3.5 stars
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
3.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
5 Stars
Replay Factor
2.5 Stars

L.A. Noire: Rockstar Pass

Street Date:
May 17th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
October 11th, 2011
Game Release Year:
Rockstar Games
Team Bondi
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)


Gamers who took the plunge into the latest Rockstar release back in May, the neo-graphical adventure, “LA Noire,” were treated to a loving tribute to the world of film noire set against the backdrop of Los Angeles, 1947. Not long after the game’s release talk began to spread that whole sections of the game, in the form of detective desks were cut from the final game and eventually the developers confirmed this rumor. An already epic-length game, “LA Noire” offered early adopters free DLC add-ons in the form of in-game suits and entire cases, with the promise of all being offered for separate purchase at a later date. Eventually, Rockstar released the DLC piecemeal as well as in the form of the Rockstar Pass, which promised those willing to shell out $11 access to all current and future DLC, specifically four cases in all (two which were pre-order bonuses, one which was a bonus for midnight shoppers at Best Buy, and one not obtained anywhere else for free). Adding a case to traffic, two to vice, and one to arson, the question remains, is the Rockstar Pass worth a purchase or even more, is any of the DLC worth a purchase in the first place?

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

First up, let’s get the little stuff out of the way, specifically the non-case related pieces of DLC. Gamers purchasing the whole enchilada and saving a nice chunk of change in the meantime will get access to two (well technically three) extra suits for Cole Phelps. The Broderick suit gives a bump to Phelps’ in-game fighting and makes him a little tougher to take down while, The Sharpshooter makes handling pistols and rifles a little more smooth. The third suit, The Button Man comes once the player completes the additional “fetch quest” aptly titled The Badge Pursuit Challenge. Sprinkled around the game map are 20 police badges, find all 20 and you get the suit, along the way each new badge gives the player an additional 5XP, which is far more helpful on an initial playthrough. Also provided is the bonus weapon The Chicago Piano, a high capacity, low-recoil machine gun that is found in the trunk of any law enforcement vehicle. Of all the non-story related additions provided by the pass, this is the most helpful.

The meat and potatoes of the Rockstar Pass are the missions and things get off to a fun but somewhat disposable start with the traffic case titled “A Slip of the Tongue.” It’s a basic early mission in the game with you and partner Berkowsky tracking down a few simple cases of grand theft auto before a more sinister racket emerges from the shadows of the underworld. Players can expect a few mildly exciting car chases, a couple rounds of very simple questioning coupled with your standard shakedown of a suspect area, and ultimately a shootout of a finale that is over as quickly as it begins. It’s a fun case, but even for a hardcore “LA Noire,” fan its solitary purchase is highly debatable. Stripped from the game proper, there are a few insights from your partner into Phelps' personality that are more poignant if you’ve completed the main story first (although it’s worth noting the add-on cases will pop up on future new playthroughs, so those picking up the game at a later date and deciding to get the pass, will get a completely streamlined experience), but even that isn’t much to get worked up over. The traffic cases were the first big set of investigations in the game, so it’s completely understandable this case would be short and sweet, but even stacked against fellow traffic cases, it’s the weak link.

Sensationalistic title aside, “Reefer Madness” is the biggest dud in not only the string of add-on cases, but also quite possibly the entire game. Thrown back into Vice alongside your morally questionably thorn-in-the-side excuse for a partner Roy Earle, Phelps is tasked with investigating, you guessed it, a marijuana smuggling ring. The case practically takes players by the hand to the few locations, giving the illusion of a larger investigation, but really you ask a handful of questions to a few suspects and wind up with a huge gunfight stretching through multiple levels of a warehouse that feels more like an apology from developers for such a sad attempt at what should be a more involved mission. Story wise, “Reefer Madness” feels like any of the other vice cases in terms of the morality element, but nothing it adds to Phelps’ saga at large can wash away the bitter taste of disappointment. It’s most definitely not worth a purchase on its own, even if it were a mere dollar.

For the gamer playing “The Naked City” after completing the main storyline, the investigation, once again putting Phelps and Earle on the case of what begins as a simple starlet overdosing, might feel like a tidy little encapsulation of Phelps’ ultimate story arc, save for certain climatic events. There’s quite a bit to do in this case and like many late cases, Los Angeles is painted solely in shades of grey, there’s no remaining hint of black and white. The questioning will test the player’s ability to pick up on the game’s trademark motion capture as some pieces of evidence might just be red herrings. “The Naked City” offers the player to explore both the underworld of LA and high society as the paths of both elements cross for an ending that is incredibly memorable and most definitely unpredictable. This mission will test the player’s gamut of detective abilities requiring you to be both mentally and physically sharp as a few action set-pieces keep gamers on their toes. It’s one of the two missions that if purchases separately would still be worth their piece tag.

Saving the best for last, “The Nicholson Electroplating” case sends players off with a bang, literally. For those who haven’t played through the main story, I’ll avoid spoilers, as this case is full of them from a character development standpoint. Players begin as Phelps along with Biggs who called to the scene of a giant explosion at the titular location. Without hesitation, the opening sequence and investigation of this case is technically one of the most impressive elements of “LA Noire” as a whole and while in hindsight I understand and maybe even partially agree with the developers axing the case from the game (it would have been the penultimate one), the seamless blend of storytelling (on both grand and small scale) and action show the full potential of “LA Noire.” The ensuing case pulls players once again into a world of grey, putting them in the crosshairs of former shady cops and leading to none other than the hangar of Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose. “Nicholson Electroplating” is worth every penny of its standalone price plus more, it adds quite a bit to Phelps’ story as well as the story of Los Angeles as a whole and would rank as one of the top three cases in the entire game. If you can name it, chances are the “Nicholson Electroplating” case will have it.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

“LA Noire” remains a bit of a mixed bag on the visual front. The money shines through on facial animations with the amazing motion capture and top-notch acting making the game an engrossing and often cinematic experience. Having to read faces and body language is no mere gimmick due in no small part to the effort ensuring the characters of “LA Noire” were set apart from your standard video game denizens.

Environments capture the look of late 40s Los Angeles with stunning realism. Compare the game to vintage photographs and the little details added in by the art department are appreciated. The game world as a whole is lifelike and while not as crisp and sharp as the facial motion capture, is nothing to scoff at. Artistic gushing aside, the game still suffers from pop-in, which is lessened when the game is installed to the hard drive, although it is a consistent issue when traveling at high speeds in the car. I experienced no frame rate issues, even during the early parts of the “Nicholson Electroplating” case, which push the visual engine to the limits.

Character models are noticeably stiffer than any other animated object in the game and occasionally you’ll get a minor hiccup if your character is jumping an object or running to a wall for cover. It’s nothing game breaking and as time goes on you won’t notice it that much, but it’s an issue that doesn’t plague other graphically intensive titles.

Last but not least, eagle eyed players will notice there’s something a little off when it comes to in-game shadow rendering. If you scrutinize the lighting angles, often shadows just don’t make physical sense. Again, it’s something that the casual gamer won’t pay second thought to, but a glitch worth noting.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Like the game as a whole, the four additional cases have perfect sound design. The world of 1947 Los Angeles comes to life through vintage music subtly dialed back on the car radio, just barely heard over the conversations between you and your partner. As you move the camera, the soundscape changes appropriately in relation your field of vision, giving players a constant sense of a busy world: cars come and go, the murmur of pedestrians and business mix nicely with clanging mechanization of the occasionally streetcar.

In game dialogue is flawless with actors big and small giving it their all, forcing players to listen to tone and inflection. Interrogations and cutscenes become truly cinematic, followed closely by the occasional foot chase, car chase, or firefight, with a pistol sounding like a pistol should and the heavier automatic weapons having a nice deep kick to them. The only nitpick is the cars still sound a little generic overall, but at least they sound like cars.

Replay Factor

Obviously one cannot rent DLC, so the question shifts to, “should I buy these missions piecemeal or spring for the whole package?” Honestly, if you’re considering buying any DLC chances are you’re a fan of the game to begin with, so you’ll find instant replay value in going back and mopping up any missed achievement points and/or five-starring the cases. If like me, you love “LA Noire,” and could see yourself going through the main storyline from start to finish at a later date, this is a no-brainer purchase. “The Naked City” and “Nicholson Electroplating” are easily worth single purchases, so why not spend an extra $3, grab the pass and get two more missions plus the lesser items. Sure “Reefer Madness” is a dud and “A Slip of the Tongue” is a very light diversion, but the Badge Pursuit Challenge will get you exploring the city more in free roam and in the meantime have you finding landmarks and hidden vehicles.

Final Thoughts

One of the best cases in the entire game, another solid entry into the world of vice, a disposable but breezy entry level mission, and one action packed turkey make the Rockstar Pass a mixed bag on the surface. Even if “LA Noire” didn’t tickle your fancy, you should strongly consider dropping $4 for “Nicholson Electroplating,” but aside from that the add-ons don’t offer anything different from the original game. This was all cut material and at the end of the day that might upset some gamers, but understand, at three-discs long this was already a massive game and the stuff presented here would have unnecessarily pushed it to a fourth disc.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Motion Controls

  • No

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