Rockstar Games has always been associated with the open-world sandbox mayhem that their Rockstar North studio popularised back in the early 2000s. Yet Rockstar as a publisher has always taken the chance to release titles that don’t always fit the traditional Grand Theft Auto mould. 2011’s L.A. Noire was one such game that presented a very different take from the usual let-loose formula. Over half a decade later, Team Bondi’s development hell baby is getting a second chance to make an impression.
After a remaster treatment, it comes down to taking another look at a game that definitely stood out back at launch. The weird experiment that used new facial capture technology was well received at the time, but has age benefited the game much like the films of the genre it’s named after? Check below for our review of L.A. Noire Remastered.
Tales of mystery right outta the pulpy
Set in the magical land of 1947 Hollywood, L.A. Noire is a detective story about jealousy, murder, conspiracy and almost every other trope associated with the noir genre. Players will take control of Detective Cole Phelps as he climbs the ranks of the LAPD. Starting off as a beat cop, Cole soon finds himself stepping up the ladder of the department. Of course with each promotion to a new beat, there are more cases for the wonder-boy war hero to solve.
Cole plays the traditional straight man, set by the ways of the book with a hard ass personality and a moral compass pointed right to the pearly gates. Each desk will see Cole partnered with another trope of a character and a new kind of crime to solve. While there is a story thread that goes throughout the game, for the most part, each beat features its own ministory with some elements of a case leading into the next. Throughout the game, players can find newspapers which build up to the “real” main plot but that only starts closer towards the end.
L.A. Noire thus doesn’t give the players a particularly gripping story, but the gameplay is where the real experience lies.
While each case can present an interesting tale on its own, it is a shame the overarching and main plotline falls short. Instead of a smart lead up, the game can feel rushed heading towards the end. Interlaced between cases are small snippets of Cole’s history during his time in Okinawa. These do have a purpose but can feel shoehorned in as they are flashed to the player. L.A. Noire thus doesn’t give the players a particularly gripping story, but the gameplay is where the real experience lies.
Overacting faces, they don’t tell the truth
L.A. Noire is first and foremost an adventure game. Despite having an open world, at its core this serves as window dressing. The real meat of the L.A. Noire experience is playing as the best detective within the land of starlets and wealth. Phelps will do every action in the detective repertoire in an attempt to find the truth about the case files flung his way. Players will move through crimes scenes, picking up clues and trying to piece together the full story. Sometimes a little ingenuity will have to be used as Phelps and partner go outside the scene for some chasing, stalking and shootouts. Yet the most prominent facet of gameplay comes through the interviews and interrogations.
Clearly no liar would give me a salty look like that.
L.A. Noire was built and sold around motion captured faces. Actors would perform their part only to have their face translated into the game, capturing all the little kinks and movement. When interviewing a person of interest, the face becomes the focal point for determining whether or not these characters are giving it to you straight. Thus we hit the three options of response in the interview: playing good cop, bad cop and just outright accusing the interviewee of lying through their teeth.
Based on the faces, the player must choose the best response. After questioning is done, the character will sit in an idle animation that will indicate whether they are levelling with Phelps. While it is still incredible that such detail has been captured, the faces can still come off as over-acted for the sake of the player convenience.
When interviewing a person of interest, the face becomes the focal point for determining whether or not these characters are giving it to you straight.
Good cop and bad cop will just act as a response when there is no way to contradict or disprove, yet accusations require a bit more. Leveling accusations will need evidence to be presented. The evidence players find at crime scenes will all be listed in Phelp’s journal and ready to be selected as proof of claims. The biggest issue with these, however, is that within the journal menu, they lack a lot of detail. The journal only presents a small description of the items meaning that there are certain objects that come off as obtuse. This can lead to some frustration when the game only wants its logic within the scene.
However, when the player does get stumped, there are options for help. Players can get intuition points by increasing detective rank which acts as a levelling system. Intuition points are a usable currency that gives two options: remove one of the incorrect answers during an interrogation or ask the community for help. However, these will never tell the player what evidence must be selected.
It is worth noting that even a botched interview or a completely mishandled case will never mean game over. You can never truly ruin everything through incompetence because the game needs the player to progress. Even failing chase sections will just prompt a restart. The only thing that will be affected is the detective ranking which comes at the end of a case. While getting the questions right may streamline the experience, the game will never lead you to an unsolvable dead end. The player will always get some clue leading them along when all provided options have been exhausted.
There is no denying that there is no other experience quite like L.A. Noire, even six years later. Its detective gameplay is still unique and no other game has ever placed such an emphasis on the observation of facial movement. While it is nice to look back at the game, a second playthrough definitely doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact as the first. The inherent issues of the over dramatised faces, leaps in logic and simple systems don’t really accommodate heading back in time. Yet if this serves as a first experience, it is well worth giving a go.
The detective sections of L.A. Noire will take up the majority of your time and attention, yet there is an open world to explore. L.A. Noire presents a big, but unfortunately empty map of Los Angeles for players to cruise through. Players looking for open world shenanigans should turn away now. L.A. Noire is the antithesis of that free-form experience with restraint placed heavily on the player. The game will actively punish you for going wild on the roads. Any damage to the player’s car, city property or the citizens will hurt the detective’s final evaluation. L.A. Noire presents a very strict experience with regards to the open world, not even allowing the player to take out their gun at will.
Exploring the map does give the player small missions to solve. While driving around, a dispatch call may come in requesting assistance in some area of Hollywood. Heading there will start a small mission that will lead to a shootout or chase. These don’t add much to the overall experience but are fun distractions for anyone looking for more. There are also a bunch of collectables hidden around town.
Don’t expect any hustle or bustle as the streets are often barren.
Ultimately, the open world serves more as a set piece than it does a place to explore. The game will even allow the player to skip driving to new locations completely by letting your partner take the wheel. After the first few missions, it is highly likely that this will become the main means of transportation. Los Angeles is a hollow and lifeless city within the game and driving can be a tedious activity. Even in the remaster, the world still feels as empty as it did in the last generation versions.
The Remastered Original Cut
The remaster of L.A. Noire is the exact same experience players had all those years ago. The story, case structures and dialogue all remain intact for better or worse. Most of the remastered treatment was focused on the visual touchups bringing L.A. Noire into the modern age. On the PS4 Pro, the big inclusions are the added visual flairs of a 4k resolution accompanied by HDR colours. The lighting system has been given a noticeable upgrade adding some nice contrast. While these definitely make the game look stunning, a lot of the other graphical issues still remain in the final product. With the resolution allowing for much more detail, these are a lot harder to ignore.
L.A. Noire features too many graphical issues to list. While some can be chalked up to open world goofiness, others are quite evident and hard to overlook. Two prominent examples involve figures in the distance. While driving through a portion of Los Angeles, get ready for a lot of awkward pop-in as figures in the distance dissolve into place. Also, be prepared for some very weird citizens walking at a slower and stilted framerate.
This is the real tragedy of the L.A. Noire Remaster. It can look absolutely stunning at times but there will always be something that rips you right out of it.
This is the real tragedy of the L.A. Noire Remaster. It can look absolutely stunning at times but there will always be something that rips you right out of it. This is not a game that got the full visual fix up and it clearly shows as the resolution was the main focus. Yet this does provide one massive benefit with the game’s performance. L.A. Noire runs incredibly well with a consistent and solid framerate. While this is likely generated through some of the tricks that add to the graphical botches, there is no denying that this is definitely a fine running one.
The other graphical blotch that remains comes from the character models. While there is no denying the faces still look top notch, there are some issues that went through the digitization. With the new resolution, these are more prominent than they were before. While these can be overlooked, the rest of the character models’ issues are harder to overlook.
From the helmet hair to the bodies, it appears as though characters got very little work done in the conversion to new systems.
The hair and bodies of characters have a harsh disconnect from the expressive faces. With regards to the hair, within L.A. Noire it all looks absolutely awful. Apart from just feeling flat, they appear uneven and lifeless. The disconnect from what appears to be sprayed on hair to realistic faces is night and day. The bodies suffer from the same disconnection issue but luckily not as severe as the Ken doll hair. The bodies don’t feel realistic in-game, moving in a stilted manner that again hits a stark contrast with the faces. These were issues present in the original game and with the remaster they only stand out much more.
Pictures are worth 1,000 murders
The most notable inclusion in the L.A. Noire Remaster package is a photo mode. This of course always falls to the player’s love of getting that perfect shot, but here it can be a lot of fun. The feature doesn’t really stray too far from what some players have experienced before in other games. With the camera in place, players can hit the two analogue sticks to enter this mode. You will have all your usual options of brightness and contrast and all other tricks to take that perfect shot.
In a weird point, photo mode has more display options than the actual options menu does.
However, it is worth noting that photo mode is disabled while in HDR mode. To activate it, it requires the player to go to a system level and disable the Automatic HDR detection. This can be annoying as while the PS4 screen capturing doesn’t capture HDR, most games that include the feature do not require it to be turned off. Another massive pain comes from the bombardment of messages noting that scenes have been blocked from recording. Almost every cutscene within the game is blocked forcing a notification to constantly pop up. It is highly recommended the player turn off these notifications to avoid the constant nuisance.
The horns of damned
L.A. Noire still holds one of the best original soundtracks from Rockstar’s catalogue. It is committed to bringing that Noir feeling and often times it is the music that delivers the sombre mood. From heavy horns and strums, it is an outstanding score that works impeccably within the game and is a treat to hear outside of it. While there are licensed tracks via the radio, they will hardly make an impact when the soundtrack takes centre stage.
You never know where crooks could be hiding the goods.
The sound design has remained essentially unchanged and this is for the better. Music is used as an indicator for the player to be aware of their surroundings. Crime scenes are always accompanied by a particular piece of music which notifies the player that there are more clues scattered around. Even clues are tied to a chime as an indication of interaction, avoiding bad pixel hunt gameplay. L.A. Noire is a wonderful sounding game all round and this even extends to the voice performances.
Five years later and still a unique experiment
L.A. Noire, despite its faults, is still a gripping and interesting game. No other release has quite done what L.A. Noire set out to do all those years ago in creating a detective tale where observation and intuition are the key elements of gameplay. As far as the remaster goes, this is by no means the best repackaging around. There are still many graphical issues that are harsh reminders that L.A. Noire comes from a different generation. These don’t completely mar the overall experience but it is worth noting that it is tough to mistake L.A. Noire for a contemporary release.
If you have never had the chance to play L.A. Noire, now is the perfect time to hop in and see what made the game a notable release. If you have gone around playing detective in 1947 before, it is a lot harder to rise up and put the money down for a second ride. The issues found in the original release are still very much present and the remaster doesn’t quite create enough incentive for another run through the seedy streets of broken dreams. Coming in at a reduced price, however, does make the less than stellar remaster an easier pill to swallow.