Hard-Boiled In Los Angeles – Thoughts On L.A. Noire

June 24, 2011

It wasn’t until I completed L.A. Noire that I finally started getting an idea of why some of my friends don’t like reading depressing books. It doesn’t usually bother me to read novels where the good guys don’t always win, or where the main protagonists are put through an unbearable amount of strife, but apparently my brain objects when it comes to games.

You see, it’s one thing to be reading about the characters in a book, it’s quite another when you are the protagonist in a video game. In L.A. Noire I find myself connecting to my character on a whole different level because I’m the one playing Cole Phelps, making his decisions, determining his successes and failures. I become attached to my video game characters in a way I don’t with heroes in a novel.

So when bad things happen, I get royally pissed.

In some ways, this is my way of giving my kudos to Rockstar Games and Team Bondi. They’ve done a great job with the story and characters of L.A. Noire, and made me care. Still, I’m detecting a pattern here, no pun intended. Those who have played Red Dead Redemption will know what I mean. Without giving away anything, let’s just say most of L.A. Noire isn’t exactly all sunshine and lollipops either. In fact, it all goes downhill after Homicide.

Once again, I’m don’t want to make it sound like that that’s a terribly bad thing — after all, as its title suggests, the game draws heavily from elements of film noir, including sex, violence, and moral ambiguity. All those themes were captured very well, and it’s certainly not Rockstar’s fault that after finishing the game I felt like I needed a hug.

Anyway, enough of me bitching about the story. Moving on to the other features, I’d mentioned before how much I liked the interrogation aspect of the game, even though I sucked at it.

There is a super fine line between “Lie” and “Doubt”. Trying to read a suspect’s expression remained the biggest challenge for me (other than navigating awkwardly through the mean streets of L.A in those old 1940s automobiles), especially once I discovered how very little distinction there is between the behavior of someone who is actually lying versus that of some hyperventilating idiot whom I just tackled after chasing him down for like 8 city blocks. Seriously, all the perps are friggin’ Olympic sprinters or something.

The beauty of the game is its open world, but here you are much more limited in your activities. Playing as a cop, shenanigans can only hurt your mission and make you score less at the end of a case. There aren’t even mini-games to distract you, though you can drive around discovering famous L.A. landmarks or hidden cars, and there are always street crimes you can solve by accepting them as they come in on your radio. However, they all end up boiling down to three categories — shoot the bad guy, chase the bad guy, or shadow the bad guy.

The recycled content was probably my biggest disappointment, but at least they make it dramatic. The character of Cole Phelps himself is like a mystery within a mystery; he’s a good cop but also a flawed hero, and the more you play the more you learn about him and his past. There are twists (albeit some good, some bad), great dialogue, and like I said, some emotional moments. The game soundtrack is also incredible.

All of that makes the repetitiveness easier to bear, though at some point I did stop picking up street crime cases all together, not to mention it also took me 3.5 weeks to finally finish L.A. Noire. The game’s formulaic nature (at least for the first half) made it impossible for me to sit through more than one or two cases per play session. At times I loved it; at other times I wanted to hurl my controller at the TV screen, especially near the end when the game took a baffling turn.

Like I said, however, it’s a rare gem that can make me care that much about a story and the characters despite its flaws. I’d rather feel something than nothing.


  1. I haven’t been hearing positive feedback about the game especially after people get through vice. I’ve not finished the game but I do plan to go back. However, now that I’ve read your review I don’t feel worried about the ending. One of my favorite movies is War of the Roses. No one says the hero has to win at the end or even survive.

    As long as the ending makes sense even if its unhappy is ok with me.

    People have complained about the side missions being pointless, but from my understanding they help you level up so you get more intuition points when doing the main cases. Other than that, they are pretty useless

    So far I do like it and your post gives me hope that I won’t hate it by the end.

    • I’m sure some will love it, some will hate it. Despite some of its mechanical flaws, I enjoyed the game over all. The story can be upsetting, but some people go watch scary movies to be scared, or watch tear-jerkers just to cry. Playing the game was a lot like that because I did know what to expect. At times the plot of L.A. Noire made me angry, at times it made me sad. But the point is it made me feel, which is the most important part.

  2. This is a game I’ve been wanting to heck out. Based on this preview I still want to, but probably not at full price.

    More generally, I’ve always really enjoyed video games with engaging plots. For me, the plot of a movie or book has to be a lot better than that of a videogame to really engage me. There’s something about actively playing as the main protagonist that really sucks you into an even mildly competent narrative. If the story is actually a good judged on it’s own merits, you have a game that I will really thoroughly enjoy.

    • Absolutely. I find these story and plot driven type games so fun to play, because the elation or frustrations strike you that much deeper. You get to feel a lot of the time that the characters’ accomplishments or failures are also your own.

  3. I enjoyed what I played of LA Noire before my gaming got derailed and I want to get back to it. I’m still in Homicide, though, so I’m still in the vanilla section of the game. I guess all of the craziness is still ahead of me. I do love my noir and Los Angeles, so I’m curious where all of this goes.

    • Kinda interesting how most of the people I know who are playing this game have not finished it yet, because of derailment. I myself would have not completed it if I hadn’t “forced” myself. I think some of the momentum gets lost around halfway through the game that causes this.

  4. Baffling turn for the last part of the game is right! I had to force myself to complete this game because I hated everything after reaching the arson desk. Frankly I thought the character Jack Kelso was much more interesting, even if I hated having to play as him.

    I also agree with you about thinterrogationsns. It was awesome when it worked and supeaggravatingng when I failed at one. I still think it’s a good game and I hope we see more games like it.

    • I did not expect the Kelso part at all. I can’t say I liked playing him much either, especially like I was saying, how I was already so invested in Cole’s story. It was a little jarring, like a harsh brake in an otherwise smooth ride. At that point the game did take a turn for less investigation and more storytelling.

  5. “…I find myself connecting to my character on a whole different level because I’m the one playing Cole Phelps, making his decisions, determining his successes and failures.”

    Which is precisely why I dreaded both the Undead Silverpine ‘story’line, as well as the Worgen noob experience. No matter what you do, ya lost! Yay for frustration!

    Kinda dreading loading up Red Dead now… But I got the zombie expansion first anyway, and he’s undead in that. So I guess I already played the end of the full game without even knowing ^_^

    • Ooh, I actually liked the undead story and the worgen noob experience! Sometimes when crappy things happen, it’s good character building 😛 I guess I don’t necessarily mind stories where bad things happen to good people, as long as they can overcome it in the end. It’s when good things happen to bad people that make me want to throw something 😛

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