Iam staring at you. You’re staring at me. Neither of us is backing down. This battle of wills has been going on for some time. I’m starting to think it might be — wait! What was that? Was that a guilty sideways glance? It was! ‘Oh, I’ve got you now!’, I think triumphantly as I press the button to accuse you of lying...
...only to have Detective Cole Phelps, my alter ego, triumphantly accuse you of lying about something completely different, leaving me frantically scrambling to find any shred of evidence that backs up ‘my’ accusation as you angrily demand proof.
Based on a real incident, the above story sums LA Noire perfectly — this is a fantastic, absorbing and gripping tale....except when it isn’t.
LA Noire is yet another open-world game to come from the folks at Rockstar, this time set in Los Angeles in 1947. However, you’ll quickly learn that this isn’t your typical Rockstar game. The open-world takes a backseat to the linear story; and, in possibly the biggest departure from the norm, you play a cop and, as such, engaging in vehicular rampages or a little casual homicide will a) be frowned upon by your superiors at the LAPD and b) cause you to fail a mission.
So, if you submit to the constraints and play by LA Noire’s rules, what does that get you? Well, for starters, it gets you a truly excellent story. You play as patrolman/officer/detective Cole Phelps as he makes his way through the ranks and departments of the LAPD. A veteran of World War 2, Phelps — played by Aaron Staton, of Mad Men fame — feels like a character with depths and flaws, on a level that you don’t often see in video gaming. This is a man who’s returned from war, part of what would later be called the ‘Greatest Generation’, but also a man for whom the return to civilisation doesn’t come as easy as he would’ve hoped.
Let’s talk about the bit of civilisation he returns to, for a moment. The post-war City of Angels is a constant, brooding presence in the narrative. It’s become cliche to say that the setting’s like another character in the story, but LA Noire’s Los Angeles has its hooks in every plotline and every moment. Very, very few games have such a sense of place — and the amount of research Rockstar put into recreating the city as it was then really comes through. This is a place you want to visit.
The game also deserves a shout-out for its use of motion-capture technology — unprecedented at the time — to create stunning interrogation sequences. On occasion, as I described earlier, the facade falls apart and you can see the gears grinding to a halt; but when it works, it’s incredibly immersive and like nothing you’ve played before. And that’s why LA Noire is a game you should seek out. The story of Cole Phelps is, in my opinion, a genuine modern classic; and, unless you’re the type to skip every cut scene in a game, I think it’s well worth playing.
If you like the sound of...
a gripping noir story about the rise and fall of Cole Phelps
a detective game that requires genuine intuition at times
stepping into a post-war Los Angeles come to life
...you should take a trip to LA Noire!