Fun fact: did you know that L.A. Noire actually released closer to the 1940s than to 2017?
If you used your detective skills to deduce that this is a lie, then Team Bondi’s noir classic could be your type of game. Newly remastered by Rockstar, the detective thriller is as confounding and cool as it was back in 2011, with a new lick of paint adding even more beauty to the lovingly rendered postwar California setting. Despite the seedy underbelly and the crime-ridden nature of the city as it’s presented in the game, it’s still hard not to be wowed by the vibrant vistas at sunset and the glowing neon signs at night.
LA Noire’s groundbreaking MotionScan mocap technology is still effective today - interrogation scenes are nerve-wracking and engaging as you try and read the face of your suspect. Thanks to updated clothing textures, there’s less of that ‘facial swimming’ effect that was present in the original game, in which characters’ faces almost wouldn’t match their bodies because of how detailed they were. In fact, it’s almost flipped around now: there are some instances where a character’s hair won’t match the detail of their clothes, which can be a little disengaging, although it illustrates how far the industry has come visually.
Standout in terms of graphics, however, is the new lighting engine. Sunlight filters through the cracks of the briefing room’s blinds, illuminating the dust, while the cracks of light that seep through the windows of the interrogation rooms only serve to make said interrogations more dramatic. L.A. Noire looks absolutely exceptional at night in particular thanks to this new system, the bright signs reflecting off of the asphalt and glowing on bystanders’ faces.
In fact, the only thing that’s disappointing visually are the textures - particularly in daytime. While the shiny cars that Cole Phelps and his partner drive look great, the world that you’re driving in is somewhat lacklustre by comparison. Pavements, buildings, and sometimes even pedestrians themselves can have a noticeable lack of detail, and we did experience a few cases of textures flickering.
Still, whatever doubts we had about the graphics were forgotten about completely thanks to the stellar gameplay. Gunplay still feels as punchy as more recent Rockstar games such as Grand Theft Auto V, and while shootouts are infrequent and mostly unimportant, the cat-and-mouse chase through the catacombs at the end of the final Homicide case is hugely memorable and a standout moment in the game.
Fist fights are fun too, and although they can get repetitive, Cole’s haymaker is always a satisfying way to rough up a suspect. Thanks to the tuned-up steering, the many car chases that you’ll embark on are always entertaining affairs, screeching round corners as you try to spin out your perp without knocking any pedestrians over. Though you will have to partake in the odd tailing mission, which are about as boring as you can imagine, the highs of driving through LA’s car-packed streets make it all worth it.
Of course, the highlights of L.A. Noire aren’t the warehouse gunfights or the high-speed chases, but the quieter moments. Searching the crime scene for clues certainly isn’t the most exciting thing, but combing the area and trying to find a snippet of a lead to go on is fun - not least because of the banter between Cole and his various partners. The paper trail that the Black Dahlia serial killer sends you on is a great example of this: while you interpret poems that the killer has left behind and clamber up some of LA’s landmarks, your partner Rusty Galloway sits back and enjoys a smoke.
Questioning witnesses and possible suspects is what the game is all about, however, and the scenes that ensue are still as emotionally gripping as they were the first time around. The Truth, Doubt, and Lie options have been replace with Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Accuse, which are much more fitting ways to describe Cole’s responses, and while Aaron Stanton’s performance as the straight-laced cop is excellent, it’s often the suspect that steals the spotlight. Whether it’s a paranoid bowling alley employee who thinks he may have killed his friend or a deranged war-weary hobo, the colourful characters that you’ll meet always have more to them than meets the eye, and digging down into those dark secrets is what makes L.A. Noire the thoroughly engaging game that it is. The only complaint about these scenes is that they occasionally cut to the next too quickly, lessening the dramatic effect.
With all DLC cases and pre-order bonuses seamlessly built into the main campaign - not to mention the many side cases and street crimes - L.A. Noire's remaster is certainly worth its asking price. Its depiction of the ugly side of policing is second to none, and its performances and story are better than some movies. It’s just a shame that, with Team Bondi’s demise, we may never get a sequel.
One of the best detective games of all time, L.A. Noire on PS4 will certainly give you bang for your buck thanks to its improved graphical prowess and neat package containing all of the original’s content. It may not be the greatest looking remaster overall, but visuals aside, it's still the engaging storylines and the complex characters that you'll come back for. Team Bondi may have been shot three days before retirement, but its spirit lives on.