L.A. Noire achieves what many thought was not possible for an open world video game, not have the player kill everyone in sight and still be fun. Rockstar is best known for its Grand Theft Auto franchise which does exactly the opposite, the formula being, get weapon and blow everyone's brains out. That's not really possible in a game where you're thrust into the shoes of a cop. A very straight laced cop at that. In L.A. Noire you will find a world at your disposal where the temptation to forget the rules and destroy is taken away, that's quite an achievement especially considering the reason sandbox games became popular was the attraction of breaking the rules. The life of Cole Phelps is told in the game's narration as he makes his way up the ladder in Los Angeles' police ranks. It is the pacing of the story which captures you in such a way that game play takes a back seat for perhaps the entirety of the game. There was a need to compensate for the strict adherence to the police codes which meant no running over civilians or no free gun wielding, this comes in the form of the story which requires you to jump into your 1940's car and roll on over to the next crime scene to solve. The player will find himself excitedly waiting to uncover what awaits him at the next crime scene and while they may seem independent of each other, the fine storytelling shows you otherwise later in the game. As the title suggests the game is told in a neo-noir format, that means plenty of over the top flashy one liners along with sharply dressed slick mouthed cops, and that's not all, you also get ritzy nightclubs, shadowy streets, long trench coats and suggestive females to boot.
It is just after the end of World War II and the player assumes the role of glorified veteran Cole Phelps. The progression of the story line is synonymous with progression of Cole through the police ranks as he moves from Patrol to Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. All these departments have their own style which is quite different from the former. In patrol you have the obvious task of ensuring peace in the streets, Traffic will see you investigating hit and run cases, Homicide has Cole try to uncover the truth behind a string of similar murder. Ad Vice has the player on the trail of a mass morphine related fraud scam and finally Arson consists of burned down houses and the culmination of the story. Character back story is unraveled slowly as you solve these crimes. Phelps is a war veteran who was honored for his services, on the face of it he is seemingly a glorified officer, however, with the introduction of the rest of his army platoon comes the knowledge that something significant happened during battle conditions. These flashbacks are told through a greenish glass effect adding to the noir format. Meanwhile, in present time Cole has to deal with the cases assigned to him. These are also important to the story although it may not seem so at first.
It is up to the player's detective skills as to how fast or how effective he can unfurl the plot. The standard format of the story goes with Cole briefed over the current case, investigation of the event, mostly consisting of inspection of a body. Through various clues, Cole and his partner in the particular desk move on to their next lead. You'll figure out that though Phelps has a set of moral codes for himself he is also a flawed character as revealed through flashbacks which have a habit of contradicting his actions as a detective, the flashback also consist of Phelp's platoon all of whom have a hand in the story. More so is Jack Kelso, another protagonist the player will acquaint himself with late in the game. It's hard to pick sides in the animosity surrounding these characters and the only way to truly understand everyone's side of the story is to continue with you play through. Although it would suggest that it's pretty straightforward to play out the story line, numerous character interactions, many moral decisions and speed bumps in narration ensure this is not the case. For the most part you'll familiarize yourself with Cole as the partners around him change due to his quick promotions in the police squad, to remain level with the world you'll need to take the story case by case at least initially as it all ties down well later on in the game. The drawback, however, is the fact that some aspects of the story is dragged out for too long. Cases such as homicide, while entertaining, can also lead to frustration it becomes clear the pattern suggests a single suspect but you're forced to charge numerous other individuals to finally get that showdown you're waiting for with the actual antagonist.
Shooting takes a very deep backseat, the main requirement of the game is to investigate crime scenes. Which means entering a taped area and approaching the victim's body. Details, that is the key word. Investigation is by no means a quick look around, you'll have to literally scan the entire area if you want to correctly deduce the clues spread out. So much so that leaving out an important clue will result in a lack of choices for questions to be asked from suspects. Interrogation and inspection is where you'll need to do this. No game has ever forced you to give a hundred percent of your concentration into it. But that's exactly what L.A. Noire expects from its player, the slightest indifference can lead to a wrong deduction. What's needed is a careful reading of individuals during questioning. Phelps' notebook comes in handy listing everything from clues to locations to the city map. This notebook is is used to implicate persons interviewed but that's easier said than done. It's not just you who's taking control here, that's a game of itself when it comes to interrogations, you'll find these characters are more often than not tough nuts to crack. Details come into play here as well, the facial features of character models in excellent, so much so that the player will need to read their reactions over a particular question asked leading to three choices. Either deduce whether the truth is being told, an amount of doubt or if it's a blatant lie, in that occasion the need for evidence is vital bringing back the importance to scan out every crime scene. This is a very intriguing aspect of the game, you'll find yourself eagerly anticipating the next time you question someone to see the type of personality that character possesses and make no mistake there will be a lot of mistakes you make. A level of familiarity is required though, at first these moments might feel fake as reverting back to a previous question left unanswered will result in a repeated response and the blunt way with which characters dismiss you for wrong implication can lead to some confusion, this though, mainly happens in the initial stages of the game where it assists you in a substantial way but lets go of your hand as you progress so that you reach the conclusion your own way. In certain cases the player is given between to people to charge them as guilty of the crime, a short cutscene the next moment shows whether it was the right decision or not involving Phelps' superior happy or outraged, the annoying aspect here is the fact that it has no impact on the game as even with a false accusation the next case simply depicts the superior showing Cole with praise over his abilities which doesn't make sense.
Combat is largely uninspired, shooting is available but sparingly. It's use comes during chase scenes where firing at a suspect leads to a reduction in the rating for the particular chapter making it pretty useless there. Where it is useful is during the not so entertaining parts of the game where shooting is required. Controls feel highly clunky, cover is necessary if you don't want to die within five seconds of commencement of the action. Enemies appear in hordes with each other and it is a real chore to dispose of the lot, weapons are in no way diverse, there's a small rifle and a long one with both having equal effectiveness along with surprisingly plenty of ammo. Fortunately the uneven shooting aspect is somewhat optional as three deaths gives rise to the option of skipping this interaction which most will gladly take. Hand to hand combat is perhaps even more dull, similar to the GTA style of fighting, players generally have to repeatedly punch their enemies and duck the occasional attack, it's a quite mundane feature which adds no value to the gaming experience. The other features include chasing scenes, these are better than combat but the catch is the fact that they present way much more than they should have been. At first the prospect of chasing down a suspect is fun but a sense of overkill comes up much soon for the player's liking, soon enough every run of the mill character Phelps goes to ask routine questions from takes off at the very sight of him. What's ridiculous is their reaction after having been caught when they suddenly revert to off handish comments as if having no fear of him in the first place taking the whole point of the sequence out.
Occasionally the game calls for mentally stimulating moments such as deducing the location of a mass murderer through clues left by him, these are well crafted but with a touch of the overkill like the chase sequences. The main draw of L.A. Noire remains with the investigation sequences where the general procedure involves carefully analyzing the scene of the crime. These are richly diverse based on the particular desk Phelps works on at the time. For instance, in homicide you can expect a violent death to be scrutinized, here the player will need to figure out the way the victim was murdered by inspecting their gruesome remains, the level of detail is brilliant. A gash on the face of the victim must be focused upon wherein Cole deduces the manner of death, every day items such as boots or food tins can be examined so as to figure out the clues hidden within them, a name of the manufacturer, owner of the particular item, which leads you onto to your next location. Breakthroughs in these moments usually lead to questioning of another suspect, there are plenty of questions to be asked and plenty wrong assumptions to be made thus creating more future chances of play through for the player. You'll want to thoroughly understand the atmosphere and character traits to successfully complete all the missions. It's not all story missions though as free play gives you a chance to demonstrate the model crimefighter you are with 40 street crimes o be prevented, these aren't as entertaining as the main missions but are good enough to keep you occupied.
Rockstar games aren't known for their graphical prowess and L.A. Noire won't be either. Given the potential of consoles of these days they fair pretty poorly in comparison with other games with no beautifully lit sunshine nor any lush greenery to admire. But what is remarkable is the attention to detail when it comes to character models, the game play is largely based on reading these character, therefore, they come to life when you sit them down for questioning, the most minor of flinch is your key to implicate him with a lie while the straightforward stare back at you usually means a true confession. But it's up to the player himself whether he can crack these people to the limit. Their realistic faces are a treat to watch as you accuse them of their potential crimes. The way they react with outrage over a wrongful insinuation is a done with class. Voice acting has also been given a lot of attention like facial emotions. Full plaudits should be given to the cast for their performances who make you invest yourself into the story line with their line delivery and their precise capture of tense conditions. Occasionally though the narration tends to lose a little sense as one or two twists in the story are lazily executed but the overall effort invested is second to none. The soundtrack obviously employs tracks form the 1940's to keep up the style of the game. The city of L.A is built to accommodate this timeline. Cars are understandably built to showcase the vintage feel of the atmosphere, in keeping with the noir format night time sequences feature heavily shadowed environments. Bars have the classic jazz theme within them and characters have the swagger or the class with which that era was defined with.
L.A. Noire is a fascinating take on the noir format in video games. It feels like a detective novel being played out. An excellent performance by its cast ensures a good story narration. But its need to compensate for times of inaction means several forgettable combat encounters which sometimes greatly takes the fun out of the game also the fact that the open world does feel like a waste as outside of the story line and small side missions there isn't much else to do other than driving around in your 40's ride. Without its noticeable flaws lies an enjoyable game which makes you want to play through case after case to reach the ultimate conclusion you strive for the entire time you experience its stylish ambiance.