Detective Cole Phelps is a hard man to like. Initially, there seems something a little off, but as the story unfolds and we get more insight into the man underneath the trilby, it becomes increasingly clear that this isn't the kind of guy that you'd take out for drinks after work. Despite the fact that he's a bit of a cold fish, Phelps is a fascinating character, and one of the more nuanced and interesting personalities we've come across over the years. He's a deeply flawed man, moralistic on the one hand, irredeemable on the other, but always mesmerising.
Similarly mesmerising is the game that he headlines: L.A. Noire. (The now defunct) Team Bondi's open-world action-adventure explores avenues not often ventured down in the world of gaming, and this is truly an experience for grownups, with challenging characters and a dark storyline that reveals some twisted crimes along the way. Now, six years after its initial release, this crime-fighting thriller is back, this time with new controls on Nintendo Switch, and with updated visuals on PS4 and Xbox One. But in a year that has delivered some truly exceptional games, is it a cold case worth revisiting?
The answer might come with caveats, but ultimately we'd say "yes", L.A. Noire still holds up after all these years. For the most part. At the time of its initial launch the game's unique selling point, beyond the setting and story, was the use of high-quality motion capture and the way that it was implemented during interrogations and interviews. Now, in 2017, the quality of that work, with some well-written and beautifully acted scenes, means that the game stands up relatively well. Importantly, it still has something to say.
Cole's story arc takes him through several departments in the L.A. Police. After a brilliant tutorial-driven opening, Cole is promoted to the rank of detective and begins his journey in earnest. There are multiple narrative strands that interweave to paint a vivid picture of the era, with cutscenes exploring both Cole's past in the military during the war and characters relating to the wider plot, as well as the dialogue that takes place during the course of the story as it builds to its exciting crescendo.
It's masterfully done, and L.A. Noire is undoubtedly one of the standout games to launch during the last console generation. While you might not necessarily say it was one of the best, perhaps due to the surprising number of flaws you'll find if you look too closely, this is still a title that does things very differently, and there really isn't anything quite like it out there, neither before or since.
The game mixes up investigation and clue hunting with interrogation scenes where players have to use a combination of their own intuition and subtle tells from the characters they meet to inform their questioning. The action all takes place in post-war LA and, for the most part, the mood has been brilliantly captured thanks to an excellent soundtrack, keenly observed architecture, and the designs of the vehicles and citizens who inhabit it. Whether you're just cruising around and exploring the world, or tackling the side-quests that pop up while you play, it makes for an immersive experience. Throw in the odd chase sequence and a fair few gunfights on top of all the detective work, and you've got a varied adventure that tries lots of different things.
(Please note, I'm Norwegian, so blame any grammatical error on that fact.) Inspect, investigate, interrogate, shoot and punch your way through Team... 9/10