Revisiting The Opening Cases of L.A. Noire

Illustration for article titled Revisiting The Opening Cases of L.A. Noire

Last week, we started playing L.A. Noire on Kotaku’s Twitch channel. It’s a 2011 detective game with a lot of cases to solve. Recently, we finished the cases for the traffic detective desk. It’s a good introduction to the game that also has a few problems.

In L.A Noire you play as Cole Phelps, an enterprising veteran of World War II now working for the Los Angeles police department. Phelps’ intelligence as a beat cop earns him a promotion to detective, working to solve traffic-related crimes. This is the first portion of the game; every so often Phelps will get shuffled or promoted to a new position in the department. There are homicide cases, vice stings, and arson investigations later on. The initial traffic cases are straightforward: a car full of blood turns out to be a scheme for an estranged husband to flee with his lover. An apparent vehicular manslaughter is a cover up in a plot to cash in on a life insurance policy. Many of these early missions are easy to solve, which gives a sense of forward momentum thanks to their relative brevity. A final case with a dark crime adds some emotional depth and navigates issues of sexual violence with appropriate seriousness. But for all that the traffic desk does right, it also has some missteps.

Dude, I just asked what the car looked like.

Facial Capture Can Create Silly Performances

L.A. Noire uses MotionScan technology, which records facial performances with over thirty high quality cameras. While this allows the main cast of skilled actors like Aaron Staton, John Noble, and Keith Szarabajka to bring their characters to life, the performance in smaller roles are far less nuanced and believable. L.A. Noire is a game about finding the truth, and a large part of this is knowing when a suspect is lying to you during interrogation. You do this by reading their facial expressions, which are rendered in great detail via MotionScan. In order to make the early missions easy, some performances are a wide range of caricature and soap operatic wailing. It’s silly and overblown. It isn’t until the final case that behavior gets more subtle.

It is very hard to move your aiming reticule in L.A. Noire.

Gunplay Is Sloppy And Unnecessary

Traffic desk manages to sneak a few climactic gunfights into the mix, including a massive shoot out on a movie set for the final case. However, while L.A. Noire might initially seem like “GTA but as a cop,” it’s really an adventure game with a few action segments. As a result, the gunfights are some of the worst parts of the game.. Aiming sensitivity is stiff, making it feel like every gun is drenched in molasses, while the massive body count feels at odds with the seriousness of the rest of the cases. It’s possible to skip these scenes if you fail three times, but a smaller scale would have felt more natural for the first desk.

Bekowsky’s a good cop but a forgettable partner.
Bekowsky’s a good cop but a forgettable partner.

Stefan Bekowsky Is A Boring Partner

Every desk assigns Cole to a new partner, and traffic’s partner is largely forgettable. Stefan Bekowsky is a fast-talking jokester who is supposed to foil the much more serious Phelps, but it never really works out. His character falls flat, with jokes that never quite land and no real character arc. Bekowsky is a static character and traffic desk takes a hit because of it.


In spite of these early weaknesses, L.A. Noire has a wonderful sense of place, a haunting score, and the raw investigative work is compelling. Traffic desk is a brisk introduction to the game, but it’s missing some of the nuance that makes the rest of the game so compelling. I loved solving the cases, but I’m glad to take my promotion and move on.

Former Senior Writer and Critic at Kotaku.

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I’ve said this before, but what pisses me off about this game is the revelation that Cole is having an extramarital affair with a lounge singer which comes practically out of nowhere 75% of the way through the game. It’s never explained why Cole is having the affair, which is especially jarring because up until that point in the game he was portrayed as Mr. Perfect. If we knew more about his relationship with his wife and why he was drawn to the lounge singer that’d be one thing. But we only see Cole’s wife twice in the whole game (And in only one scene does she even talk.) and Cole only interacts with the lounge singer three times before the affair is revealed. There is very little build up to the reveal and they never explain why Cole did it.