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Review: L.A. Noire

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It would be safe to say that you have probably never played a game like L.A. Noire. Rarely is the detective story angle used as a source of inspiration, but as I’ve found from playing Heavy Rain, mystery can create some extremely satisfying and enriching memories. In the case of L.A. Noire, I’m still trying to solidify my feelings about whether or not the time period was an integral part of the plot. Was the 1940’s just used as a stylistic approach or could there have been better choices made?

L.A. Noire (Xbox 360)
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release date: May 17, 2011

One of the best things LAN (L.A. Noire) does is put the player in classic situations of a police investigator. If you've done any reading up about the game, there has been a lot of talk about interviewing suspects and searching for clues, which I’ll get into later. What I valued most about my experience with this game are the moments of tension. You’re placed in a situation where you’re in the killer’s apartment, searching through clues, unsure what you might find, or if he might walk in at any second. Developer Team Bondi did a great job creating these scenarios and using the audio to enhance moments of discovery, paranoia, and excitement. This game reaffirms that a shrill violin is still one of the most startling things to hear.

The recreation of the world and culture are the parts where I think L.A. Noire succeeds. Sprinkled throughout are memorable moments of classic detective imagery. The on foot chase of a suspect. Car chases leading to running the bad guy off the road. The gangster shootout. There are also a couple I don’t want to spoil so I’ll leave it at that. These moments are the reasons why I enjoyed LAN and would recommend it to others. Think back to movies like Se7en. The character walks into the apartment, possibly the murderer’s. No one is at home so he kicks in the door. He has no clue what he’ll find in the next room. Possibly some socks? Or maybe a bathtub full of blood. That is the completely different experience a player will have in LAN versus any other game. You’ll discover the story piece by piece, each part latching onto another part.

While captivating at points, I personally don’t think the story is nearly good enough. The characters are pretty one dimensional and act pretty much like you would expect them to. I love the dialogue between partners and how each situation matches the circumstances. The biggest disappointment for me however was the explanation. When you’re trying to explain weird freaky stuff going on, your story has to be air tight, believable, but with enough information for the player/audience to work things out themselves. They need to be able to see the thread that ties everything together and I didn't feel LAN did a good job of that. I can’t go in depth without spoiling the game but I’m sure we’ll have a discussion in the future and I’ll make it available should you want that information. Just remember, I enjoyed the journey, not so much the destination. So please keep that in mind.

Other than the story, something else that confused me was the importance placed on immersion. On one hand, I feel that L.A. Noire is trying to be this experience that players completely lose themselves in. Like a homicide detective consumed by his work, a player should just be focused on the case at hand, forgetting about social relationships, meals, and even personal hygiene. For the most part, this is how I felt. The last couple days I behaved similarly. But then I look at some of the design choices and I felt a lack of commitment to that philosophy. This pulled me out of the believability of the situation.

For instance, travel by vehicle. Like any open world game, a player leaves point A, hops in a car, and then drives to point B. I found it extremely jarring when driving to the next area like a maniac, running red lights, accidentally bumping into other cars, running over pedestrians. I think the argument is that I should not drive like a person in a rush, but that would make already lengthy driving portions even more so. More jarring was that during travel, I’d often have radio calls come in offering some sort of police response quest. I’d have the choice of helping out a citizen in need or ignoring it to continue with the main objective. It’s obviously a side mission added to flesh out the situation but I hate how it was inserted specifically there. I never want to be hassled during the middle of the story, especially a murder case. I still do want to play the upstanding officer though so I’m conflicted on how to proceed. Thankfully Team Bondi put a way to circumvent these procedures by having a fast travel. It allowed those who wanted those experiences to have them and me to focus on the case at hand. I can only assume that the choices were made for a different audience, but I feel it takes away from the experience, which brings me to the interrogation portion of the game.

The selling point of the L.A. Noire became the most forgettable for me. Not because it didn't make an impact, but because I wanted to forget everything about it. There is almost nothing I liked about interrogation. I felt it was very game-like. It was vague, inconsistent, and I never knew how my character was going to respond. I don’t want to get into an argument about the real processes of interrogation, but my understanding is that in humans, even we have a pattern. But going back to the immersion argument, I would have a conversation with suspect. They would speak, stop, and then make some sort of face, which I would closely analyze and try to decipher. I hated having to choose between three colored buttons marked truth, doubt, and lie. That’s not how a conversation should flow and I dreaded having to guess my way through them and then be told how many mistakes I made. It ended up getting to a point when I would game my way though always picking Lie to see what the response was. If my response came off chippy or snarky, I’d go with Doubt, which is term I still don’t completely understand. I would have much preferred the developers not give immediate verification of the answer and let the player continue on figuring out. The world of LAN would have felt more real and so would the believability of conversations.

There should, however, be some mention praise for the facial expressions and the realness of how they are captured. This is new ground among video games and borders with the incredible performances of Uncharted 2 and Enslaved. I would love to see this technology become a standard but I know it’s far too expensive to expect that now. Maybe one day in the future.

L.A. Noire is a great experience. One that is unique and interesting. It wraps up nicely, but not as nicely as I would have liked. When you have a game that is made out to be about finding out whom you can trust it has to be a home run. I got this feeling that there was really only one path for the player with all branching trails steadily leading back to the main one.

83 out of 100 - A great experience. Unique and interesting. Wrapping up nicely, but not as nicely as I would have liked.

Comments

  • crazydoey12 8 years, 6 months ago

    Great review! I've been kind of up and down on this game but after reading your review it might be worth it.

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  • Pokop 8 years, 6 months ago

    That's a surprisingly reasonable score considering your gripes with the game. Good on ya, David.

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  • Heavens_Blue 8 years, 6 months ago

    I don't think what you're character says should be your main concern during interrogation. The choices, truth, doubt, and lie are strictly designed with the clues and suspect in mind. I personally feel that what the protagonist says when selecting said choices is entirely irrelevant to the dialog system. It may seem strange or out of place to choose "doubt" and have your character go into an infuriating fit, but from a realistic standpoint that practice is standard procedure. Interrogation is a psychological mindgame. It's important for the interrogator to maintain the upper hand in the conversation by coming off as verbally aggressive and intimidating, treating the suspect as guilty until something in the conversation proves otherwise.

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    • Heavens_Blue 8 years, 6 months ago

      I also wanted to point out that, imo, L.A. Noire feels like an evolved, yet modest, point n' click adventure disguised as an open-world game, which might sound kind of silly, but the gameplay mechanics were very reminiscent of this to me. For the record, I think the point n' click genre is extremely underrated.

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      • Tyr 8 years, 6 months ago

        Not only underrated, but underused!

        I think developers stay away from genres like point n' click adventures because they just don't see any marketable potential - but games like L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain are laying good foundations for the modernization of old-school adventure game mechanics. Even if I don't think either really succeeded, it's great to see developers trying to do something different.

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  • Comradebearjew 8 years, 6 months ago

    Nice review, the facial animation is truly astounding.

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  • Aged Milk 8 years, 6 months ago

    Great review David that was a very good read, I'm very interested to further hear your thoughts on this in a future podcast. I'm still apprehensive about picking up LAN full price after I made the same mistake with RDR though. I've already played roughly 4 hours of it at a friend's house, it's not a bad game, but it's just not clicking with me. The mission structure and hyper-focus on creating a realistic experience in recent Rockstar games has just been pulling me out of the experience lately, things that look and feel fun at first often begin feeling like chores as you progress further in.

    On a side note though, the only thing I'm perplexed about is how often games with performances using facial capture technology to help augment a character's believability are associated with IPs like Uncharted where emphasis is placed on body motion capture instead, where facial animation mapping is done entirely in-house by the developer. Not so much a argument against your aforementioned point though, this maybe a trend that's hopefully mainstreamed and made more cost efficient in the future. I'd be particularly interested to see this tech applied to a Bioware or Bethesda IP.

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  • sleeprocks 8 years, 6 months ago

    I enjoyed the interrogations but I agree with everything you said David the problems just didn't bother me as much.I agree that a lot of the characters are one note but I thought some of the major characters had a good amount of depth and they were interesting enough that I would like to see a sequel that continued their story. Although it still had some missed opportunities involving the characters, for example you never get any scenes involving the major character's personal lives until the later parts of the game .I still enjoyed it a ton and I think its a great starting point for a series and I can't wait to see more games try out detective games like this.

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  • UltimaInferno 8 years, 6 months ago

    I keep debating about this game if it was really worth picking up. I think this review helped me in that I'll probably pick it up at least to try it.

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  • The_Australian_Ashman 8 years, 6 months ago

    I picked it up today when I bought some more BattleStar. I'll play through it tomorrow, and I hope the story is better than Heavy Rain. Though, that won't be all too difficult.

    Good job David.

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  • CaptainSane 8 years, 6 months ago

    I totally agree with you about the interrogation sequences in the game, feels too much like a mini-game, as Brad has been saying on the broadcast. Sometimes it's pretty easy to know when somebody is lying since you'll have evidence to contradict what they're saying, but the "Doubt" option can be very inconsistent at times. I just picked the game up today so I'm not very far yet, but I can see the issues with interrogations becoming more pronounced since (at least in theory), the investigations will get harder as the game goes on.

    I also don't like how seemingly every character you come across has some kind of ulterior motive or at least seems to. Like why do bartenders continually lie about what their patrons did/were doing? That doesn't happen in real life. I guess it's supposed to feel like a Noire movie, where it does seem like every character is hiding something, so maybe it makes sense, but it's frustrating at times

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  • Underdog 8 years, 6 months ago

    Very fair score. I enjoyed watching you play the game David, and I look forward to trying this out for myself in the near future. I feel you really gave this game a chance and tried your best to understand the interrogation and other semi-confusing parts. In short, good shit bro.

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  • jon2435 8 years, 6 months ago

    I think LAN would be a good rent, not so much a good buy. With the releases coming this fall, there isn't much room for a mixed reviewed game. It's a hard game to explain. Good job reviewing it.

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  • cookiemonster31 8 years, 6 months ago

    I'm on the 3rd disc and the game feels like it's lacking something. I am enjoying it but it just feels like it is missing something and I can't figure out what it is. It feels a bit repetitive at the moment but I do enjoy the story, so that has me keeping at it.

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  • s1yfox 8 years, 6 months ago

    One issue I had with this game was the things that goes on that we see, but Cole and the others don't. For example, lets say Cole talked to a store owner about a bunch of drugs being sold there and the dude says he doesn't know anything; as soon as Cole leaves,the owners tells his employees "hide the drugs somewhere before they come back" or something, which tells you that they are the bad guys(if you didn't already know that).

    But the game did a great job on many other levels! Really liked your review David!

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  • SonyXp82 8 years, 6 months ago

    I should receive my rental copy of this tomorrow, from what I've seen it's not a game I would want to replay once completed. I know there's many ways to do things but I think I'll just give it my best shot the first time round & be done, it's damn long game.

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  • Tyr 8 years, 6 months ago

    I agree about how it feels very gamey; the interrogations just don't flow. The conversations should have implemented some sort of time-based mechanic - like the dialogue in Alpha Protocol - that would force players to think on their feet and pay attention to how the suspect was acting while you were actually talking to them. Instead, we're left with a system that boils down to having suspects say their piece, stopping, and then pulling perpetually-awkward faces for the player to take their time evaluating.

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  • joetm 8 years, 6 months ago

    Great review, the only thing that bummed me out with LA Noire was a the story. To be honest, it was very good until I got promoted to Vice where I thought the story fell off a bit. It did pick up again with Arson but fell even more after. I don't want to spoil anything, but I expected this game to have a big serial killer type case to end it, like the movie Se7en, but it was completely different. I was disappointed with how the game ended, but the experience overall was great.

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  • Equinoxinator 8 years, 6 months ago

    This game looks good.

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  • cleft5 8 years, 6 months ago

    I have to strongly disagree with you, LA Noire does not wrap up nicely at all. The way this game concludes is atrocious, pointless, ill thought out, and just downright stupid. The way this game concludes makes me hate LA Noire and particularly, Team Bondi. I would say more, but I don't want to spoil the game, but damn it all Team Bondi is just incompetent at concluding games.

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  • K_J 8 years, 6 months ago

    great review, gonna w8 until price drop down a lil since there is no online

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  • kd_battletoad 8 years, 6 months ago

    I finished the game a couple of days ago and i can say I fairly enjoyed the game. I agree with David that sometimes the converstion with the suspects were vague and also, I hated when Cole Phelps(main character) burst out yelling at the suspect when ''Lie'' isnt the right approach. The facial expressions were really nice but sometimes it was really easy to spot a ''Truth'' from a ''Doudt/Lie'' with the face doing nothing but staring at you with no expressions. Also, some cases were good and some got repetitive or having an unsatisfied ending but I wont tell which cases were without spoiling for people who havent played it. Anyway, great review David.

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  • Sonata 8 years, 6 months ago

    Oh damn, it's Walter. Buying this game now.

    In all seriousness, I'm surprised at the score given at the end of this review. Pleasantly surprised. I think I might actually buy this game, if/when the price has gone down. I'd not heard of the free driving bits before- the actually sound quite amusing to me.

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  • tim 8 years, 6 months ago

    When they aint making expressions.. it looks like a PS2 game . I hate the grafics, but love the gameplay

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  • Godofnerdiness 8 years, 6 months ago

    Great review David, I'm gonna pick this up soon. I was a bit worried by the surprisingly mixed reactions to this game, but I think LAN will tickle my fancy.

    Good job! :D

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  • LA Noire PC Edition Coming November 8th, Specs Rev 8 years, 2 months ago

    [...] Rockstar released LA Noire to an excited gaming public back in May we were pretty excited to experience an anti-GTA experience.  After all, it’s not often that a publisher comes [...]

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