L.A. Noire — A Gun Guy Goes Gaming

I recently rewatched one of my favorite films, “L.A. Confidential,” and that got me into the noir world of California. Eventually, this led me to a game I never played but was also curious about. The game L.A. Noire came out in 2011, and somehow I just missed it. Since it’s 2023, you can find anything online. I purchased the game and strapped myself in for a unique experience. Rockstar made the game, and I knew a little about it.

I assumed to a degree, it would be an action game. A reverse Grand Theft Auto where you played as the cops stopping the bad guys. I was pleasantly surprised to find a game unlike any other. L.A. Noire is a fascinating experience, and it’s a shame that Rockstar didn’t follow this path. I can see it being a fairly niche experience. While there are action sequences, those are not the majority of the game.

L.A. Noire is something different.

The Concept

L.A. Noire sets you up as a Detective in Los Angeles just after World War 2. You play as Cole Phelps, a police officer who starts as a beat cop and later becomes a detective who moves from desk to desk, starting at traffic and working through vice, and eventually up to homicide.

The majority of the game is spent solving cases. You get a call from headquarters and head to the scene of the crime. From there, you start your investigation. As Phelps, you search the scene for clues and examine items and potential evidence. You can easily miss something if you aren’t clever enough to look everywhere. Plenty of items mean absolutely nothing.

S&W Magnum revolver in game
The game does pretty well with the guns. This serves as a piece of evidence. (Rockstar Games)

Occasionally you solve a puzzle or put something together, and you essentially get access to another clue. With this information, you can question witnesses, potential suspects, and more. The questioning portion of the game is interesting. You have multiple reactions, from presenting evidence to bad cop and god cop suggestions.

As you play the game, you have to figure out which way to respond. If you miss it, you could blow the interrogation. As you ask these questions, you have to pay close attention to the person you are questioning, read their faces and reactions, and act accordingly.

The Story

L.A. Noire mostly follows Cole Phelps up and down the police ladder. Phelps is a veteran of the Marine Corps and a decorated officer of World War 2. The game slowly reveals more and more about Phelps and his past and his brutal experience in World War 2. The game has an overarching story, but it’s more or less episodic. Each case is a new episode. Phelps receives a variety of partners, and each adds to his story and legacy.

cole phelps with partner
As you progress through the police department, you have numerous partners. (Rockstar Games)

While you mostly play as Phelps, you do later play as another Marine and rival to Phelps named Jack Kelso. Eventually, it all comes full circle, and Phelps and Kelso’s past comes back in full force. It’s an intriguing story, and if you like “L.A. Confidential,” you’ll like the story of L.A. Noire.

How It Plays Out

L.A. Noire strives to do something different, which is notable. They used real actors to deliver professional performances and used something called MotionScan to scan their faces to deliver a realistic look. The idea is that this allows you to read their faces and reactions. It’s clever and works…mostly. Honestly, the graphical limitations of 2011 are in full force.

The interrogations are the game’s weakest point. While sometimes it’s more obvious than others, sometimes it’s a crap shoot. You’ll select evidence that seems to make perfect sense, and then it doesn’t, and you fail. The interrogation idea is solid but often falls apart in practice. Luckily, you could fail every question and still pass the mission, but if you’re like me, you like succeeding and get frustrated when you don’t.

Gunstore scene
They even get the name of the gun right, which is impressive. (Rockstar Games)

Finding clues is easy and musical tones let you know when you’ve found them all. Slight vibrations give you a hot and cold effect of getting close to an object of desire. This is easy and fun when you find the right clue. As a game, it’s mentally stimulating and a reliable source of fun.

The Action Scenes

The action is good, albeit it is a little stilted and certainly of the era. It’s a third-person shooter, and the cover is important. You don’t use a huge variety of firearms, but each is different. The action scenes play out on occasion and are a good distraction from investigating, interrogating, and clue-finding.

Ithaca 37 with police in L.A. Noire game
The Ithaca 37 is the long gun of choice for the LAPD. (Rockstar Games)

The action scenes can be long gun fights, but not always. Sometimes you are chasing perps across rooftops, through allies, and parks. You can also end up in a fistfight with a fairly responsive fistfighting system. You throw punches, block, and grapple to knock a perp to his knees before the cuffs find a way on.

If you get bored on a case, you can drive around L.A. and find random street crimes to solve. Most add a little action to the gameplay, which tends to be less action-oriented and more cerebral.

The Guns of L.A. Noire

The game doesn’t have a massive weapon selection. As Phelps, you start with a Police Positive, but by the time you make Detective, you carry a full-sized M1911. Jack Kelso carries the cooler Hi-Power, and Phelps can use it, too, with the right suit. Each police car has an Ithaca 37 in the trunk you can retrieve if you need it.

cole phelps with m1911
Cole prefers his 1911, which makes sense for a WW2 veteran. (Rockstar Games)

We see Thompsons, M1 Garands, and Browning Automatic Rifles as well. Beyond the guns you can use, you will find guns that act as evidence. Rockstar did their homework and modeled the guns realistically, capturing almost everything right. You find an S&W Model 27, but S&W didn’t use the Model number designations until 1957. It does bear mentioning that they also call it the S&W Registered Magnum, which would be the more appropriate name.

FN M1922 in L.A. Noire game
The FN M1922 is recreated perfectly, and I can say that as someone who owns one. (Rockstar Games)

Later on, an FN M1922 pops up, and it’s referred to as an FN Browning Model 1922. The gun correctly chambers the .32 ACP cartridge, and the gun shop owner states it’s not very popular here, but Europeans love them.

While there aren’t many guns, the ones rendered in the game are accurate and done well.

Too Soon For Its Own Good

I would love to see L.A. Noire remade with modern graphics. Or hell, give me a sequel. What about a Chicago Noire? That would be amazing, or even a private eye noir. Modern graphics and maybe a rework of the interrogation system could create an awesome experience. Sadly, Rockstar has taken a decade to make a sequel to GTA 5, so it’s not likely to happen.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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