The city on the verge of greatness. A new type of city, based not on the man, but on the automobile. The car, symbol of freedom and vitality. Where every man can own his own home and have room to breathe and not be overlooked by his neighbors. A city where a man’s home is his castle. A quarter acre of the dream made possible by the victory. A city of opportunists. A city of dreams where Hollywood will shape the thoughts and desires of the entire planet. A city of pioneers. A city of dreamers. A city of undercurrents, where not everything is as it seems. A twentieth century city that will become a model for the world. A city that has no boundaries, that will stretch as far as the eye can see.
L.A Noire is a 2011 video game published by Rockstar games, the same company that also created the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series. It was recently remastered for current gen systems in 2017, and given a first person VR version as well.
The game follows the career of Cole Phelps, a young LAPD officer fresh out of World War II’s pacific campaign-a plot point that later becomes very important to the game’s overarching story (if giving it a bit of a “small world” feeling by game’s end). Cole is pretty much by the book and very intelligent (something that his partners find a little annoying at times, almost most warm to him eventually), but he’s far from perfect (Which, again, becomes a major plot point). The game has Cole start out in regular patrol, but then he quickly rises through traffic, homicide, and Vice, although he eventually gets knocked down to Arson after a scandal; however, it’s in this department that he’s ultimately able to solve a troubling and complicated case involving illegal morphine, mysterious fires and a real estate swindle.
The game also features frequent flashbacks to Cole’s World War II experience, which also flesh out not only Cole, but some of the other characters in the ‘present day’ version of the game. Most importantly, Jack Kelso, who frequently butts heads with Cole in the past, but is an important player in the present.
Cole is ‘played’ by Aaron Staton, whose likeness and expressions were captured using a motion capture technique called “Motion scan”. Staton is mostly known as Ken Cosgrove from the “Mad Men” TV series.
This technology also is key to one of L.A noire’s more unique mechanics-when questioning a witness or interrogating a suspect, the player can try to determine if a character is lying or concealing something by observing their body language, (if their eyes are shifting etc.). Cole has three options-“Good cop”-take it easy on the suspect-“Bad Cop”-where Cole can get a bit more grumpy, and “accuse” where he pretty much states the person is lying or guilty. It generally doesn’t give a ‘game over’ if you choose the wrong option, although it does count against your case rating. (In the original version of the game, this was “Truth, Doubt, Lie”.)
Another important aspect of the game are the clues scattered around the various crime scenes, or on the crime victim/object itself. They’re not always easy to spot, but are often hinted at by a musical cue and magnifying glass. Although multiple objects can be manipulated, not all are relevant to the case.
The game also has a series of small puzzles to unlock clues, such as radio tuning, maps, ciphers, and even a calculator at one point.
The game does have some more conventional modes of gameplay, of course. The driving is somewhat similar to the GTA series (Phelps can even “borrow” other people’s cars), and there’s certain missions which involve of course, car chases. However, the player is encouraged to not wreck too much stuff of city property or pedestrians, as it’ll go against your final score.
Several cases/missions-and side missions-also have an action component (The only time Phelps can use weapons BTW, once again this isn’t GTA). For dealing with bank robbers and especially dangerous criminal suspects, there’s shooting, which is somewhat similar to Uncharted’s-meaning cover is an extremely good idea.
…..but if Phelps just wants to knock people out, he can simply just do fisticuffs in a melee mode.
There’s also some stealth, although it’s comparatively small compared to the rest of the game. Cole can track the suspect both from behind while trying to stay out of sight….
….or tail a suspect.
All of this is set of course, given the title, in an open world 1947 Los Angeles, which includes of course, “Hollywoodland”. The motion picture industry of the time does play into a few cases here and there, but is not a huge thing in the game, and plays only a little bit into the game’s overall arc. There’s also some nice 40’s touches with the Jazz clubs, malt shops, old time, Norman Rockwell style advertisements, and even the radio station which features some old music (Including “Into each life some rain must fall” which might seem familiar to Fallout fans, except here it’s a bit more period appropriate!), news (including, naturally, some early cold war stuff) and radio sketch comedy….including some familiar names such as Jack Benny
BTW this definitely isn’t a game for kids-it deals with some rather unpleasant subject matter, both visually and storyline-wise. Pretty much a very rated “M” game (although maybe not as violent as some other games, it still deals with some stuff-you do after all, investigate crimes. Bit like a CSI crime drama on the gore level, although with some added stuff which sort of earns it a bit more caution ). Also, it’s important to keep in mind the title, that this a noir story-a genre focusing on a sort of cynicism-and like the classic Hollywood films it’s somewhat inspired by (Maltese Falcon, Big Sleep, Chinatown etc) a happy ending might not be in the cards for everyone.
Like any good crime drama there’s also some interesting supporting cast, mostly involved with forensics. There’s your Medical Examiner Malcolm Caruthers, who’s a pretty cool guy, as is Ray Pinker in forensics. Even when Phelps has his fall from grace, they have no problems working with the man, who whatever his personal problems is a “good case man” as they both say.
The game also has a femme fatale of sorts, German lounge singer Elsa Lichtmann-although unlike some Femme fatales, she’s actually quite heroic and one of the keys to the game’s major case.
Phelps various captains are all pretty much cool guys, although like his partners they take a while to warm up to the man.
The game has quite a few antagonists-not only the various suspects, but those involved in the whole arc. One of the most recognizable is Leland Monroe, played by John Noble, who people might remember from “Lord of the Rings” as Denethor II (Boromir and Faramir’s father, and the steward of Gondor/Minas Tirith) and Walter Bishop from Fringe.
The game also features many other recognizable character actors in various roles, including a fair amount of Aaron Staton’s Mad Men co-stars (although don’t expect to see John Hamm, Elizabeth Moss or others here, such as Vincent Kartheiser ).
Overall, although some aspects of the game are a bit unconventional and experimental, and the game is heavily scripted and linear (as in the story still continues even if you flop the interrogations), it’s still a very fun game with a compelling story and excellent graphics, especially in the motion capture of the faces, and enough to do to keep the player occupied for quite a bit, and the open world/easter eggs/collectibles as well as using different interrogation techniques can give earn the game a replay too.