LA Noire reviews are everywhere by now, but reviews of LA Noire with all of the DLC plugged in? Not so common. We’ve held back our review to give ourselves time to play through the full LA Noire experience: the game with everything the Rockstar Pass has got to offer.
If you haven’t seen a review of LA Noire yet, allow me to give you a condensed critique. I know our reviews tend to be a decent size, but the game itself is only half the focus here so I’ll keep this part slightly less lengthy. As Cole Phelps you progress through the ranks of the LAPD, hunting for clues in crime scenes, questioning suspects and chasing those who decent running away is an option. Throw in a gunfight or twelve, some car chases and a few puzzles and you’ve got LA Noire in a nutshell. The well documented facial technology is nothing short of outstanding; actually playing through the game with the life-like animations is akin to seeing the iPhone 4’s screen for yourself after everyone praising it: you know it’s going to be good, but experiencing it for yourself still blows you away. It makes interrogations far more interesting, and although it’s often quite obvious whether someone is lying or not, there are moments when you genuinely need to look for subtle nervous twitching or a lightning fast flick of the eyes. If nothing else, it raises the bar of what is possible in terms of real time facial animation, and I reckon we can expect to see this in most future Rockstar games, if not elsewhere in the market. Imagine Skyrim with detailed, real time facial features. The mind boggles.
There’s no denying the qualities of LA Noire. The 1940s Los Angeles is massive and every last inch looks the part with cars, buildings, outfits and anything else within view looking fully authentic. Everything about the game’s interface screams quality too, giving you a 40s feel to the loading screens, case introductions, even the pause screen has that 40s cinema feel. You can extend this to the game itself too by flicking on the Black and White mode, giving you a full on film noire experience.
The game’s fantastic originality is clearly a massive reason for the game’s pre and post release success. I was hugely excited from the first moment I heard about LA Noire, and when I finally got to play it everything felt some fresh, so different. And yet the suggestions from many that the samey nature of the game’s mechanics are perfectly valid; while the cases vary in terms of their content and complexity, the same formula applies to each one. Search, interview, chase, drive, interview again, done. It’s not a rigid formula, but each case ends up using the same few techniques. But this didn’t seem to matter to me. Apart from a few slightly long-winded driving segments I never got bored, although I’m not sure I’d have the staying power to redo each case again to get 5 stars on each.
But this review is just as much about the DLC – a set of extra cases that on the whole slot in seamlessly with the rest of the game. So seamlessly in fact, that if someone downloaded them for you before you started playing you wouldn’t have any idea that they weren’t part of the retail version. This in itself is mightily impressive, and with the exception of one case (which I’ll come to later) you’ll never feel that your progress through the game has gone off at a tangent while you complete a random case in amongst the rest. You can still complete the extra cases if you download them later, but you’ll lose the flow of them fitting into the story. In fact, looking at it that way it’s hard to bring your mind away from the possibility of these cases being part of the original game, but taken out for later use.
The cases are downloadable separately if you haven’t paid out for the Rockstar Pass – a kind of DLC ticket that lets you download most of the DLC at a discounted “bulk buy” price – so you can pick and choose if you wish. You’ll get A Slip of the Tongue, a traffic case where you need to break up a ring of car thefts, and it’s a really fun case. It’s not all that long, matching those that will happen at other times on the Traffic desk, but it’s an interesting and funny task which will see Cole on the receiving end of someone offering sex as a way to get out of trouble. The storyline won’t blow you away, but some of the characterisation is great and makes it a very enjoyable extra.
Once you reach the Vice desk, the DLC helps to plump up the content from 3 cases to 5. Reefer Madness and The Naked City both slot in nicely to their surroundings, following on the illegal morphine theme the begins with the first standard Vice case. Reefer Madness is the less interesting of the two, asking you to track down and bust the people involved with selling drugs in soup cans. It’s ok and certainly isn’t a waste of time, but it’s Naked City that will give you a bit more interest. The death of a young model appears initially to be a simple accidental drowning in the bath following too much drug usage, but soon turns into a far more sinister plot. It’s good to see previous partners involved for a short while, and the promotion of one of your previous partners to a higher role is a nice touch, but the repercussions of the case don’t carry on further into the game. It’s unlikely you’ll notice amongst everything else going on though, so that’s a mild gripe.
Finally, and sitting very near the end of the game is Nicholson Electroplating. Arriving during the Arson desk (the final section of the game) Nicholson Electroplating starts (literally) with a bang, with a huge explosion to travel to. There’s a huge amount to do in this final DLC, encompassing most of what you’ve been practising through the game. Car chases are tough, shoot-outs are tough, and finding some of the clues is tough. It’s a long case, well over an hour, but feels more bolted on than the other DLC cases. Everything in this case is turned up a notch, which is fine in theory but actually starts to feel a little crude alongside the well crafted and subtle nature of the rest of LA Noire. It’s not a bad case at all, far from it, but it shouts a little too loud at times and doesn’t fit in quite so well as the others.
Alongside these cases you’ll also be able to download the Badge Challenge, scattering 20 small police badges around the city which, when found, reward you with a new suit and a chunk of XP. You’ll also get 3 other suits and a machine gun called the Chicago Piano, just to give you a bit more variety.
LA Noire in itself is a fantastic game that almost matches everything it promised to be. The facial animation feature is great, but remains a little blatant at times and needs a little refining. You’ll also find things getting a little samey, and those of little patience might not be able to stomach that too well, but it’s an experience that you need to have, one of those defining moments in gaming that could well change a significant chunk of future titles. Pick up the Rockstar Pass and you can enjoy more of LA, more of Phelps, and more of what LA Noire is all about, with some well thought out and designed cases that give you further excitement and bolt another few hours onto what is already a mammoth game.
Individually, the game and DLC maybe aren’t deserving of the final score, but together they come together to make a great game that little bit greater. Better yet, with LA Noire already dropping a little in price (it’s already £25 on Amazon) by the time you’ve got the Pass, it’s still less than the price of a brand new game, and worth every penny.