L.A. Noire is an action-adventure neo-noir crime game played from a third-person perspective. Players complete cases-linear scenarios with set objectives-to progress through the story. The game also features a mode which allows players to freely roam the open world. In this mode, players can also engage in optional activities. The world features multiple landmarks, which are all based on real monuments from 1940s Los Angeles.
The game takes place in the city of Los Angeles, in the year 1947, with players assuming the role of Los Angeles Police Department officer, and later detective, Cole Phelps. The game starts with Phelps as a uniformed patrolman, and follows his career as he advances through the police department bureaus (desks) of Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Each desk gives players a new partner who will help Phelps in his investigation of a number of cases based on a specific type of crime. The game assigns players with cases that they must solve. After each case, players receive a rating of 1–5 stars depending on their performance in both interrogations and searching for clues. In some cases, when searching an area for clues to the crime, players can also find newspapers. Besides reading the story, the newspapers give access to a short cinematic that either covers a part of the game’s overarching plot or a flashback to Phelps’ war memories. Near the end of the final desk, players assume control of private investigator Jack Kelso, who becomes the player character for most of the rest of the game; although different in appearance and personality, he controls identically to Phelps.
When interrogating witnesses and suspects, players have the option to believe them, doubt them, or accuse them of lying.
The game blends investigative elements with fast-paced action sequences, including chases, combat, interrogations and gunfights. Players use melee attacks and firearms to fight enemies, and may run, jump or use vehicles to navigate the world. In combat, auto-aim and a cover system can be used as assistance against enemies. Should player characters take damage, the character’s health will gradually regenerate. Weapons can only be used in appropriate circumstances, such as during firefights. When driving vehicles, players have the option to skip directly to the destination by nominating their partner as the driver. Players can also ask the partner for directions. In addition to storyline cases, players may engage in an optional 40 side-investigations, known as Street Crimes, that are not related to the case that they are working on. Some street crimes will feature characters from previous cases.
Suspects and witnesses in a case can be interrogated for information, when the interviewee responds, players are given the option to either believe them, doubt them, or accuse them of lying. If players accuse them of lying, they must submit evidence to prove it. When interrogating two suspects at the police station, players may decide who to charge with the crime; charging the wrong suspect affects players’ end rating. Players have the option to skip past an action sequence and continue through the narrative if they fail it three times. There is also a free roam mode called “The Streets of L.A.”, which is unlocked after each crime desk is completed, except for the Patrol desk. In this mode, the player and his partner are allowed to free roam the city of Los Angeles. The player can replay Street Crimes, find Golden Film Reels, discover Landmarks, collect Hidden Vehicles, find Badges or just cruise around and listen to the radio.