'LA Noire' Almost Got Detective Games Right

'LA Noire' is big. It's the games that got small.
May 17, 2017, 6:13pm

Guide to Games is Waypoint's weekly short video series diving into a game we love, detest, or find fascinating. If the video above doesn't work, try the version on YouTube! Footage for this episode courtesy of Geek Remix.

LA Noire has some major issues. But it was a revelation for visual fidelity and imaginative world-building back in 2011.

It has such an intriguing premise: you are Cole Phelps, a cop in a vast, corrupt, and subtly beautiful post-war LA. As you move up the ranks and make detective, you solve ever-more complex cases, poking around a world of crime: both mundane and truly, disturbingly exotic.


LA Noire draws you in, with a gleaming, sometimes terrifying city full of the social strife, glitz and rot of Hollywood town in the late 40s. There are art deco diners and rotting, massive sets, run-down train tracks and gleaming apartments.

I loved playing detective, searching scenes for clues, and when it worked, reading body language when interrogating suspects.

Not all was well in LA Noire: the main story kind of falls apart by the end, where the game stops feeling influenced by LA Confidential and Chinatown, and reads more like a cheap ripoff of them. Our protagonist is kind of a useless dork, and while that's very much part of the text, he becomes increasingly difficult to care about.

And while LA Noire does have *something* of a complex view of policework, by diving into heavy corruption that exists in the force, it sure is a big-budget video game. Which is to say—you'll almost certainly commit acts of over-the-top violence while playing, and given the context of playing as a cop in an otherwise fairly realistic simulation, that's not a great look.

I do love the world of LA Noire. I love getting lost in its streets, listening to the radio while driving period cars. I loved it so much that I've bought multiple copies of the game to finish it, after a few discs got scratched in a cross-country move. As crappy as Cole is, I needed to see his story to the end.