Published on January 23rd, 2013 | by geoff_bee0
City of Angels
The rain beat a rhythm against the windows of my office. The night outside was as black as the depths of my heart. My only company was a laptop, the only light in this otherwise lifeless room. In my mind all I could see were questions. Where could I find a game to write about? Would it be good or bad? Where was I going to get dinner? My mind made up, I firmly pulled the laptop towards me. It was time to find answers.
Okay so maybe I shouldn’t write hard-boiled 1940s detective fiction. But after playing L.A. Noire for the past few days I couldn’t help myself. I never had any interest in playing this game – I’m not a huge fan of Rockstar games you see – but when it came up in the Steam Sale over Christmas, with all DLCs and for about seven quid, my first thought was “That will be good for a Gamer’s Quest article!” So I bought it (along with FTL) and I finally got round to playing it. And you know what? I really like it.
For those of you who haven’t played it, L.A. Noire follows the career of an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department named Cole Phelps. The game follows him from his early days as a uniformed officer through various departments as a detective and along the way we learn about his past in the Second World War. Along the way you will solve cases like murders, kidnappings, robberies and many others. It’s almost like playing a TV series.
The cases to solve are presented as episodes, complete with title and introductory scene. The first few, when Cole is a uniformed officer, are very short and serve as a tutorial for gameplay – movement, driving, searching for clues and interrogating suspects, chasing down fleeing criminals and gunfights are all given in their own mini storylines. Once Cole is promoted from uniform division to become a full detective the game starts properly and you’re on your own.
Cases follow a typically procedural format – Cole and his partner will be sent to a crime scene where they gather clues and question witnesses. They then visit suspects and listen to their stories. The whole thing climaxes in an action setpiece – a rooftop chase or battle – then it’s back to the station for congratulatory backslapping. Then it’s on to the next episode – er I mean case. It’s a neat way of dividing up the game into manageable chunks of a couple of hours at a time rather than spend a large amount of your day trying to get the plot to move forward.
The parts of the investigations are self-contained as well, so you won’t have to worry about getting into a shootout when trying to find clues on a wrecked car or worry that you’ve missed an item along the way when chasing your suspect. In between these you’ll be driving around Los Angeles in your official car. Or get your partner to drive you around, which is quicker but doesn’t allow you to cause as much mayhem as you want in the name of upholding the law.
The characters are very well animated, which becomes a game mechanic when you have to determine if someone is telling the truth or lying depending on how much they twitch when speaking. If you’ve played any of the Ace Attorney games you’ll be familiar with catching someone in a lie and then presenting the right piece of evidence to prove it and sitting back in satisfaction as they break down. Same thing here, only there’s also a “doubt” option when you don’t have the evidence but still think they’re lying. There are also intuition points you can use to reduce your options and point you in the right direction.
But the major star of this game is Los Angeles itself. The developers spent hours examining thousands of photos of LA in the 1940s and that care and attention really shows here. The city is massive and vibrant and, even though you’re restricted to outdoors for the most part, you can quite easily spend a lot of time driving around and possibly causing as much damage as you possibly can. Because, you know, it’s fun. Like I said I’m really enjoying this game and I think I’ll be playing it for a long while to come.