Steam has changed the way of PC gaming, how gamers acquire and play games. I am fully convinced of that. Maybe it has not replaced store purchases completely, but I know that everytime Steam does one of its seasonal big sales, most notably around Christmas and in summer, many of my digital friends flock to buy just about every big game that’s on sale. It’s that impulse purchase that I cannot stop (much to my SO’s regret). It’s led to me having a quite sizable list of games of which I completed maybe…2 games. This year will be different. I will play every game that I bought, for at least an hour, and if I like what I am seeing, I will strive to complete it.
First game on my list is L.A. Noire. I bought it in the last summer sale, and played it once. On my old computer, it had incredibly choppy performance, and the first car ride had me so frustrated I gave up on it. Then WoW was down one weekend in December, and I decided to go back to it. New computer meant no more choppy play, and I have to say that this is a very good choice that I made.
L.A. Noire is the closest to an old point and click adventure an action game will ever come to. It clearly has many action elements, and is all 3D with some sandbox elements, but at the heart of the game are the cases, the investigations, and the interviews with suspects that make this game so interesting to play. L.A. Noire is set in Los Angeles post-war, beginning in 1946. The main protagonist is Cole Phelps, a patrol cop who was sent home from the war early, and who is now trying to be the best cop possible. He sees the world in black and white, and he definitely is a career guy. When he gets the chance to assist with a homicide case he takes it. The Patrol Desk cases mostly serve as a tutorial for the game and set the scene. You learn how to investigate crime scenes, which is pretty straightforward. The default setting will give you an acoustic warning if there’s evidence. Some of them are red herrings, things that won’t help, but some aren’t. I also set it up that you get a looking glass symbol when there’s evidence. Apparently if you use an XBox controller, it vibrates as warning, which seems a lot more intuitive than the ‘pling’ sound you get. If you find enough evidence, there should be hints leading you on in the case. As long as you’re still on the patrol desk, you have to drive to all locations yourself, which I found tedious. Driving with WASD is awkward and I didn’t enjoy that part much. Once you move on in the game, you can have your partner drive you to the locations, which takes you there straight, instead of having to drive through the very realistic streets of L.A. yourself. I think I once drove around for 15 minutes before I finally made it, as the city is just that big, and according to sources is very realistic for the time.
Other game elements are more on the action side. There are car chases, or chases on foot, big shootouts, or fistfights. As I mentioned above, the car part is really not that great, IMHO, and so I was very happy that there’s a switch if you fail an action sequence three times, it will just move you on as if you had been successful, without impacting your case rating. I had to use that a couple of times. Then there are the interviews. You will often have to interview witnesses, suspects and the like. The special motion capturing that the game uses creates frighteningly realistic faces. When you see pictures of Aaron Staaton, you seriously believe it’s Cole Phelps you are looking at. Interviews are mostly driven by Cole himself. As player, it is your task to look at how the interviewed person responds, and to choose Truth, Doubt or Lie. It’s pretty obvious in most cases to see if someone is not telling the full truth. Shifty eyes, facial tics, restlessness, not looking you straight in the eye. It’s harder to discern if Doubt or Lie is correct. If you choose Lie, you need to have hard evidence backing up your story, and if you pick the wrong evidence, the case might slip from your grasp. Ultimately, you always make an arrest, but you don’t always get to feel good about it. The better you do at finding evidence and conducting the interviews, the better your case rating. Nothing screams fail as a measly 1 star showing you pretty much effed it up.
Cole Phelps is a rising star, and moves from the patrol desk to Traffic, and then later even Homicide, the Golden Boy of the L.A. Police Department. I know some people consider Homicide the weakest of the desks he works for, but for me, it was when the game really had me in its grip. Most cases are gruesome, and full of mature themes, particularly the homicide cases. The game does not shy away from the seedy side of human nature at all. There’s rape, even male rape, necrophilia, a pedophile, and a dark swamp of corruption and abuse. On the homicide desk, I first got the feeling that the price of success is too high, that feeling that someone is playing you and you keep making successful, and yet false arrests. The final case of the homicide desk is quite brilliant, a quest for clues through major landmarks in L.A. If there is one complaint I have, it’s the homicide cases are maybe a bit too disconnected from the main story arc of the game.
Every desk Cole Phelps works at finds him with a different partner, and they’re all quite memorable. From good stand-up guy Stephen Bekowski to drunkard Rusty Galloway or the sleazeball Roy Earle, they’re all very well-acted and quite memorable. You’ll run into your former partners again throughout the game, and I felt quite connected. They’re good. I probably liked Hershel Biggs the best.
The cases are framed by the backstory of Cole Phelps in the war in Japan, his rivalry with Jack Kelso, a fellow marine, and his growing interest in a German Jazz singer at one of the clubs in Los Angeles. Cole’s backstory eventually mingles with his current cases when he starts investigating drug trafficking of stolen morphine from the war. It’s all connected, and the finale of the game left me as bitter and disillusioned as Cole Phelps might have felt in the end. If you enjoyed L.A. Confidential, or Chinatown, I think you would enjoy the story of this game.
I managed to complete L.A. Noire in 35 hours, because I like to take things slow, but I think most people should manage to squeeze out a good, solid 30 hours of gameplay out of it. Longer if you drive yourself, hah! At the last Steam sale, it cost about 5-7 Euro, and for that, it’s a steal. If you are interested in crime stories, get this game. It’s damn good.
My final rating: 5 stars out of 5