- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Team Bondi
- ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
- Genre: Adventure
- Pros: 1940's era perfectly re-created; investigation and interrogation gameplay is excellent; facial graphics are outstanding; great voice work
- Cons: Cases become predictable; driving / shooting / footchases are awful; L.A. is too big and boring outside of cases; Phelps' mid-interview mood swings are distracting; investigations could be deeper
L.A. Noire takes place in 1940's Los Angeles after World War II. You play as a marine turned police officer named Cole Phelps. The story follows Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the L.A. Police Department where he becomes a detective and discovers corruption throughout the city. The story is told in multiple ways - flashbacks to Phelps during the war, newspapers you can find that present the over-arching story, and cutscenes that go along with what Phelps (you) is doing currently - and all of these story threads do connect into one mostly coherent story.
As a police officer, you start out on patrol and then move on to Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson as a detective. The game does have an overall story that ties everything together, but each of the 21 cases you'll have to solve are fairly self-contained. In this way it is possible, and recommended, to only play a case or two at a time without breaking any narrative flow. This lets the story and events sink in a bit. Frankly, the game is sort of exhausting, and taking a break to think about things rather than trying to rush through is definitely the way to play.
The actual cases are pretty standard police cases. A few murders. A few fires. A few drug cases. They are mostly pretty interesting. It can be frustrating, though, because occasionally you'll figure things out well before the game does (even 3-4 cases earlier than the game does) and have to slog through more investigations and police work that you wouldn't have to if the game allowed you any sort of due diligence. What do I mean? Little details that stand out during interviews that make you go "I should check that out" but the game doesn't give you an option to and then several cases later it turns out you would have been right all along. It happens several times, especially during Homicide, Vice, and Arson (basically the last 2/3rds of the game) and the whole experience really feels like a chore and you're going through the motions just to get to the end rather than really having fun anymore. The game starts off with a couple of great cases, has a rather boring middle section (what Rockstar game doesn't?), and then ends with sort of a predictable whimper. Don't get me wrong, I was entertained the whole way though, but the thrill and wow factor wore off fairly quickly. Of course, YMMV depending on how long you can suspend your disbelief and / or how clever you are.
Investigations only ever have a handful of relevant items, and finding them is as easy as feeling your controller vibrate or hearing a music cue that tells you something important is in front of you. You can turn these cues off, but it makes the game so difficult it isn't fun. With the cues on, the game is so easy it starts getting repetitive and not fun.
Sometimes the game lets you actually do some critical thinking about what to do next, and it is here where the investigations really shine. Using clues to find locations on a map. Finding specific information in books where you see a familiar name and go "Ah ha!". These brief sequences are surprisingly satisfying.
It is a simple system, but it is a bit too simple. The game doesn't always ask the questions you think it should, which leaves entire lines of questioning - that could solve cases a lot faster - completely in the dark. Also, the Lie, Truth, Doubt system is too extreme. There is no gray area. This is even more evident in the way that Phelps actually asks questions. One moment he'll be soft and calm like a kitten, the next he is screaming at innocent kids and threatening people and accusing everyone of murder. These mood swings happen in every interview and are completely inappropriate 90% of the time. If you had more control over the tone of the questioning, the game would be a lot better.