Well, wow. Rockstar’s remastered crime noir drama/action game L.A. Noire comes to consoles in pretty fine form and yes, it’s worth a buy. Granted, if you’re a more jaded “gamer” who thinks even looking at an HD version of an older game will somehow make you lose your street cred (*snicker!*), you kind of need a new hobby and should skip the rest of this review. The game has not only gotten more polished looks, its gameplay has been tweaked to use the PS4’s touch pad as an option for object manipulation when poking around crime scenes. There are still a few pesky quirks left over from the PS3 version, but despite those, this is one of those games that’s great to have back and it’ll be a new experience for those who missed out on it the first time.
As Cole Phelps, you’ll rise through the ranks of the LAPD in the post-WWII era from beat cop to nattily-dressed detective using wits and fists with the occasional firearm in your case solving. For the Grand Theft Auto fans out there who are new to this one, although some gameplay elements are very similar, this isn’t a re-skin at all. You get real cars from the period, approximately 90% of the city’s streets mapped out from that era and plenty of references you may need to look up or hey, go ask an older person about. It’s certainly a great way to introduce a grandparent to gaming. And yes, you can indeed play the game in glorious black and white if you like.
The game is made up of short, medium and longer cases set up in chapter form as Phelps starts as a regular patrol officer and the initial tutorial shows you the ropes. Expect a lot of legwork, searching for evidence and most importantly, automatic note-keeping that comes in handy when interviewing suspects or witnesses. The updated interface now uses a Good Cop/Bad Cop/Accuse trio of options when you need to talk to people during interview/interrogation scenes, so it’s a bit clearer when selecting an option. You can still screw up a case by asking the wrong questions even if you have enough evidence in your favor. Thankfully, replaying chapters can clear up that less than perfect rating although the game tracks everything you do each time you fire it up.
Speaking of firing things up, the driving is solid, although it can also be a tiny bit slippery if you try driving at higher speeds and can’t avoid crashing into stuff because you refuse to brake properly. You can also duke it out with suspects if it comes down to that, but learning to block and dodge blows comes in really handy because you can get knocked out cold (and fail a mission) if you’re carelessly throwing punches left and right. Gunplay adds a pretty solid targeting system and the need to dip in and out of cover. Cole isn’t a Max-Payne-like bullet sponge at all, so keeping him healthy is key when things get rough. Shooting hostages or civilians is a big no-no, but anyone firing on you or another officer is fair game.
As with the original version, the stunning facial animations are still impressive today, although you may be so impressed by them that you forget to “read” a response and have to rely on the game’s hint system to snap you back to what you were supposed to be concentrating on. Doing well at investigations adds spendable points that drop one response off the list of three choices which can be helpful in a pinch. It’s also a nice touch that should you fail a question or two, the game chimes in after the mission with a hint on how you could have done better. Yeah, yeah, you can be cheap and look up hints to all the missions online. But where’s the fun in that, I ask? Part of what makes this game a great buy is being a decent enough detective to not fail (so much).
In addition to the great visuals, the soundtrack is just as impressive selection of popular standards, a few radio shows and more. Exploring the game world becomes a game in itself as you’ll find a few interesting collectibles from books and magazines to LP’s and even some great concept cars from the period that yes, will show up in the game’s cut scenes if you’re driving one. There are also assorted optional street crimes to tackle as you’re out and about that can cough up some nice experience while you’re taking a bite out of crime. The game doesn’t penalize you much other than noting if you leave a current case or crime scene to tackle a new one, but again, you can retry/replay events if you mess up.
As for the oddities, some are holdovers from the old version. Movement can be a bit wonky in tight spaces when Cole gets stuck on the occasional immovable object. It makes for a less than smooth impression when showing off the game to others, but the wow factor is still pretty high overall. Characters aren’t as well animated as their faces are and once in a while you’ll see someone get stuck walking across a street as he or she walks into the side of a car that’s in a crosswalk. On a few occasions, it’s easy to lose track of a fleeing suspect because some of them get the jump on Cole and dart into some pretty busy streets, leaving you with a scant few seconds to catch them. While you can indeed plug some thug in the back, shooting anyone else will fail the mission (so, um… don’t do that!).
That Mature rating means the game pulls no punches in terms of dialog and assorted content that might make some used to older films with less ear-burning chatter raise an eyebrow. However, this adds to the realism and keeps the game flowing as it should when Cole comes across some folks who say the more pointed stuff about certain races or religions in that manner that makes you want to Bad Cop them just for the satisfaction. Hey, remember… you can retry a case if you fail, so exploring all the options before you get shut down by a suspect who shuts up can be another way to play. Just don’t tell anyone you’ve been a not so nice detective (although the game will know and tell all anyway).
So yes, no matter how you play it, you should absolutely give L.A. Noire a try. While I can’t speak for the PC, VR, Xbox One or Switch versions, PS4 owners looking for a solid and decently lengthy crime saga set in a pretty amazing recreation of a city mostly long gone are in for a quite the holiday treat.
Score: A- (90%)
Retail copy provided by the publisher