L.A. Noire Review Or: Grand Theft Confidential?

L.A. Noire review

Or: Grand Theft Confidential?

Few games released each year ever come close to earning a top spot in the collective consciousness of reviewers. Sure, whenever a Call Of Duty, a Mass Effect or a new Legend Of Zelda is announced, their individual developers are already clearing a spot on their mantelpiece for the inevitable onslaught of Game Of The Year awards and accolades long before the actual product ever gets released. Not that we, as consumers, can blame them for being slightly arrogant, seeing as how established franchises like the Nathan Drake series or the long-running Grand Theft Auto have earned their hubris several times over by never releasing anything less than a stellar video game.

Ah, but those are the giants of the industry. The billion dollar, guaranteed hits, frequently outgrossing Hollywood’s biggest movies the very first day of their release. For the sake of comparison, 2010’s Iron Man 2 grossed 128 million dollars during its first three days in theaters, that same year’s Halo: Reach grossed 200 million in a single day. It’s enough to drive Tony Stark to alcoholism. Oh, wait…

L.A. Noire screenshot
I’m sure that’s just medicinal Vodka.

There’s a reason why the gaming industry is inundated with sequel after sequel: they’re financially profitable, there’s the brand-name recognition factor, the ever-present possibility of spin-off opportunities and fans are unlikely to jump ship for a series’ third or fourth outing. Unless of course your game has “Tomb” and “Raider” in its title, in which case your fortunes tend to vary along with the shifting winds and whether or not Venus is in ascension. Witness Square Enix’s umpteenth attempt to gritty up and/or reboot Lara’s franchise.

So taking risks isn’t exactly standard operating procedure in the industry. Once in a blue moon you might end up with a surprise hit like the marvelous Little Big Planet or Portal, both of which justified their production budgets several times over. But it’s more likely you’ll end up with a critically beloved but poor-selling game like Lucasarts beloved Grim Fandango.

Which brings us to L.A. Noire, a game that wobbly straddles the line between guaranteed blockbuster and risk-taker like a drunk trying to put his pants on. (How they got off in the first place is between you and the cops.) Boasting an impressive design pedigree, is L.A. Noire a shoe-in for Game Of The Year honors? Or it is destined to be buried six-feet under the famous Hollywoodland sign?

L.A. Noire screenshot
If I don’t make it, bury me under “O”.

This is TheMatt’s review of L.A. Noire, available for PS3 and Xbox 360. For review purposes, the Xbox version was used. Read on, my faithful henchmen and henchwomen, (I don’t discriminate when it comes to henching.) it’s time to journey back to Los Angeles, circa 1947. Or as your grandparents call it, “back when dinosaurs and Clark Gable roamed the Earth.”

The Storyline:

Or: “Just the facts, ma’am”

Taking place at a time when the embers of World War II were still burning brightly, L.A. Noire tells the tale of one Cole Phelps. While doctors hadn’t gotten around to coining the term “post-traumatic stress syndrome” yet, Phelps is definitely suffering from a bad case of the post-war heebie-jeebies. Flashbacks to the horrors he had to commit during his service overseas will pop up from time to time to haunt Cole, indicating that your player character is one damaged dude. Motion-captured by baby-faced Aaron Stanton (Mad Men), Phelps is a convincing portrait of the turbulent emotions young servicemen had to deal with when returning from the battlefields of Europe. This commitment to realism is found throughout L.A. Noire and is one of its biggest assets.

L.A. Noire screenshot

Phelps needs to eat, so he joins the ranks of the LAPD, which, if you’re at all familiar with the era, makes the LAPD of today look like a bunch of sensitive, touchy-feely Girl Scouts. Beatings to obtain confessions were a valid tactic and racial tensions were boiling over in these pre-civil rights movement days. Since this is a Rockstar produced game, at this point you’re probably expecting to play Phelps as a rogue cop, a man unafraid to make with the gunfire who regularly participates in destructive car chases on the mean streets of Los Angeles.

It’s easy to come to this conclusion. Rockstar is, after all, the house that Grand Theft Auto built. Rockstar games have been called mayhem-simulators by many, with just cause. But L.A. Noire is refreshingly mayhem-free. The plot’s the thing here, not the action. While it’s possible, and often unavoidable, for Phelps to engage in gunfights, car chases, foot pursuits and the occasional knuckle-bruising fistfight, you are playing as an officer of the law. Therefore, players looking to indulge their homicidal tendencies need not apply, since running down helpless civilians or discharging your firearm with reckless abandon will simply hinder rather than help you finish the game.

Overall, L.A. Noire tells its story in the same vein as any typical hard-boiled Detective novel. Look to 1997’s L.A Confidential for a good movie comparison. There are murders to be solved, hookers to be questioned and a trail to follow all the way to your final suspect. All the while you’ll enjoy smart writing that would make Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammet proud.

Read the gamplay, graphics, and verdict on the next page…

L.A. Noire cover art
Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
Published by:
Rockstar Games
Developed by:
Team Bondi
Year Released:
May 17, 2011
Also Available On:
PlayStation 3
Official URL:
L.A. Noire
Pages: 1 2

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