I’m Still Not Over L.A. Noire and I’m Not Sure I Want to Be
Op-Ed By Rick W. Hindi
L.A. Noire is a neo-noir detective game developed by the defunct Team Bondi and published by the ever-successful Rockstar Games. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in 2011 and has since been ported to other platforms, including Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. The game is set in Los Angeles in 1947 and follows the story of Cole Phelps, a LAPD detective who investigates a series of murders. It’s also the only thing that I’ve been talking about for the past couple of weeks (I sincerely apologise for my roommate).
L.A. Noire is one of the most visually stunning games ever made, and the graphics still hold up. This is mostly thanks to its groundbreaking facial animation technology. The game’s characters are able to display a wide range of emotions, from subtle facial expressions to full-blown outbursts. And although this might sound daunting, the gameplay itself is quite simple in concept, but works perfectly for allowing players to choose their own direction during investigations. Evidence and clues can be missed or overlooked and information and hunches can be confirmed or rectified by heading to locations connected to persons of interest or the crime.
L.A. Noire’s interrogation mechanic is one of its most unique and innovative features, it blew the fan off of my PS3 in 2011 and it continues to blow my mind to this day. NPC faces are modelled after real actors to produce realistic facial expressions that indicate whether someone is lying or telling the truth (more on said actors later).
Players can miss information or even arrest the wrong person if they don’t question witnesses and suspects effectively or if they overlook important evidence. This means that while cases have a correct ending, players can come to different conclusions, including the wrong ones, and admittedly, the only thing that will suffer is your sleep – the game won’t punish you for sending James Tiernan to deathrow but your conscience will, or should.
During interrogations, players must carefully observe the suspect’s facial expressions and body language to determine whether they are lying. This adds a layer of tension and excitement to the game, as players must use their detective skills to solve the cases, and – you know, you need evidence.
L.A. Noire’s gameplay-first approach sets it apart from other detective games. While many detective games focus on overarching stories, L.A. Noire centres around the experience of being a detective. This is reflected in the game’s gameplay, which gives players the freedom to investigate cases at their own pace and come to their own conclusions. In L.A. Noire, each case feels like its own contained story, with its own unique challenges and rewards.
This keeps the gameplay fresh and exciting, as players never know what to expect next. In contrast, other detective games tend to be more linear, with players simply following along for the ride. L.A. Noire’s dichotomy of telling the story of a detective and being a detective is what makes it one of the best detective games ever made.
We also cannot ignore the fantastic acting that we’ve seen in the game; a shocking number of actors who’ve worked on Mad Men found themselves in L.A. Noire, with Aaron Staton, who played the big-hearted Ken Cosgrove, playing the main character, and all around good cop/mentally unstable cop/possibly-tap-dancing-expert cop, main protagonist, Cole Phelps.
I personally have a bittersweet feeling about Aaron Staton, he’s an idol of gaming characters, especially amongst the fans of L.A. Noire, often dubbed as one of the most realistic characters in video game history, with acting that could have easily won awards in L.A. Confidential (1997) or Chinatown (1974). On the other hand, he is yet to escape this typecast. Searching for the material used in this blog, one cannot help but notice a hail of “Cole Phelps, Badge Number 1247” comments. As far as I’ve found, he’s been in a few indie flicks since the completion of Mad Men in 2015 as well the cancelled reboot of the Right Stuff (2020)
Circling back to the bitterness of, L.A. Noire, it is not without its flaws. The game’s gameplay can be repetitive at times, and the lack of innovation in some areas may deter some players. Another criticism of L.A. Noire is that its story is not as tightly paced as it could be. There are some slow sections in the game, and the ending may feel rushed to some players (I personally wanted more).
Furthermore, the city is … lonely. Although 1947’s Los Angeles is considered the perfect rendition of digital time-travel and tourism, there’s something solidly upsetting about the content. Chinatown has nothing to do with China, even Gun (2005) did a better job at the diversity based on region. The perfectly detailed streets feel false, like a simulator running out of CPU, and the map’s GPS is worse than Barbie’s Horse Adventures. More unfortunate being that these issues weren’t remedied in the remastered version.
Despite its flaws, finding a copy of L.A. Noire last month was like finding an unfinished love letter that you’ve never sent. A time capsule of a gorgeous dream, an era when things were more hopeful, experimental and absolutely ambitious in the world of gaming, and 12 years later, no one has yet come close to recapturing that thrilling sense of adventure in developing nor narrative. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine to relive and re-experience, and that’s what matters. Phelps, Badge 1247, signing off for now.
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