Review: L.A. Noire. 1940’s style meets 21st century tech

Rockstar Games have always pushed the envelope of what PC and console games are capable of. From bringing us massively deep worlds in the Grand Theft Auto series, to the gripping storylines found in games like Max Payne, and even taking stops along the way to make smaller games like Table Tennis. In L.A. Noire, Rockstar pushes the envelope again with an enthralling story of heroism, betrayal, crime, justice, and deception, where knowing the difference between the truth and a lie is the key to succeeding, and they pull it off masterfully.

The City of Angels

(Warning: minor spoilers ahead, to avoid them, skip to the next page)

Detective Cole Phelps

Once again, Rockstar has succeeded in creating a truly amazing world that is more detailed than you’ll ever be able to notice. Their recreation of 1940’s Los Angeles is nothing short of stunning. From the architecture, clothing, and cars, to the music, dialogue, and storyline, Rockstar has clearly spent a great deal of time researching the era to recreate it with a level of detail that will often times leave you in awe. From beginning to end, the settings and actions of the game ring true to the post WWII era in the crime riddled city of Los Angeles.

The story follows the rise of the protagonist, Cole Phelps, who at the start is just a lowly patrolman for the LA police department. Fueled by the desire to make the city and the world a better place for Americans, Phelps starts on a journey to become one of the greatest detectives the city has ever seen. Right off the bat, you’re thrown into a case, where the game teaches you how to hunt for clues to solve the crime at hand. Personally, it was quite jarring to move from the wrong side of the law, as is tradition in most Rockstar games, to the side that enforces the law. Playing the GTA series all these years has trained me to mow down civilians as soon as I’m given a car. This is not the case in L.A. Noire. Since you’re a cop, you’ll be warned every time you injure a civilian. The game never really punishes you for hitting people (at least not that I’ve notice) but a strongly worded message will appear when you do knock over some poor sap, letting you know that you’re playing for the good guys this time.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll say this, the story, while slow for a good chunk of the game, is a solid one. If you bought the Xbox version of the game, you can rest assured that you won’t really get into the major story arc until disc three (Yes, there are 3 discs for the Xbox version). That being said, discs one and two aren’t a total wash either. The plot through disc one and two rely heavily on whatever detective department you’re working for at the time (Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson). The cases you’ll solve may be slightly repetitive, but in order to truly appreciate what the cases have to offer, you’ll need to rethink the way you approach this game. I’ll explain more in the gameplay section.


The jig is up, we know it was you.

The way you play this game is vastly different from the way you play most games nowadays. This isn’t your average run-of-the-mill shooter, and it’s not the every-day RPG. No, this game is very different. L.A. Noire puts an intense focus on investigation. The game is set up in a somewhat linear fashion, where you’ll move from crime to crime, trying to find out what happened. From the start of each investigation, you’re presented with a crime scene. Here, you’ll be charged with combing the area for clues and evidence. It’s entirely possible to miss large clues if you’re in a rush, so take it slow, and be thorough.

The next large part of each investigation is the interrogation. This part relies heavily on a technology I’ll speak more about later on, suffice it to say, knowing when someone is lying is key. You’ll select lines of questioning from your notebook, and based on the answers you get, you’ll have to select one of three options: Truth – when you think they’re telling the truth, Doubt – when you think they’re lying but you have no proof, and Lie – when you have hard evidence that contradicts whatever they just told you. Now keep in mind, this game is no where near as deep as games like Mass Effect, so even if you completely screw up a line of questioning, you’ll be given an extra way to get the answers you needed to move on with the case. That being said, the better you do in questioning, the quicker you’ll move through each case, you’ll also get a better score at the end of the case. So if you’re concerned with point values, make sure you interrogate carefully.

Aside from interviewing and searching for clues, you’ll be presented with a few things you’ll be familiar with from the GTA titles. There is a easy to use shooting system that relies on taking cover. The game automatically uses you an auto-aim feature, which can be turned off if you’re so inclined, but the system is awkward to use so you’re probably better off leaving the auto-aim on. There are a number of guns you can grab as you run into them, but throughout the game, you’ll have your trusty pistol at your side and an infinite amount of clips for it at your disposal. The pistol is more than adequate for taking out all the enemies you’re presented with so there’s never really a reason to grab larger guns.

The other part of the game you’ll probably be familiar with is driving. Much like the GTA series, some cases involve a driving portion of some sort. Whether it be tailing a suspect to their destination, or an all-out car chase where the only hope is to get the car off the road by any means necessary. The driving system is just as refined as you’d remember from GTA, with perhaps a few minor enhancements. Just like GTA, driving is a lot of fun and once you master the intricacies of handbrake turns around a corner or weaving through high traffic areas, you’ll look forward to getting behind the wheel and chasing a baddie. Keep in mind, these are all 1940’s style cars, so don’t expect those quick sporty little coupes you may be used to. Most of them have mediocre handling and really aren’t too fast. That being said, you can still do some solid driving in L.A. Noire, it’s just a bit different.

There are also a few puzzles that pop up occasionally, where you’ll have to, quite literally, fit some pieces together to find the clue you were looking for. These are sometimes challenging, but for the most part they’re a breeze to get through. While they’re not exactly difficult, they always seemed fun, and when they popped up it was always a refreshing change of pace.

All in all, the gameplay is very well rounded. As a each new thing popped up, I found myself wondering how they fit all of this content on one disc… Then I remembered there’s three discs. I’d imagine the three discs thing is largely due to the technology Rockstar used to create L.A. Noire.


Hey! It’s that guy from Fringe.

Since we’re a tech blog, it’d be wrong of us to pass up a chance to cover the technology Rockstar used to create L.A. Noire, and let me say this, it will blow your mind. Rockstar spent a lot of time and a hell-of-a-lot of money on their new MotionScan technology. What is that you say? Well I’ll tell you.

MotionScan Technology At Work.

MotionScan is a facial capturing technology. The actor sits in a room, surrounded by cameras at all angles, and speaks his or her lines with the inflection, and facial motions that humans use to convey emotions. The technology is sophisticated enough to capture the smallest of details, allowing actors to be represented in game almost exactly as they were in the MotionScan studio. This is key to the L.A. Noire storyline, since most of the game centered around reading your suspects facial / body language cues. I must say, I was totally blown away by the technology. It’s one thing to see it in a video on YouTube, but to play it, to be stuck in a room with a suspect who is speaking and acting and looking just like a real person, and having to react to their words and make decisions based on what they say is truly mind blowing. It really grabs a hold of you and pulls you into the scene. This is where L.A. Noire really shines. The technology allowed Rockstar to build a game centered around finding the truth, and in that respect they have succeeded.

Take a look at the video below for Rockstar’s introduction to the technology.

Weak Points

Like I’ve said throughout the review, L.A. Noire is a fantastic game, and one that will quite literally be the start of a new way we create and look at games. That being said, it isn’t without faults. There are a number of things that caught my attention throughout the game that were both technical issues, and gameplay issues.

As far as technical issues go, the occasional glitch pops up here and there throughout this game as they have in any other Rockstar game. Frame rate drops occur occasionally, more often as the action sequences have more moving parts. Subtle dialogue and cinematic issues happen every now and then. A few times, one on screen character will walk through another like one of those cheap ghost tricks they use in movies. Once or twice, I noticed lines of dialogue that ran over each other. The first time it happened, I thought it was intentional. It seemed like one character was interrupting the other, and that it was just acted awkwardly, but when it happened a few more times it became clear that it was a glitch in the cinematic sequences. Also, every so often, objects on screen would appear in a half-rendered state at first and then gradually load up to their full resolution. This isn’t exactly a problem, but it can take you out of the story from time to time.

As far as gameplay goes, a few issues come up every now and then. Shooting, for example can be quite awkward, especially with the cover system. Moving in and out of cover isn’t exactly graceful, and while it will almost never lead to you dying, it can be frustrating from time to time. Especially when a combination of dropped frame-rates, quick action, and awkward movements happen all at once.

Some of the gameplay actions can get stale later on in the story. The game isn’t obnoxiously long, with the average play time being about 15 hours, but some of the investigation sequences can get repetitive and leave you feeling bored. Also, there are a number of crime scenes where more than half of the objects you pick up to examine are completely useless to the investigation. While this does add a level of realism to the world (not everything on a crime scene will be evidence) it can get quite annoying when you pick up multiple extraneous objects on a scene when you’re trying to get through it as quickly as possible. One scene in particular had one piece of useful evidence, and about a dozen extra little objects all over the place.

One other thing that bothered me about the game was some of the chase sequences with suspects. Occasionally, the game will only give you the option to shoot and kill a fleeing suspect when I would have preferred to apprehend them and bring them in for questioning. This is a minor inconvenience, but it’s worth noting. In addition to that, it can also be quite jarring when you’re first forced into a shootout with enemies. Being a citizen of the 21st century, I know that cops are basically hung out to dry every time they pull out their weapons. So it seemed like shoddy police work when I was forced into a situation where I had to shoot and kill everyone in a scene, but then I remembered, this is the 1940’s, things were a little different back then.

Outside of those few minor issues, there weren’t many things that struck me as problems.

Final Thoughts

All in all, L.A. Noire is a stunning game. The recreation of the 1940’s era is just about perfect, and while there are a few issues, and the story can be slow at times, it’s never enough to say that the game isn’t worth playing. Watching the story unfold around Cole Phelps and company is a truly unique experience and one that will definitely change the direction of gaming in the future. Players that are fans of any genre will easily find something to love about L.A. Noire.

5 thoughts on “Review: L.A. Noire. 1940’s style meets 21st century tech”

    1. I had friends over at one point. They were rude and kept talking over dialogue scenes. It drove me nuts, so I’d suggest locking yourself away so you can pay attention to everything.

        1. Eric Johnston

          I was thinking about getting this game, but did not for the very same reason. No way Tate is going to let me play this.

          On the plus side, he has become very adept at playing Zelda: Twilight Princess. He doesn’t understand the plot of the game, but he loves all the mini-games, riding the horse, and “getting rid of the naughty guys” with the sword (after dispatching each one, he tells them “sorry”). I can take no credit for this, it was his aunt, my sister-in-law, who taught him how to play. Watching him work the Wii controllers with his little 3 year old hands is a riot.

  1. As soon as I saw the first picture I thought “Holy shit, it’s Cosgrove!”

    I want to get this game, but I’m torn. I really want to get the Borderlands:GOTY with all of the DLC included through Steam. I already have it for my Xbox, but no one I know still plays it on the Xbox and I’d rather play shooters on my PC.

    Also, I don’t know that I would have the patience to play through anything that takes up 3 disks these days.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top