ByNatasha Price, writer at
Natasha Price

L.A. Noire (2011) is a neo-noir detective game published by Rockstar Games and set in the 1940s. The player controls the war-hero, Cole Phelps, as he moves up through the law system from beat cop through to arson detective. The game allows the player to do all the detective work themselves, meaning that they have to find the clues and interview all the suspects correctly.

The game draws heavily from the Film Noir genre of film in the '40s and '50s that often revolved around a detective as a protagonist. The dark themes and lighting, as well as the cases often being set at night is all derivative from the film genre. It also included the typical crimes and moral ambiguity included in the genre. As a homage to the popular style of film, players can set the game in black and white, which was how all Film Noir were shot.

The cases in the game aren't often connected to one another, meaning that the player can jump on at any time and pick up where they left off without worrying about forgetting the main story. However, we're given infrequent flashbacks to Cole's wartime heroics that string the cases together.

What makes the game unique is the way it insists upon the player connecting the dots. Whilst it sometimes helps out with finding evidence (with a chime sound), it's down to the player to correctly interview suspects and witnesses to get the right information, and put the right person behind bars in the end. If you interview a suspect wrongly, they don't give you the correct information and can even completely shut you down. The importance here is on having the right evidence and reading the character's body language well enough to interrogate them appropriately.

In one of the cases, a serial killer taunts the police by leaving parts of Percy Shelley's poems around. It's entirely the player's responsibility to decipher the poetry and work out where the next clue is- it really tests the player mentally. This particular part of the game was very trying as it wasn't at all obvious what you had to do. You really had to understand the poetry and link it to certain places on the map of L.A. It takes a fair amount of your own detective work, which the game heavily insists upon.

'Prometheus Unbound' by Percy Shelley in L.A.Noire
'Prometheus Unbound' by Percy Shelley in L.A.Noire

Although the combat system in the game is quite strange, fights and chases make the game thrilling and adrenaline-pumping. These are placed regularly between the detective work to give the player a bit of a break from the hard mental work to just enjoy some video game violence. Although they can sometimes be irritating, and you might have to retry them a few times, these sections make the game more exciting and you get a sense of accomplishment when you finally take down the criminal- either by arresting them or by killing them.

In order to get from place to place in the game, the player drives through the streets of L.A. The driving system in the game is like a forties version of Grand Theft Auto (also developed by Rockstar Games), where the player can chose to drive as recklessly or carefully as they want. However, you are heavily penalized for driving badly and harming pedestrians as (unlike in GTA), you're meant to be protecting people. For people who find this part of the game tedious, there's also a fast travel option of letting your partner drive.

A still from a driving section of the game
A still from a driving section of the game

These sections of driving between locations provides short, optional street-crimes (which often involve chases or fights) for the player to try in order to rank up. These added a little extra to the game, but if you're a completionist then they might well get in the way of the main case-solving.

Although it might not be the game for some people due to it's somewhat disconnected narrative and mentally challenging cases, for fans it's a new style of game that relies heavily upon the player's intuition and problem solving ability. It's a great game to just jump on and play a case, then put it down for several weeks if you need to. Do you enjoy detective games? Then L.A. Noire is for you.


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