L.A. Noire was one of the best titles and most memorable games of the last generation. It was also one of several massive hits for Rockstar and maybe the one least likely to be so. With its novel investigational approach, extraordinary facial animation technology, and its strong story, art style, and atmosphere many people were hooked.
On hearing that Rockstar were planning to remaster L.A. Noire, I was only too happy to step back in the flat soled shoes of Cole Phelps, the ambitious Marine Corps veteran who joins the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Force just after World War Two. He is another one of the little gems and his story is the centrepiece. Starting as an ordinary beat cop, and playing as Cole your objective is to work your way up to detective and start working serious homicide cases. The city is full of crime, but only murder gets the limelight and the press clippings. At the lower levels you work transport crime, drugs, and other street offences. L.A. at the end of the 1940s is a melting pot of money and corruption that is ripe for a man’s rise or fall. I like how the character’s intensity drives you to succeed in a case. That sense of paranoia about those you work with is also handled brilliantly. Throughout it all it is very much that you play the part of Cole Phelps and less that you can influence the way unfolds. Occasionally the story allows for a more open experience but those moments are few. Fortunately it is such a strong story that it doesn’t matter.
L.A. Noire’s gameplay focuses on three different phases that it rigidly sticks to all along. First, you have the driving sequences and classic chase scenes. These are usually quite functionary and serve to drive the narrative across multiple locations in the city. The driving is surprisingly fun and the controls responsive. Unlike many games of this type, driving is not forgotten and a tedious part of the game. There is a collection of cars to collect too in the one place that Rockstar could not help getting a little Grand Theft Auto on the game. These are gorgeous and really worth the effort to unlock. The next phase is the shooting and combat phase. While present, this is functional and partly there to avoid having a cutscene each time combat would be necessary. The guns are factual and have that WW2 feel to them. The last phase is the meat and drink of the game and what it became famous for back on the last generation. It is the investigation of crime scenes and interrogation of suspects and witnesses. For most of the game it is impossible to switch between the three gameplay types on the fly and it does feel very limiting at times. L.A. Noire is a mission driven game that roughly equates to an open experience but with less freedom than a true open world. For many points in the game, the pacing is very much A to B and linear deviation, while allowed, and is not rewarded or encouraged.
Included in this remaster is a complete package of all the downloadable content that released after the game launched in 2011 and also the content that was available as preorder bonuses. There are a host of new camera angles, textures, and weather effects. The facial animations that the game is famous for remain unchanged for the most part but there are obvious tweaks and upgrades. L.A. Noire’s remaster massive new feature is a reimagining of the interrogation system that Rockstar believes will correct some of the logical inadequacies that the first game suffered from. There were certainly moments where I remember Cole exploding on a suspect when I only wanted to apply a minor bit of pressure. In narrative driven games where immersion is key, having the player character act unpredictably is a real buzz kill. The game’s presentation returns in its spot on glory. It’s sharp and cinematic. The score, the text, the costume design - everything speaks high class production and personal attention. No expense was spared in what clearly was an important project. What L.A. Noire did well, it still does very well and better than any game since. It was so bold and unique it could have been genre defining. The facial technology, the trying to read if someone is lying or not should have become more common in games than it did. It was almost like the developer community went ‘wow that is interesting’ and moved on to lesser experiences.
L.A. Noire is still the tightly controlled narrative game that it always was. Many will be forgiven for thinking this is Grand Theft Auto set in the 1940s and they would be very wrong. Much of the game’s criticism has come from that misconception. If appreciated for what it achieves and for what it aimed to do, L.A. Noire is near a masterpiece.
- All the original content included
- One of the best narratives in gaming
- Upgraded visuals
- Still easy to misconceive as an open world game
- Pacing can be a little slow
- Some cases can be infuriating