this game will certainly remember in your memory until then. At the risk of sounding reductive, L.A. Noire shares many similarities with some noir and neo-noir films you’ve probably heard about, such as The Black Dahlia, Chinatown, Brick, Key Largo and L.A. Confidential. In this game, there are chain-smoking detectives with fedoras, a palpable sense of cynicism, the visual aspect is permeated by black and white imagery (in fact, you can play the entire game in black and white if you want to) and a jazzy soundtrack is usually playing in the background. Fans of the genre are in for a treat and those who aren’t fond of noir cinema might become devotees after playing this unique adventure.
In L.A. Noire, you play as Cole Phelps, a member of the LAPD and former Marine Corps. Phelps starts as a police investigator who tries to solve different murder cases that take place in the city of Los Angeles and, as you progress through the game, he will be promoted. Most of these cases follow the same structure: you study a murder scene for clues, interrogate all the suspects, present clues that incriminate one of them and catch the criminal.
In most of the cases, you can interrogate witnesses or suspects and hear their testimony. After listening to them and asking them some questions, you can assume they are telling the truth, doubt them or accuse them of lying. If you choose the latter, you’ll have to prove they are lying using a piece of evidence or information that contradicts their statement and if you’re correct, your officer rank will improve. If you can’t spot a plothole in their testimony or if you accuse a suspect without prove, the game will still progress, but if you convict the wrong person, your boss will reprimand you at the end of the case.
As most of you probably know, one of the most captivating parts about L.A. Noire is the new motion capture technology the game uses to show the performances of different actors. I must say that this is, hands down, the best use of motion capture I’ve ever seen in a video game and while this won’t be the standard for a while (my understanding is that using this technology is both time-consuming and incredibly expensive,) it looks absolutely stunning in motion. It definitely takes some time getting used to the detailed facial expressions and gestures, but that’s just because we’ve never seen anything like it. It’s also great to see that this isn’t just window dressing, since you need to pay attention to the performance of each character to judge if they are telling you the truth or not. If they are, the characters act calm, but if they aren’t they’ll start fidgeting or moving their eyes with nervousness.
So you might notice that you can drive and shoot in this game and that it was published by Rockstar Games, but don’t confuse L.A. Noire with Grand Theft Auto or a similar open-world action game. L.A. Noire is a genuine graphic adventure, so you’ll spend a lot of time taking down notes, questioning people and investigating crime scenes. If fact, the open-world elements are so trivial that if you don’t want to drive from one place to the next, you can let your partner take you there automatically.
Although you’ll find yourself performing different actions from time to time, the structure seldom varies. The game’s divided into episodes and at the beginning of each episode, you witness a crime in the form of a flashback. Soon after that, you play as detective Phelps, who’s in charge of examining the scene of the crime, interrogating the suspects, chasing those who aren’t cooperative and claiming who’s guilty to then move on to the next episode. You can also find side-missions in the form of short cases you can accept on the fly. Despite this simple structure, the game seldom feels boring, since the dialogue’s always dazzling and investigating the cases is enjoyable.
Some of the cases end in on-foot chases, simplistic fist fights where you mash buttons or you might need to aim at an enemy and shoot into the air to startle and capture the suspects. For the most part, these are entertaining parts that make the experience fresh, but there are some technical issues here and there. On more than one occasion, I got stuck in the geometry while pursuing a suspect. Other problems include characters clipping through doors, characters that disappear for a second or two or float in the air and so on. The visual aspect is so terrific for the most part that’s easy to forget all the other issues.
But for every technical problem I encounter, there’s also an obsessive attention to detail. The recreation of L.A. from the 1940s is gorgeous, the different performances stand out as some of the best in video games, the story makes references to other noir and neo-noir films which is a nice touch for fans of the genre and there’s great dialogue. The city of Los Angeles is as important to this game as any other part. We’ve all played games in the City of Angels before (such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Driver and True Crime, among others,) but you still haven’t seen the city like this. In other words, LA is vibrant and full of life which is an ironic way to describe a city where death is always around the corner. Some of the landmarks are virtual works of art that anyone who had the privilege of seeing them in real life will still find remarkable and outstanding.
L.A. Noire is one of the best graphic adventure games released in recent years and one that sets a new standard for the genre. It might take some time until another developer crafts such a detailed and entertaining action-adventure game, but until then, L.A. Noire should be played by anyone remotely interested in its unique premise.