Even years later, it remains one of the best police procedurals ever made. The story contains depth and nuance, and the gameplay outside of the third-person shooting is creative and thoughtful. However, the remastered version falls short of what we've come to expect from other such projects as the boost in visuals isn't as substantial. Aside from some of the problems which plagued the Xbox 360 game, L.A. Noire is a great addition to the Xbox One catalog as newcomers will cherish the experience.
Background and story
L.A. Noire is a violent crime thriller set in the city of Los Angeles. The game takes place close to 1940 and accurately captures the essence of the era. Gameplay revolves around exploring the city, patrolling the streets, arresting criminals, and solving crime in the third-person perspective. Hollywood is in its Golden Age, and just like any such boom, it breeds numerous problems alongside stupendous success. Players step into the shoes of Cole Phelps, a Los Angeles Police Department detective, who has to not only solve cases and get promoted, but also unravel a larger conspiracy involving a series of arsons.
The game deals with mature topics like widespread corruption, an exploding drug trade, and skyrocketing murder rates. Aside from the arsons, Phelps must uncover the truth behind various racketeering conspiracies and brutal killings. However, it's not that simple, the corruption encompasses the Los Angeles underworld and parts of the police department. In many ways, Phelps' struggle is a fight against the entire system.
Phelps is a World War II veteran and his connections and experiences during the brutal war play an important role in the plot. Numerous individuals from his past — as well as his actions — shape the lengthy L.A. Noire story even after its explosive ending. The game does a great job of tying everything together even though initially it may seem like an unrelated element. Corruption in the city isn't the only topic explored here. How power and success affect individuals, no matter which side of the law they're on, is a central theme which has tragic consequences for many characters.
One of the highlights of the game has to be the interrogation of suspects. In the original, players could choose to believe individuals or doubt their testimony. The outcome of each case depended on selecting the right option by analyzing how characters reacted during questioning. Determining if a suspect was lying or telling the truth, or if a witness was hiding crucial information, dramatically changed your understanding of events.
Just like any police procedural, L.A. Noire features thrilling chases, shootouts, and detective work. Instead of simply handing you all the pieces of the puzzle, it requires you to immerse yourself further in the story by analyzing each encounter. Just like Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter, the title tasks you with finding clues and following up with various individuals. For example, to track down the owner of a revolver, you have to note down its serial number and then go to the gun store and examine their ledger. The game is filled with many tasks like this which get more complicated the further you progress. Many of the cases are inspired by brutal crimes and conspiracies from 1947 Los Angeles. It was no doubt one of the most corrupt and violent times in the city's history and it shows. This adds another layer of authenticity to further draw you in.
In the original Xbox 360 version, the game gave players three options when questioning suspects. You had to select between "Truth", "Doubt" and "Lie" based on what you heard. However, these options didn't quite match what Phelps would do. Selecting Truth caused the protagonist to adopt the stereotypical "good cop" routine while Doubt caused him to come across as a "bad cop". Unsurprisingly, Lie was quite bizarre because it would cause Phelps to spew out baseless accusations. This resulted in interrogation sequences becoming more of a guessing game because you never knew if your character would react erratically.
Rockstar Games noticed this and in the remaster the developer renamed the three options to "Good Cop", "Bad Cop", and "Accuse". This is more in line with what Phelps says but it's still not completely clear. This also changes up gameplay because now you're selecting an interrogation technique rather than making an outright judgment on a testimony. This is quite possibly the biggest improvement the remastered version has received because it makes gameplay more understandable.
Visuals and performance
Unfortunately, L.A. Noire looks quite dated on Xbox One and the upgrade to native 4K resolution on Xbox One X doesn't improve the overall look. The problem here seems to be related to the textures because even Red Dead Redemption, which came out in 2010, looks better. The world has a very flat and dark design no matter what time of day it is. In many ways — aside from the crisper image — this is exactly the same game that launched on Xbox 360 all those years ago. If you aren't playing on a 4K display, you might not even be able to tell the difference if anti-aliasing isn't a major concern.
If you compare this upgraded version of L.A. Noire to a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Special Edition, it's clear that Bethesda put much more work into the remaster than Rockstar Games. Whenever a developer remasters a title, it needs to appeal to new gamers and returning players alike. Those who have played L.A. Noire before have no reason to go back to it if they aren't worried about an increase in resolution. Newcomers will probably pick this up for the phenomenal story but they might have issues with its dated look.
Nowadays people crave the best visuals and want their games to look amazing on new hardware. Those who purchase it expecting a significant jump will feel let down. Even though it renders at 1080p on Xbox One and native 4K on Xbox One X, it's not a substantial leap. The frame rate is the same because L.A. Noire still runs at a stable 30 FPS just like the original. Luckily, there's more value in the remaster because it includes all of the additional add-ons and suits which grant you special abilities.
Aside from its phenomenal voice acting, L.A. Noire made waves in 2011 because it utilized revolutionary facial animation technology that captures every detail of an actor's facial performance. Dozens of cameras recorded how their face moved and allowed the developers to incorporate that in the game. However, there's a little disconnect between the facial animations and the movement of the bodies. They seem a little disjointed especially when you're interrogating suspects and their arms have a mind of their own.
For example, when you cross your arms in real life, your head somewhat tilts. The same applies to when you're using your hands to convey certain matters and your head moves around accordingly. This is absent in L.A. Noire to some degree so, while the faces are accurate, the body movements feel unnatural a lot of the time. This is probably an insurmountable task for the developer to fix, but it's still jarring to witness nonetheless.
L.A. Noire review conclusion
Overall, L.A. Noire remains the same great game it launched as, but that's the problem. The improvements don't particularly stand out if you aren't looking. While the visual upgrade isn't that significant, it's still an innovative experience even to this day. The remaster might not draw in those who have already played the title, but newcomers should definitely give it a go. However, keep in mind that the game doesn't look modern due to its flat textures.
The real star of the show here is the stunning facial animation which captures every detail of an actor's face. It's a shame that more games haven't utilized it since 2011. More than anything, replaying L.A. Noire makes you yearn for a proper sequel which pushes animation and gameplay innovations even further. Hopefully we'll see it soon after Red Dead Redemption 2 which launches in 2018.
- Phenomenal story.
- Amazing facial animations.
- Strong investigative gameplay.
- Dated visuals despite resolution boost.
- Interrogation options still not completely clear.
- Body animations feel disjointed.
L.A. Noire is available now on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4, starting at $39.99. The game released on Xbox 360, Windows PC, and PlayStation 3 in 2011.
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Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.