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L.A. Noire (PS4) – Review
L.A. Noire is a rather peculiar case. It was announced as a PS3 exclusive published by Sony very early in the console’s life cycle in 2005, but then was transferred to Rockstar and was only released in 2011. The developers, Team Bondi, was utilising state-of-the-art facial capture technology for its time to realise this 1940s police procedural game, though there were many reports of bad workplace issues, which led to the demise of the Australian studio.
Their legacy lives on in L.A. Noire, their first and only title now remastered for the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and also for VR. It’s a product of its time, when story-driven games are not so prevalent in the AAA space. It’s a mix of slow and deliberate case solving with a light sprinkle action gameplay like GTA.
Even in 2017, the game hold up pretty well.
Graphics & Audio
L.A. Noire on the PS4 runs at a stable 30fps, with menus going up to 60fps. The recreation of 1940s Los Angeles looks great, which is a close approximation of the real place rather than a fictional location based on the city. Though there are some compromises. The draw distance is low and you can spot pedestrians not that far from you animated at lower frames. But overall the game runs fine.
The most important part of the game, the facial animations, aged fairly well. Sure, some of them are way too expressive but that was intentional for gameplay reasons. Unfortunately, the hairs do not look so good anymore as it seemed most of the head features were barely touched. There are small added graphical details now, reflection from the chrome parts of a car, dirt markings and higher detailed textures on items and clothes.
The body and animation may not gel well, but that’s a known problem even back then due to the way they captured the facial animation and body animation separately.
The game boasted a star-studded cast with talented actors across various roles. And they sure delivered. The dialogue delivery is all on point, the writing also helps by using time-appropriate slangs, accents and even slurs. Yes the game is not afraid of being offensive, so be warned.
The sound in the game is bang on. The soundtrack evokes the music of yesteryears and the ads played in the radio has the right accent of its time. You can hear cars dinging a bit after the engine is turned off. Audio cues are used a lot which helps when gathering clues. One issue I had with the audio is sometimes the mixing is off- some voices are louder than the other, or sounds like it was recorded in a different room.
Another small issue I had is that L.A. Noire blocks any software-based recordings of cut-scenes. Your share button is blocked during such sequences, something I usually don’t mind. But considering that how often the game transitions into a cut-scene, it is grating to see the popup notification appear oh-so frequently. The popups even block some of the text when you enter a new location.
The game is also enhanced with PS4 Pro support, which includes native 4K and HDR.
If you have not played or seen L.A. Noire, it’s easy to describe. Imagine a police procedural game but with GTA mechanics. There’s an open world and some shooting sequences with waist high covers like a GTA game would have, but a bit more serious and linear because you have a case to solve.
As Cole Phelps, a World War II veteran turned cop, you have criminal cases to solve. Phelps will be going places throughout his career, starting as a beat cop in the Patrol desk and then goes to Traffic, Homicide, Vice and later Arson. The Patrol desk is mostly a tutorial to get you the hang of the many things a cop should do to prepare you for the later desks.
Since it is a police procedural, most of the missions can play a bit too similar. You start with going to the scene of the crime, find clues, interrogate witnesses, and then follow the leads until you can pin down a suspect and make an arrest. Then off to the next case.
Things get really samey especially in the Homicide desk where you keep seeing similar murders, but that’s intentional. L.A. Noire weaves in some real historic moments ofthe period, like the Black Dahlia murders. There is an overarching narrative of not only a story of the seedy side of the city of angels, but the post-war effects of veteran soldiers. The story holds up even today, with some plot points hit close to home with recent headlines like the one case that involved some individuals in the film business.
The big selling poiint of L.A. Noire is the interrogation scenes. Thanks to the realistic facial capture, you can indeed tell someone is lying or not through their expressions. In an interrogation scene, you will need to ask questions and determine if the person’s response were genuine or not. Using the information you’ve gathered based on clues and the person’s facial expressions, you can either go for the good cop approach if you feel the response is genuine, bad cop if you think the story does not add up but you lack proof, or accuse them of lying, in which you need to also present an evidence.
The new prompts, good cop/bad cop/accuse which replaces the old truth/doubt/lie helps a bit to judge how you want Cole to react to the statements. It’s most likely that going for bad cop will turn Phelps into a menacing madman yelling at the suspect.
When you are not scouring the area for clues and getting mad during interrogations, there are variations of action. Sometimes you have to tail a suspect or chase them, either on foot or in a car. There’s shootouts that controls a bit clunky as it is based on GTA IV’s shooting mechanics. There are a few set-piece missions where you do something completely different and some change of pace appears near the end of the game, but expect most of the cases to play really similar.
Content & Longevity
Expect L.A. Noire to last about 20-30 hours of game time. Each case stands on its own and can go around an hour or so to complete, which makes this a great pickup and play game, which explains why it got a Switch release as well. As stated earlier, it can get a bit repetitive. There are side missions to do but there are just short shootouts or chasing sequences for the most part.
What kept me going throughout the repetitive missions was the story. Each case you have to solve gets even more fascinating. Discovering some other seedy crime (again, they were not afraid with tackling sensitive topics) while investigating on another case is really captivating, and how Phelps being so effective of a cop- which you will do so most of the time- is also justified well. The writing is by far the best part of the package that carries the game right until the end, and as mentioned earlier, holds up well today.
As far as new content goes, there’s not much. The new collectibles are just there, and all the extra costumes and cases were originally part of DLCs. So if you only played the base game before, this might be worth playing again since the DLC cases are pretty good. Plus, it’s sold for RM169, which makes it a bargain, even more if you wait for the eventual sales.
L.A. Noire on the PS4 is a decent port. Certain parts of the graphics unfortunately did not hold up today but Rockstar did what they could to spruce up the game for the current generation. The gameplay, one of the more polarising aspects of the game back at the time, holds up today.
If you missed L.A. Noire last generation, the PS4 remaster is a worth the price.
If you’ve played it already, your mileage may vary. This is the same game all over again, but might be worth re-investigating if you have a PS4 Pro just for the 4K experience.
Review is based on version 1.01 of the game. Review copy provided by the publisher.