L.A. Noire Review

By Kelly Packard, 18 days ago
The remaster trend can feel so good when it's done right. Compilations like The Jak and Daxter Collection offer an opportunity to play beloved games with stunning graphics. Selections like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition breathe new life into a years-old multiplayer game, adding new game modes and features to modernize the title for today's audience. Then we have L.A. Noire, clearly the odd man out here. It's a 2011 title that launched late into the Xbox 360's life cycle. The graphics were already highly lauded at the time. The facial animations were the talk of the town. There was an absurd amount of detail put into the 1940s-era Los Angeles setting, including the inclusion of nearly 100 classic cars. L.A. Noire is an accomplishment of a game, no doubt. There just aren't a whole lot of reasons to buy this remaster if you already played the original.


L.A. Noire tells the story of Cole Phelps, a former lieutenant in the Marines. Phelps is assimilating back into civilian life after he returns home from World War II's Pacific campaign. Meanwhile, there is the overarching story of his fellow Marines. Phelps' squad mates have gotten themselves involved with a stolen shipload of military morphine that is now being distributed on the streets of LA. Both stories are intriguing and inevitably connect, and the morphine angle is elaborated upon through newspaper collectibles found throughout the game.

The gameplay is structured as cases. Phelps starts his police career as a patrol officer and begins to work his way up through different investigation desks like traffic, homicide and vice. Players will take control of Phelps as he investigates crime scenes, chases leads and coaxes information out of witnesses. There are occasional action sequences like car chases or gunfights strewn in as well. L.A. Noire is heavily designed around its story with gameplay being secondary; action sequences can even be skipped without penalty.

Aside from the new collectibles and outfits that are included with the Xbox One version, the game still hits all the same highs and lows of the original. L.A. Noire's Los Angeles is massive, beautiful and detailed, but one of the main criticisms of the original and the remaster is that it's an empty world without much to do. Once you finish the main story, all that's left is collectible gathering and street crimes in which Phelps responds to quick and easy police situations like chasing down a suspect or stopping a dispute. There are many collectibles, the most unforgettable of which are the classic cars. The music is memorable and fitting, and every aspect of L.A. Noire feels like it was meticulously addressed during development. In all the years before and all the years since L.A. Noire released, there has never been anything quite like it.

Los Angeles, circa 1947.Los Angeles, circa 1947.

Interviewing suspects, one of the major components of solving each case, is still a hit and miss experience. The system involves looking at NPCs' facial expressions to gauge if they're being truthful. You can also present them with evidence to prove you've caught them in a lie. Rockstar has changed the names of the three conversation options to Good Cop, Bad Cop and Accuse. The options used to be Truth, Doubt and Lie, but the new version doesn't address the underlying problem of the imperfect system. There is only one answer that is correct (except for occasionally when Bad Cop or Accuse can be interchanged), but it's impossible to tell if the game wants you to play out the scene as a good cop or a bad cop when you don't have the evidence to make an accusation. This often yields undesired responses from Phelps, his police superiors and the witnesses.

Gameplay issues aside, the main draw of L.A. Noire is the story. It's a well-written, lengthy, memorable story, and perhaps that's part of the problem of releasing an L.A. Noire remaster only six years after the fact. Think about what L.A. Noire is: it's a single player, story-driven game that is told through cases. Each case is a new mystery to solve, and Phelps will apprehend a suspect at the end of every case. But even though L.A. Noire's story is woven wonderfully, there is hardly any reason for existing fans to revisit it if they already know how every case closes. It's like reading a whodunit when you already know 'whodunit.'

The remaster is also a missed opportunity to bring on some additional cases or side missions or tweak the interview system instead of add a few lousy collectibles. A 20+ hour story game is a tough sell to existing fans with only a few new collectibles and a minor graphical boost (which should be more dramatic if you play it on an Xbox One X where it is enhanced for the system). All the downloadable content is included as well and is now a mandatory part of the story line that must be played to access missions beyond it. While making the cases mandatory is fine in theory, their insertions aren't gracious: for some reason, players will find themselves forced to play the "Nicholson Electroplating" DLC in between the second-to-last mission and the finale of the game, which interrupts a major plot occurrence.

If you're going to play L.A. Noire, get used to dead peopleIf you're going to play L.A. Noire, get used to dead people

Of course, there are other camps of gamers to which L.A. Noire may be targeting aside from those who are already familiar with the game. For those who missed out on the original, the Xbox One version is a nice bundling of a great game, now on current-gen systems, with every piece of additional content ever released for it. Achievement hunters probably have their eye on a brand-new 1,500 gamerscore, but for your average gamer who still owns an Xbox 360, there is no reason to buy the Xbox One version of L.A. Noire over a used copy for a few bucks at your local game store.

The achievement list is the same as the Xbox 360 version plus two new achievements. You'll find all the base game achievements intact plus the DLC achievements have returned in full force, bringing the list up to 1,500 gamerscore. You'll also notice a few new achievements for the additional collectibles that are exclusive to the Xbox One version: novels and records. The L.A. Noire achievements have never been a test of skill so much as endurance; there are a lot of collectibles, and every case must be completed with the maximum rating of five stars. The completion estimate is 35-40 hours, and more than 30 gamers have already earned that shiny 100%. The game is perfectly suited to a walkthrough, but this is not recommended for your first run-through as you'll completely ruin the story for yourself.

Summary

L.A. Noire is a great game. The six years since its original launch haven't changed that. The imagining of 1940s Los Angeles is massive and detailed, and every aspect of the game feels meticulous and polished. The well-woven story edges out any gameplay complaints or issues that arose in the original game. All the DLC and additional challenges are here — albeit some of it has been inserted less than tactfully — making the Xbox One version a nice compilation for players who missed this gem from last gen, but the value drops significantly for returning players, partially due to L.A. Noire's engaging and memorable mystery. The appeal is snuffed out when you already know how every twist and turn in this detective tale goes, and Rockstar hasn't brought out enough meaningful changes to make L.A. Noire worth another visit from players who already donned their detective badges on the Xbox 360.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Still a unique, intriguing, single-player game that isn't quite like anything out there
  • Well-woven main story that is elaborated upon by the overarching story shown in the newspaper collectibles
  • Huge amount of detail put into every inch of the game
  • Every piece of content that was ever released for L.A. Noire bundled into one package plus a few new goodies
Negatives
  • Not much appeal if you already know how all the cases end
  • Offers no major improvements or new content over the original
  • DLC cases are now a mandatory part of the game and sometimes break the flow of the main story
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 30 hours replaying L.A. Noire's story and side missions and getting her hands on as many collectibles as possible. 52 achievements were won for 1,200 gamerscore. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Kelly Packard
Written by Kelly Packard
In a few descriptors: college student, longtime gamer, writer and junk food enthusiast. I contribute to TrueAchievements as a news writer and reviewer. Usually, you can find me knee-deep in a multiplayer game while ignoring my growing backlog or on one forum or another discussing all things gaming.