What’s old is still quite a “killer diller”
I lost myself recently, in a whirlwind of a game I never had the chance to play prior to its recent release on the Switch, that of course being L.A. Noire. It was heralded way back when it was released in 2011 as being a huge leap forward in motion capture technology implementation, as well as a respectable representation of California in the 1940s. Now that it’s on Switch, I’ve taken on the task of interrogating mobsters, thugs, bar tenders, and “innocent” soup factory owners. But does it hold up to the standards expected nearly seven years later? In short, I’m inclined to say yes.
Step into the role of Cole Phelps, a veteran from the war, now-turned detective for the LAPD. Hunt for clues, chase thugs, survive shootouts, interrogate suspects, and explore the vast open world of L.A. in 1947; that’s the premise of the noire inspire adventure to be had here. And I gotta say, it’s a really enjoyable one. From the get go, I was blown away by the world Rockstar had replicated. I haven’t ever been to California myself, but the amount of detail put into creating the noire setting had me sold on that the world was fairly 1:1 in its redesign, at least for what the 40s might have looked like. All of the streets have names, there are well-known landmarks like famous art galleries, bridges, monuments, and parks; it was probably one of the most immersive experiences I have ever had the pleasure to take part in. After about the first two hours of playing, a friend suggested switching the display to black and white, and when I did, I didn’t go back. I was that in love with the look.
The look of the world wasn’t the only huge element I loved, so were the performances. The motion-capture still does its job, very well, at conveying faces and movements in the characters. While it’s definitely dated by this point, it’s still excellent at showing exactly the expressions the actors had when recorded. In addition to that, the voice work is excellent. I had a lot of fun in all of my interactions because they made the experiences feel more real. They tipped the point of the immersion into “I’m actually here” territory, and I don’t think many games can claim that for me. Even the darker sides of history are shown, like racism, sexism, the war, etc. A huge component of gameplay are the interrogations, and so having those be executed well, and last years later for the Switch version, is a testament to how much work went into them. Even afterwards, I was so interested by my time with the adventure, that I was eager enough to look into some more noire culture art.
Music is another element that plays a part, fairly often. It’s an entirely original score, but the inspirations are clear if you know your history on that subject. Sometimes, music is nothing more then world building, radio-like, ambiance. Expect a lot of big band jazz and blues music, like the works Count Basie Orchestra, or Cab Colloway. Other instances had the music involved in the game, such as hunting for clues. A low double bass accompanied by a drum set, and an occasional piano/muted trumpet created the mood I would imagine if I were a detective hunting for clues. And when I had found all of the clues needed from a crime scene, a trio of trumpets would gently crescendo and end then end the song. That dead silence was a cue to move on to the next objective. This was very handy to have, but also is an option to be turned off entirely in case a player wants to go all-in and solve a case without any “handholding”. I preferred having some guidance, so that way I didn’t feel like I was missing anything vital come crunch time.
And speaking of, there are a fair amount of options to play with here. Again, you don’t have to play in color, you can switch to the artsy, noire look or contrasting black and white. You don’t have to do the intense shoot outs or chase sequences if you don’t want to, because the game is designed around primarily solving cases, not the former. So after a few failed attempts, you can skip if you’d like. I myself rarely ever felt the need to skip the more intense areas of the adventure because I enjoyed that it was a different pace. At times, the pace felt repetitive: get a case, go to the crime scene and find clues, interrogate a suspect for a lead, and continue looking for clues until a resolution. But as I got farther down the adventure, I found some more creative approaches to the resolutions, like big mafia-like shoot outs, or a chase on an abandoned movie set that’s crumbling, etc.
While there is a heavy amount of detective work offered, “exploring” L.A. yields some other challenges, though most weren’t enough to keep my attention. You can drive around and find other vehicles, discover an actual landmark, or stop a quick crime in progress, but for the most part there is not a whole lot of interaction with the world outside of the adventure. As far other things to note, there are a few frame rate dips in the more intense sequences. Also, I would rarely get those chases right on the first try because the suspect would always run out of my field of view instantly. None of the major problems I had with the game were a consistent thing to lower my enjoyment in a impactful way. I found that frame rates ran about the same for both docked and handheld mode. Motion controls for the camera are optional, but I played with the touch screen controls more often just to experiment with how they worked. Surprisingly, L.A. Noire can totally be played without controllers, it’s just a little strange on how it works. I played the game with controllers because I didn’t want to endure a learning curve, but it is great to have so many options available.
In the end, L.A. Noire holds up. It’s a little odd to play as an open world game because of it’s strong focus on story, but the immersion is unreal. Every aspect of my detective work felt like a genuine adventure in a world I could never be a part of. There’s plenty of content here to be played, and I strongly recommend giving L.A. Noire some time, even if you’re not a shooting, car chase thrill seeker. The focus are the cases themselves, and that’s awesome.