Places: The Beautifully Corrupt City Of L.A. (Noire)

by Liz Lanier on Jun 07, 2013 at 11:45 AM

I anticipated L.A. Noire for well over a year before it came out. I read Game Informer’s March 2010 cover story several times through because I was so enamored with the breakthroughs in facial animation technology that would come along with this game. That, and the film noir genre is something that I’ve always found intriguing, if intimidating, to immerse oneself in. 

For me, the ability to jump into film noir in the guise of a video game was perfect.

But what I didn’t expect was that the part of the game that grabbed me immediately was the backdrop of the city. Recreated from photo archives as well as maps from the time period, L.A. Noire is a meticulously crafted recreation of Los Angeles as it stood in 1947.

The streets, buildings, landmarks, and cars capture a time long gone. Even the people of the city seem like they’re from a different era in spite of the fact that they are motion-captured actors (and one GI editor) just portraying aspiring starlets and fast-talking, hardboiled detectives. 

I feel that a large portion of the playthrough for me was spent rushing from one mission to the next and I never really appreciated the detail put into the city. 

While there were some players who that felt that the beautiful city was little more than eye candy, I have to say I respectfully disagree with the notion that this is due to an oversight from Team Bondi. This L.A. doesn’t feel as open and limitless as the world of Grand Theft Auto IV, and I love that it doesn’t in a bizarre way. 

Because of its linear nature, L.A. Noire gives you just the picturesque view of Los Angeles it wants you to see before it is ready to reveal more. The early views you see of the city further the mystique that the storming ‘40s hold. The mystique I speak of is slowly uncovered as you work your way through the various desks of traffic, homicide, vice, and arson.

The beauty of the city is a cover for the corruption that lies underneath. The junkies, secret pornography rings, and brutally murdered young women crop up one after another and show the player that this city’s loveliness hides the decay lurking around every corner. Some of the later missions even have you literally running through the sewers – a metaphor for a hidden and shady underbelly, perhaps?

While Cole and Elsa and others are incredibly illusive characters, the character of L.A. can be just as mysterious. Like a starry-eyed ingénue, the player is shown L.A. as a place where dreams come true, only to have the city sweep the idealistic view out from under the player just as quickly.

Perhaps the City of Angels is a place better left alone.