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Jeremy Jastrzab
01 Jun, 2011

L.A. Noire Review

360 Review | It would be criminal to miss it.
Where has all the vapourware gone? Well, it’s actually being released! While Splinter Cell: Conviction and Alan Wake were released last year and the most famous of all, Duke Nukem Fovever, will finally get a release in June, another prominent title has finally seen the light of day: L.A. Noire. Developed at Australian studio, Team Bondi, L.A. Noire is an impressive addition to Rockstar’s robust stable of open-ended story-driven titles and has a lot to show - both on the technological and gameplay fronts - for its numerous years in development. Just like any classic film noir tale though, it’s not all roses and sunshine.

Set in 1947, post-WWII Los Angeles is about to boom and become a cesspool of sordid and illegal activity, just as the US enters its golden era. Players follow Detective Cole Phelps, a silver cross recipient during America’s campaign in Japan, who has returned from the war to a burgeoning career as one of LA’s finest detectives. L.A. Noire looks to replicate the ‘classic film noir’ era of the 1940s and 50s, and does so magnificently. Adding to a faithful visual style, the developers and writers have delivered a product that oozes film noir down to a tee. Throughout the game, you’re playing case-by-case, but running in parallel you have the story of Cole’s personal turmoil, and the seedy underpinnings of post-war LA that envelope the package.

The result is a remarkably engrossing and multi-layered tale, which will reward players with a number of twists, thought provoking moments, opportunities to dig a little deeper and grim environment, where you’re not guaranteed a happy ending. It’s refreshing for a Rockstar title that the characters you encounter and play as aren’t your run-of-the-mill exaggerated stereotypical gits, but remarkable portrayals of the time and the inspiration material. While Cole Phelps is a rare ‘good’ Rockstar protagonist and comes across as the most relatable, some might consider him less memorable. The story itself, while put together superbly, almost is weighed down by trying too much at times, which can make it difficult to follow or remember finer details. And without giving too much away, some occurrences may come off ‘as a waste’ when viewed in the grand picture.

Yep. He's definitely dead.

Yep. He's definitely dead.
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L.A. Noire has been built from similar technology as GTAIV, so players will notice that the two titles are stylistically similar. However, the former makes minor improvements, particularly to the character animations, finer details and goes for an even more realistic style. The biggest addition though is the facial motion capturing technology - MotionScan - used to capture facial expressions. While occasionally hit-and-miss aesthetically, it plays a huge role in interrogations and actually works really well the vast majority of the time. Not only does it bring characters into life like never before, it shows video game characters in an entirely new light, and avoids issues such as lip-syncing. Rockstar titles have been the best at creating realistic open worlds and L.A. Noire is the most robust use of it, but it stumbles with hints of aliasing, weak texturing, occassional frame rate dips and very awkward ‘failed realism’ glitches. There are no such qualms with the audio department, with top-shelf voicing further solidifying the characters and the music backing the age, while it makes superb use of sound queues to supplement gameplay.

Playing on the ‘right’ side of the law is an obvious difference between L.A. Noire and most other open-ended action games, the True Crime titles excepted. Core mechanics accepted, it’s unfair to directly compare the it with GTA IV. Anyone who rejects L.A. Noire on the basis that it lacks the freedom and scope of a title more established titles, is doing it wrong. It really is a unique kettle of fish. With focus on crime-scene investigations and interrogations, L.A. Noire plays much more like a puzzle game, with dashings of ‘create your own adventure’ – it’s a slower and more cerebral experience. The game is divided up into different cases, across four different kinds of ‘desks’ and will last around 20 hours if played thoroughly.

The crime scenes and evidence gathering have been extremely well designed. As mentioned, handy music queues tell you when you come across something interesting, and will tell you when you’ve gathered all evidence. Occasionally, you’ll need to examine the evidence further and not everything you find is relevant. All evidence found is recorded in your notebook, which can be accessed at any time. It’s the 1940s, so while there is nothing fancy, the notebook is a hugely useful and varied tool. All these seemingly simple additions make sure you’ve got everything at your disposal so that you can at least feel like you’re a top detective; once it’s not until a few cases in that you realise how powerful your tools are and how well they’re designed in relation to your context.

Look! I'm a koala!

Look! I'm a koala!
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Once you’ve gathered evidence, you then need to interview/interrogate the suspects. Using innovative facial motion capture technology, you need to take careful account of what everyone says, what everyone does, how they react and what evidence you’ve found to determine whether they’re telling the truth, hiding the facts (doubt) or outright lying. Just remember, you need the correct evidence to back up a lying accusation. It’s quite fascinating and intriguing to try and read into what you’re being told, and it’s even more satisfying when you get it right. Getting things right, will lead to the case being solved in the most ‘efficient’ manner. However, just as you can miss crucial evidence, you can get your interrogations wrong. And one of the most fascinating aspects is just how the game continues when you get things wrong. Missing evidence may mean that you won’t be able to prove that someone is lying. Messing up interviews and interrogations may put people offside and clam them up. You will still finish the case, just you may miss out on getting the conviction, or you may convict the wrong guy. And the result will carry through the rest of the game.

Outside of the cases and interrogations, there are a lot more smart designs in L.A. Noire. This may be something major such as ‘intuition’ or the vehicle driving mechanics, which intelligently, haven’t been made too ‘realistic’. Intuition is earned through experience, up to a max of five intuition points, which can then be used to help find all the clues at crime scene, or help the player pick the right interview answer. It smartly implements the community in this system, and when used properly, is very helpful in solving cases. However, it’s a system that’s extremely easy to exploit too, which can undermine the game. Despite driving vehicles from the 1940s, the handling is smart and easy to pick up, while still being distinctive between vehicles. Other additions include simple things such as a trip skip, case check points, and only being able to enter doors with gold handles. L.A. Noire is a much slower paced game than something like GTA, so these smart designs go a long way to ensuring that players stay on board. Many of these decisions take out the usual frustrations from open-ended games, and should be implemented in future titles.

So while L.A. Noire shouldn’t be ignored or chastised for being different or slower than your usual open-ended title, and it should be praised for its use of design, technology and near ideal capturing of the essence of film noire, there are areas where it falls down. Being fundamentally similar to GTAIV, one aspect that never went down as well as it could have has been the combat. There are a number of action sequences, but none last long and none are too demanding, so players will get by. The problem though, is that a lot of players may find these sequences comparatively mundane to modern whizz-bang set pieces. So it’s a real catch-22. On the one hand, in fits into the game’s context and is a relief to players that combat is sparse and not relied upon to fill in the play hours. On the other, it comes off as unendearing and lacking.

Oh, he definitely up to something...

Oh, he definitely up to something...
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While most of the individual cases are endearing on their own (they can’t all be great) and there are only a handful of questionable junctions, players tackling one after the other are likely to find the core gameplay quite formulaic and repetitive. In an attempt to be accessible, the variety suffers and there are only so many predictable chases you can go on, while the investigation shtick runs low on steam at the backend. Otherwise, most of the open-world aspects outside of the case solving leave a lot to be desired; exploration and extras don't really give much. The street crimes are outright boring, shallow and placed ridiculoulsy far away, particularly in comparison to the main game, but thankfully, they are short and easy to repeat if necessary. Trying to make them accessible and fitting them into the context of the game has taken away from the overall experience. As a result of the accessibility, the game often suffers from ‘MGS2 syndrome’, where tiny gameplay segments are regularly interspersed with cut-scenes, albeit engrossing and sharp ones. For all the care put into the new stuff, the game yearns for that extra touch with the older gameplay staples.

L.A. Noire deserves a lot of applause. It nails recreating a classical film noir experience, with a wide branching, multi-layered, immaculately presented and confronting story. It uses the kind of technology that most would have expected to come out of this generation and it implements superbly to the gameplay. The case-solving dynamics between the finding and implementing of evidence makes for endearing gameplay at a considered pace, and is surrounded by smart designs. However, just like the classical film noir tales that it represents, not everything ends on a happy note. The story and cases have the occasional hole and feeling of meaningless efforts. When something is so realistically presented, a failure is so much more noticeable. In trying to be accessible, players used to modern whizz-bang gameplay may get bored and disappointed. Regardless though, you’d be mug allow these factors to take away from one of the shining lights of this gaming generation.
The Score
L.A. Noire superbly reproduces classic film noir, and combines great new gameplay ideas with groundbreaking technology and smart designs.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related L.A. Noire Content

L.A. Noire coming to PC
24 Jun, 2011 Point and click.
L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories now available as a free eBook
07 Jun, 2011 Brush up on your favourite crimes and cases.
38 Comments
2 years ago
Good review that really nails the game for me.

I found the best way to play LA Noir was to only tackle a few cases in a row in any one gaming session. Otherwise you can lose the impact and pace of each case, and things can start to feel too similar and drag a bit.

I'd compare it to a crime show or even a serialised show like Supernatural or Burn Notice where each episode follows a certain routine, while a deeper narrative is building in the background. While these sorts of shows are great in smaller doses, watching the whole thing in one go can lessen the enjoyment.

In LA Noir, you can start to see each case as a series of predictable parts (go to murder scene, conduct interviews, chase criminals)if you play it for too long rather than appreciate the intricacies of each case and what you need to do to build a successful conviction.

In my opinion this would have made an excellent series that was made available each month or so on download like Sam and Max or Back to the Future.
2 years ago
JP2daMC wrote
In my opinion this would have made an excellent series that was made available each month or so on download like Sam and Max or Back to the Future.
This is an interesting point. I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen, to an extent, with DLC. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd probably forget too many things if I played like that though icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
Couple of things

Quote
L.A. Noire has been built from the same game engine as GTAIV, so players will notice that the two titles are stylistically similar.
GTA 4 was built on the Rage engine, LA Noire was built on a custom in house engine from everything I've read.

Quote
While the Havok engine looks to be one of the best for a realistic open world and L.A. Noire is the most robust use of it, it’s starting to show aging signs, with hints of aliasing, weak texturing and very awkward ‘failed realism’ glitches
Havok is just the physics simulation. It's used in... well pretty much everything (Half Life, Saints Row, Heavy Rain, Uncharted etc)


Also I really don't like the facial animation in the game. It freaks me out. It looks like The Polar Express and makes everyone serious uncanny valley.
2 years ago
Probably my biggest gripe with the game, which I adored I might add, is that the narrative is a bit too forced. While making mistakes can lead to different results, the overarching storyline doesn't change at all, and neither does your progression in it.

Also a lot of the narrative elements seem forced and in place because it's "noir" not because they actually really fit the storyline or the characters. All it needed to cover those grounds was some out of work time. I would have much preferred a Mafia II esque "end of case" where you go home and have interactions with people outside of the cases. It would have helped flesh out the characters more and make some of the plot twists make a bit more sense, or have more impact.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
True stuffs
Yes, as far as I can tell/have been told, there is an amalgamation of engines - so what started off as in-house has had a lot of Rage adopted. That and it's obvious that the games are almost identical in the core mechanics...

EDIT: Also, I think it's considered in-house because of the how it has amalgamated technologies such as the Motionscan into the final product.

But you're right about the Havok/Rage stuffs. That was a brain fart on my behalf icon_confused.gif Fixed icon_y1.gif
2 years ago
Benza wrote
Also I really don't like the facial animation in the game. It freaks me out. It looks like The Polar Express and makes everyone serious uncanny valley.
From the little I've seen of the game it really stood out in a bad way to me, too - but in a different way. My issue with it is that the facial animation is so smooth and detailed, but it looks so artificially overlaid on the comparitively stilted and broad body animation(s).
2 years ago
I just find that the animations are too broad for the detail that the models have. There's a huge split between the fluidity of the animation in the face to the muddy texture detail etc. It gives off an eerie elasticity to the face, as there's no detail there to express proper frowning, lip movement and all that.

It's really bizarre.
2 years ago
The game bored me to death. Terrible pacing, repetitive mission structure, unlikeable protagonist, bland secondary world, and the reliance on increasingly tenuous evidence as the game progressed made it really frustrating to play.
2 years ago
I look at it as a step in the right direction, it's not perfect, but it's showing that SOMEONE is actually out there trying to push onward and upward rather than just cookie cutting everything else.
2 years ago
... did you just mean inside the AAA title sphere, or was that in regards to the industry in general. 'Cause there is plenty of 'outside the cookie cutter' content to be found once you move your gaze away from the big houses like Rockstar.
2 years ago
Yeah, I meant AAA stuff. There's some crazy stuff going on outside of that but it doesn't get enough recognition, hell I bet if this didn't have Rockstar's backing the tech wouldn't even be getting discussed.
2 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
I look at it as a step in the right direction, it's not perfect, but it's showing that SOMEONE is actually out there trying to push onward and upward rather than just cookie cutting everything else.
So was Polar Express, that doesn't make it good.
2 years ago
well it doesn't mean they shouldn't do it ether icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
It annoys me that they don't release a game like this on PC. This is clearly supposed to be a AAA title, with a large over arching story line, designed to give many ours of gameplay, pushing graphics to the cutting edge, ect. ect. Clearly by NOT releasing it on PC Rockstar have nothing but contempt for their customers.
2 years ago
moonhead wrote
Clearly by NOT releasing it on PC Rockstar have nothing but contempt for their customers.
Yep. I'm sure there are no other reasons at all. Not one.
The board at rockstar sat down to talk about a pc release and they just came out with "Fuck that I hate those guys" and that's the reason.
2 years ago
I've started this up and am absolutely loving it. My only criticisms thus far is that the frame rate can become horrible during the driving bits and that sometimes it's difficult to read people during interrogations/interviews. Further on the latter point, sometimes you think you have the right bit of evidence when you suggest someone is lying but that bit of evidence doesn't match what the protagonist ends up accusing them of.
2 years ago
Cyph wrote
Further on the latter point, sometimes you think you have the right bit of evidence when you suggest someone is lying but that bit of evidence doesn't match what the protagonist ends up accusing them of.
Oh god this.
I had a piece of evidence wich was some glasses of the maybe victim that had been repaired and sticky taped together. Talking to his wife and she's going on about his brand new glasses. Accuse her of lying show her the old broken repaired glasses and... I'm wrong and she complains I'm just being a dick?

EXPLAIN THE GLASSES THEN BITCH! DON'T FUCK WITH ME I WILL FUCKING END YOU!
2 years ago
@Benza and Cyph, I don't know about others but I found that it's harder to eff up these situations later in the game - and even a couple of times there are multiple pieces of evidence that help you. But very early on, there are a couple of contentious bits, as you mentioned. Whether it's getting better at the game, or because the evidence is a bit more obvious... I'm not sure which has more bearing overall.

Also, I found that it's not just about 'reading' the people. You have to take into account, what they say, how they say it, what has been said before. It's a game that really demands that your attention when you play. In the very least, I found that patterns tended to emerge... and exploits...
2 years ago
Jeremy wrote
Also, I found that it's not just about 'reading' the people. You have to take into account, what they say, how they say it, what has been said before. It's a game that really demands that your attention when you play. In the very least, I found that patterns tended to emerge... and exploits...
Very true.

For shits and giggles, try playing this drunk as I did last night. You know how you read people's faces differently and see things that aren't there and don't see the obvious stuff when drunk? Oh, and how you tend to accuse everyone of everything without any proof? Adds a new element to the game icon_smile.gif

I accused that 15 year old of everything I could because she blinked suspiciously. Bitch.
2 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
I look at it as a step in the right direction, it's not perfect, but it's showing that SOMEONE is actually out there trying to push onward and upward rather than just cookie cutting everything else.
Im with you Sin Ogaris. Its great to see a game company have the stones to create a style of game that isnt mainstream.

And i also recognize Benza's statement that it doesnt always work, but trying to do your own thing should be rewarded, especially if they put the kind of effort they have into this title.
Yeah, its not perfect, but Rockstar is certainly not a sheep following the herd, and thats gotta be a good thing.
2 years ago
Banefire wrote
Yeah, its not perfect, but Rockstar is certainly not a sheep following the herd, and thats gotta be a good thing.
Team Bondi. Rockstar just published it.
2 years ago
Apparently they had their fingers in the pie a bit to make sure it turned out alright, which makes sense as I'm sure they sunk millions of dollars into the game to get it finished.

Also they should simply be commended FOR publishing it, it's the kind of game that I imagine some other big name publishers would have shied away from.

But yeah, Team Bondi developed it and created the tech.
2 years ago
oh yeah rockstar deffintly deserve credit for publishing something that is so different.

Gotta wonder how many customers are going to be pissed off buying it expecting GTA 4 in the 50's and getting a really pretty adventure game.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
Also I really don't like the facial animation in the game. It freaks me out. It looks like The Polar Express and makes everyone serious uncanny valley.
I find it funny that the facial animation creeps you out. I have no problms with it.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  14/01/2009 (Postponed)
Publisher:
  Take 2 Interactive
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2007

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