After the sprawling heights that Rockstar’s unexpected success Red Dead Redemption soared to in 2010, one would think that it would be next-to-impossible for them to bring us something as eagerly-epic the following year in 2011. Indeed, many video game developers — much like authors and filmmakers — seem to unintentionally employ an alternating hit and miss strategy. But this is Rockstar we’re talking about: even when their games aren’t all that great (e.g. Bully), they still tend to be enjoyable.
With L.A. Noire, the video game company’s latest offering, we appear to have another winner on our hands. Well, it’s a hit according to some of us, at least — there are an awful lot of folks out there that haven’t been able to fully appreciate this game because it actually requires you to think.
That’s right, I said “think.” L.A. Noire isn’t your usual game fare. There are no helicopter joyrides over the skyscrapers of Liberty City to be found here. No zombies to kill. In fact, you’re not entitled to sporadically kill random people on the streets at all: hell, it’s extremely difficult to kill anyone period — unless it’s part of your assignment. Part of this is due to the fact that you are playing a cop; and, unlike the occasional home videos that cause riots to burst in certain metropolitan areas of Southern California, cops are supposed to be the good guys.
Note how I said “supposed to,” though. Like all of the film noir classics and pulp novels that L.A. Noire undoubtedly takes its cue from, corruption is to be found on both sides of the law. Your character, Cole Phelps (brought to life via an animated version of Mad Men’s own Aaron Staton), starts out as a beat cop on the streets of Los Angeles in post-WWII Los Angeles. Due to Cole’s keen observational skills and stern honesty, he rises quickly in the ranks, and you get a chance to work in the Traffic, Homicide and Vice departments as the game progresses, before concluding in Arson.
Throughout the whole game, there is an underlying subplot involving Phelps in his WWII days (as well as the men he served with) that finally comes to fruition towards the end. Bits and pieces of this particular puzzle are presented periodically in the form of newspapers lying around or flashbacks that are presented as cutaway sequences.