When "L.A. Noire" originally was released in 2011, it took my breath away -- for a few different reasons. The detective tale, set in 1940s America, was truly engrossing but wildly uneven. Its technical prowess, particularly its state-of-the-art facial-capture tech, was mind-blowing, but much of the rest of the game couldn't keep up technically.
Still, with the recent release of the remastered version, I couldn't help but to dive back into the fascinating, Golden Age noir crime drama, and even with its flaws -- some old, some new -- I would recommend anyone looking for a good thrill to do the same.
The remaster of the Rockstar Games game, released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and ported to the Nintendo Switch (with its own set of gyroscopic and touchscreen supports) offers much of what the original release brought to the table, with a few noticeable exceptions.
The story, starring Detective Cole Phelps (portrayed by actor Aaron Staton of "Mad Men"), hasn't changed: You return to Los Angeles after serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during WWII, joining the L.A. Police Department as a beat cop. However, the attentive and intuitive Phelps quickly works his way through the ranks, leaving the gritty street cases for the more interesting and grisly cases of the Homicide, Vice and Arson desks.
The remaster comes with the original 21 cases and 40 Street Crimes, along with the DLC cases that come out later. The extra cases don't add much to the narrative, as they were meant to be extra, but they are interesting cases to mess around with regardless (and you don't have much choice anyway as they now are required to be completed before you can progress in the story).
That narrative, though, still possesses all the highs and lows of the 2011 release. Phelps' story is broken more or less into two arcs, one professional, the other personal, and they collide in spectacular fashion.
As the protagonist, Phelps is by far the most detailed character in "L.A. Noire," possessing an in-depth background story and all-too-human motivations and fears. However, while plenty of the cases offer secondary cast members that'll leave quite the impression, few manage to affect the story in any significant way. It's almost as if all the scripting were dedicated to Phelps at the expense of everyone else, and it dampens what's otherwise a riveting tale of intrigue and mystery.
(On a related note, I'm not a huge fan of the way the story changes tracks so dramatically later in the game. It feels so sudden, so jarring, that I have trouble stitching the two narratives together. It comes across as some weird mishmash of two separate stories. But that's just me.)
Much of "L.A. Noire's" gameplay focuses on Phelps' interactions with suspected criminals and witnesses, along with searching for evidence. The more information you have, the better able you are to piece the true story together. However, as with life itself, "truth" is a fickle thing, and your actions will dictate how your cases will end. Say the wrong thing, or fail to pick up that bloody knife, and you might just send the wrong man to the electric chair. Choices, and detail, matter here.
When you're not talking to people (you will be doing a lot of talking, mind you), you'll partake in some of the game's weaker technical elements, like car chases and suspect apprehension. This may be a Rockstar game, but "Grand Theft Auto V" this is not.
Driving is a chore, and the city is oddly devoid of anything to do (except the Street Cases). Before long, I started utilizing the game's fast-travel system (essentially letting your partner drive to the next destination) and skipping what little was available between missions. Do yourself a favor and avoid the shootouts if possible -- they're not a fun time.
One of the more subtle but important changes to the gameplay in the remaster centers around those tense interrogations. In the original game, your main responses were "Truth," "Doubt" and "Lie." However, all three might as well have been lies as Phelps' responses rarely felt natural in relation to what you picked. Most of the time, regardless of what you chose, Phelps would just freak out on the suspect. Not the most useful way of extracting information, I've discovered.
This time around, those choices have changed to "Good Cop," "Bad Cop" and "Accuse." While not perfect, these categories fit the responses better, and you're less likely to screw up a line of questioning with an aggressive retort when all you wanted was a simple question answered. (For reference, the writer and director of the original game, Brendan McNamara, had said the original choices were "Coax," "Force" and "Lie" when the script was being written, which makes the most sense; I'm still confused as to why those aren't the choices now.)
Visually, the game still boasts the same great facial tech, but it doesn't hold up as well as you'd think. The technology used at the start of the decade was state of the art, but gaming tech has jumped leaps and bounds since, and the game's age shows.
The faces still look great in their gloriously realistic capture, which is crucial as you need to be able to read interviewees' faces during your questioning, but you'll probably notice a bit of a disjointed effect because of how the rest of the bodies were filmed. (In effect, there's a natural desync between the two because they weren't recorded the same way.)
However, everything else visually feels dated. The remaster does clean up its textures, increase its resolution (it can play at 4K and runs at 30 frames-per-second) and supports HDR (for PS4 and Xbox One), which is nice if you have a supporting TV, though at most it just cleans up the lighting around the barren streets of L.A.
In the end, the remaster of "L.A. Noire" is mostly just a cleaned-up version of the 2011 version, but it's still a fantastic police procedural worth jumping into, especially if you enjoy a engrossingly gritty story. Phelps, a decorated but conflicted war veteran, is a stellar character, finely crafted and chock-full of nuance. The facial motion capture is still stunning; however, what flaws were present in 2011 still exist now, and you're going to notice them.
If you've played "L.A. Noire" before, it's hard to say you should pick up the remaster, but I would easily recommend it just about anyone else, if you can get past the dated visuals. It's still the same intriguing adventure it was when it first hit store shelves. Take that how you will.
This article is written by Dominic Baez The Register-Guard from The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.