L.A. Noire review
The Good: Revolutionary facial animation; 1947 L.A. is recreated in stunning detail; lengthy and engrossing story; gorgeous graphics and soundtrack; great acting performances; adventure purists can skip through the action.
The Bad: Body animation isn't quite up to par with the faces; players averse to action may not feel like intentionally failing gunfights and chases in order to skip them.
Our Verdict: A rewarding adventure, a richly detailed world, an intriguing mystery, and a fascinating character study all in one—L.A. Noire is truly something special.

When Rockstar Games announced L.A. Noire nearly six years ago, many assumed it would be Grand Theft Auto set in the forties--with all of the rampant mayhem and sociopathic behaviour that implies. As details started leaking out, however, it became clear that L.A. Noire wasn't just going to be another action-oriented sandbox game with a new coat of paint. With an emphasis on solving cases using patience and wits rather than a Tommy Gun, and a revolutionary new facial animation technology powering its cutscenes and interrogations, this period epic looked like it had the potential to break new ground as an investigative mystery. Still, the cynics among us, myself included, assumed that the publisher would ultimately buckle under market pressure and choose to play it safe.

They didn't.

In an industry where adventure games have been relegated to backwater niche status, Rockstar and Australian developer Team Bondi have delivered what is essentially the most expensive and most expansive adventure game ever made. It does sprinkle some gunfights and car chases throughout its twenty-plus hour running time, but even these aren't mandatory, and L.A. Noire is at heart a game about hunting down clues, chasing leads, and extracting the truth from witnesses and suspects in tense interrogations.

Players take the role of police officer Cole Phelps, a returning war hero with a Stanford degree and a heart of gold; an honest cop in a den of corruption, determined to make the city a safer place. The LAPD, besieged by scandals and a rising crime rate, is looking for a fresh public face to put on display, and Phelps fits the bill perfectly. You'll follow Phelps as he rises from beat cop to detective, covering several different "desks", including Homicide and Vice. Each feels like its own mini-narrative, with its own police station, partner, car, and style of investigation. The game has 21 cases in all, divided up among the different desks and undertaken in a linear order. While each case is an individual investigation, it's not long before details from earlier crimes start to inform and influence later cases.

As you progress, you'll gain experience points from performing successful interrogations, surviving gunfights, and apprehending suspects. When you gain a level, you unlock new outfits for Cole, hidden vehicles strewn throughout the city, and intuition points, which can be spent to give you an edge during investigations. You can use a point to display the locations of clues on the minimap, or you can spend one to remove a wrong answer from an interrogation. One clever use of the game’s online capabilities is the option to spend a point to display the percentages of other players across the globe who selected a given answer during the investigation, similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's "Ask the Audience."

The over-arching storyline is smartly-written and engrossing throughout, tying together the seemingly separate subplots in a satisfying and suitably twisting fashion. The plot hits all the expected notes of great hard-boiled noir--murder, betrayal, secrets, femme fatales, crooked cops, smooth-talking gangsters--but does so in interesting and refreshing ways. L.A. Noire consistently evokes the spirit of its inspirations while forging its own unique identity. This is not The Maltese Falcon: The Game, and Cole is not your typical Humphrey Bogart gumshoe. No noir mystery would be complete without characters who aren't what they seem, but it takes an especially deft hand to make that character development feel real. Cole's personal arc is especially involving and often surprising, forming an emotional backbone for all of the seediness and grit you'll encounter on the streets of Los Angeles.

But let's back up: just what kind of game is L.A. Noire? The short answer is, it's a little bit of everything. The game smoothly transitions from open-world driving game to slow-paced exploration and investigation to action-packed shootouts and chases. Cases generally start at the station, where your superior fills you in on the details and sends you out to the field. You walk outside and are greeted with a massive, freely-explorable, historically accurate recreation of 1947 Los Angeles. Selecting a destination from your notebook (a repository of all persons of interest, clues, and locations), you drive around the city with your current partner in tow. Here the game most closely resembles its Grand Theft Auto ancestors, from the interface to the feel of the cars, but upon arriving at your destination, you'll begin scouring crime scenes for clues and interrogating witnesses.

The clue-finding and exploration portions are pure adventure gaming, albeit through a modern lens reminiscent of last year's Heavy Rain. While the game controls like a third-person shooter, with the left stick moving Cole and the right stick aiming the camera, you won't spend much time blasting away gangsters; rather, the vast majority of the game involves slowly picking through locations for items of interest. The game nudges you in the right direction by chiming and vibrating the controller when you are near an item that can be investigated. Pressing the action button swoops the camera in over Cole's shoulder, allowing you to choose nearby items to inspect. During inspection, you can turn the object around in Cole's hands using the left stick to look for clues. Once you've found something of note--the name of a bar, a serial number, a fingerprint--the clue is automatically added to Cole's notebook and can then be used as material during interrogations.

The interrogations (in and out of the formal interrogation rooms) are perhaps the game's most interesting sequences. Whether it's a bystander, a material witness, or a full-blown suspect, everyone you talk to seems to have something to hide. Choosing a line of inquiry from Cole's notebook, you'll throw questions and allegations at your “opponent”, all while judging the honesty of their statements against their body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and the evidence you've collected. Once they've responded, you get to choose whether you believe them, doubt them, or call them out on a lie (with evidence to back it up) in a process reminiscent of the Phoenix Wright games. Other than a few instances where the line between “doubt” and “lie” options is frustratingly blurry, or the few times when Cole's reaction is not what you expected, this system makes for a tense and engrossing game of cat-and-mouse. People walking through the room as I played the game were wont to chime in with their backseat psychologist's opinions: “Look at him squirm, he's totally lying.” “Yeah, but where's the proof?” “I don't know, this guy has military training, maybe he's just that good at lying.”

These kinds of observations are made possible by the game's innovative facial animation technology. Actors were filmed by a special rig of 32 cameras, the feeds from which were then mapped onto 3D character models. The result is a clarity of performance that is unrivaled by any other game. Every wrinkle of the forehead, every curl of the lip, every nervous glance is visible. And the game doesn’t just have great animation—it has great performances. Aaron Stanton, better known as Ken Cosgrove of TV's Mad Men shines as Cole, bringing a humanity to the character's goody-two-shoes idealism. The rest of the cast ranges from good to amazing, with bit characters just as fleshed-out as the larger roles. Standout performances include Fringe's John Noble as housing mogul Leland Monroe, Southland's Michael McGrady as Homicide detective Rusty Galloway, ER's Gil McKinney as claims inspector Jack Kelso, and Erika Heynatz as the German nightclub singer Elsa Lichtmann. You'll recognize a number of other television and film character actors sprinkled throughout the game as well. And I do mean recognize—the game truly captures each actor's performance; I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that I frequently forgot I was watching computer animation.

The rest of the game's production values are top notch as well. The graphics capture the retro-modern feel of the Los Angeles post-war boom, with only occasional pop-in in the distance or detail textures that fail to load immediately. The game scales well, with both the massive outdoor areas and intimate indoor settings full of detail. Walk up to a random pawn shop on a street corner and you'll see jewelry and guns on display inside. Drive past a diner and you'll see people coming and going, sitting down to meals, and ordering. Everywhere you go, the colors are rich, the palette carefully chosen to balance the grim nature of detective work with the brilliant flashiness of Hollywood--that is, if you choose to play the game in color. That's right, the entire game can be played in classy black-and-white for the truly noir-obsessed. It looks great both ways. My only complaints with the visuals are minor: while the facial animation is consistently astounding, bodies are noticeably less expressive, and while this is rarely a problem, it can occasionally be distracting. Also, for a game based on a film genre that took place almost exclusively at night, there is very little in the way of moody, moonlit nighttime gameplay. Most of the game takes place in the overbearing sunlight of daytime California.

Continued on the next page...



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Game Info

L.A. Noire

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Genre:

Developer:
Team Bondi


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Worldwide May 17 2011 Rockstar Games
Worldwide November 1 2011 Rockstar Games

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User Score

Average based on 31 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by TimovieMan on Oct 2, 2013

Stunningly beautiful, but heavily flawed

L.A. Noire is a flawed game. Not only is there too much action (half the cases have a shootout, and a couple of cases have a small war going... Read the review »

Posted by Skipjack on Jul 20, 2013

Disappointing

LA noire is an impressive game from a technical point of view. Lots of great names participated (many well known actors lent their faces and... Read the review »



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About the Author
CitizenArcane's avatar
Nathaniel Berens
Staff Writer

Comments

Majsan Majsan
Jun 1, 2011

Ooooh I want this game! :-)
Is there ANY indication that it might be released for the PC in the future?

Jackal Jackal
Jun 1, 2011

Nothing I’ve heard so far indicates it might. But there is precedent for Rockstar games being ported, so unlike Heavy Rain, I think this one actually has a chance of hitting the PC one day.

Kroms
Jun 1, 2011

“The result is a clarity of performance that is unrivaled by any other game.”

The other result is horrifying uncanny valley voodoo. It’s unnatural and it’s ugly. I can respect the technology, but the end result hasn’t been working for me at all.

Geothing
Jun 1, 2011

I would mostly agree with your review. I also found body animations quite low in quality compared to tha face animations. Body animations in Red Dead Redemption ( a game from Rockstar) were more complex, so I wouldn’t say that I found them low in quality due to comparison with the great facial animations. My biggest problem with the game was that I got a little bored after a while cause I was doing the same thing in most of the cases (car chase-interrogation-chase on foot-car chase interrogation-chase on foot). I would love some extra thingies as there were in RDR ( I know many will say that RDR but I almost put it in the same genre as LA Noir)

Lee in Limbo Lee in Limbo
Jun 1, 2011

Fantastic review. I can’t tell you how glad I am that AG has decided to review and endorse this game so heartily. This feels like a great year for innovative new approaches to adventure gaming, even if the specter of potential action gaming looms o’erhead. Thank you!

Stuart Stuart
Jun 2, 2011

Definitely looks like a game I’d enjoy but I don’t buy consoles and only play games on the PC, so will hope in vain for a PC release (hoping didn’t get me Heavy Rain though!). For those that have played it, could this be considered an evolution of the adventure genre or would the action scenes make it more of an action/adventure game?

Maquisard
Jun 2, 2011

I haven’t but judging by the review, it’s a sandbox, so it looks like the genre depends on how you choose to play it. Kinda like in the old school Indy Jones games where you got to pick the action-packed, cerebral, or middle of the road approach. Remember when action-adventure wasn’t a bad word?

Interplay Interplay
Jun 2, 2011

What a great thorough and complete review.  I agree with it completely.  This is a great game, and I’m thoroughly enjoying my second play through right now.  Here’s hoping that they will decide to make it a series.  More importantly, the success of this and Heavy Rain bodes well for the future of the genre.  I think this is going to be hard to top for AG of the year.

louiedog
Jun 2, 2011

My girlfriend and I have been playing through this and it’s fantastic. If you haven’t picked it up yet, consider buying the Rockstar Pass when you do. It adds 4 more cases and they get integrated right into the game as you play. You don’t just select them from a menu after the game is over like a lot of game DLC. Two are out now and the others will be released in June and July. It’s $10 and you also get a couple of suits and another collectible to find. I think it’s worth it for the 5 or so extra hours of content, at least from what I’ve seen so far.

Mikekelly Mikekelly
Jun 2, 2011

Different adventure games are released on different platforms now. Rockstar did not develop a PC version of this game and do not have one in development nor have one planned.

Heavy Rain, Last Window and Ghost Trick are also the same way - no PC version has been developed nor is being planned to be developed.

This game IS NOT an action-adventure game. It is an adventure game. I’ve played action-adventure games - those basically involve lots of action parts that you can and will die in that are not optional. This game is also not a sandbox game - like Grand Theft Auto. This game is history in the making - it sold hundreds of thousands of copies - and putting the adventure genre back on the map again - front and center.

talkshow talkshow
Jun 2, 2011

So glad AG reviewed this! It definitely is the evolution of the adventure game on consoles.  Thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to more DLC cases.  That motion-capture technology utilized for the faces is just STUNNING! And, 20+ hours of content!

I agree with the above poster, get the ROCKSTAR PASS.  It’s cheap and worth it.  And if you don’t have a 360 or PS3, it might be time to get one!

I LOVE LA NOIRE!!!

indigoo indigoo
Jun 2, 2011

I’m somewhat disappointed by this review. This game doesn’t come close to the great Adventure games we still get, and the classics? Forget about it. LA Noire is shallow and contrived, boring and dull. It has no real flavor to keep the interest of the player, but instead manages to do nothing with the short vignettes of “story”, reinforced with ground-breaking technology. To give it a 5/5 is just shocking, since that what every other critic will do just because it is published by Rockstar. Maybe it’s just me, but as the game went on I felt dragged into a world of blurred repercussions and specific paths. There were some cases that made things bearable, but overall the formula for this game is missing ingredients.

This game may be a start towards recognizing the palatability of the Adventure genre but I cringe when I hear this is at the front and center. There’s really nothing substantial here that will age well—and hopefully as more developers look to do similar things, they will overshadow this dullard with more complex and variable results.

I actually felt Heavy Rain did more, at least with its story and setting, to help make the Adventure genre relevant in the mainstream. I bet if you ask the majority of players what they consider this game to be, they’d say an “Action” game. Dense but “barren” open world, driving, shooting, chasing, sprinkled with hand-held investigation and pre-chosen dialogue.

IndeedeeGraphics
Jun 3, 2011

I love the Adventure Game genre - but let’s face the reality here:
Not since “The Last Express” (1997), has there been any Adventure Game,
ground breaking enough to boost the genre to life.
Adventure Games has, unfortunately, become a parking place of bad programming, bad voice acting and bad clichés of the genre.
“Syberia” had a good sense of humour, a good story and some pretty neat graphics at the time. But it was titles like “Full Throttle” and “Monkey Island” and as mentioned earlier, “The Last Express” who really made the genre strong.

With LA Noire from Team Bondi & Rockstar Games, I can only say:
FINALLY! Finally I’ve got an adventure game worth playing. And didn’t they just deliver??? What a game! Simply the best game I’ve ever played! Mafia 2 also had some of the same elements, but LA Noire, just have everything you want from an Adventure Game!
I thought free roaming games like Red Dead Redemption and GTA was the future of this genre. But with LA Noire, I’ve found, that it isn’t really the free roaming and the often pointless mini-games that I want, but simply a good and solid story you actually learn a little from, when you’re finished. LA Noire has all the classics of every Film Noir and Crime thrillers of Dirty Harry, Colombo and even Sherlock Holmes.
And I can only say to game developers of Adventure Games:
Look and Learn…at LA Noire!
This is how you make an Adventure Game that people actually want to pay for, and also enjoy as solid entertainment!
Rockstar Games and Team Bondi Rules!

kotkin
Jun 3, 2011

I agree with Donatelli. The game was dull, repetitive and even with the “motion scan” the characters are flat and uninteresting because of the dull writing. 5/5 its an unbelieveable score. Heavy Rain was a really good and artistic game.
I really wanted to like L.A. Noire…

boo
Jun 3, 2011

It’s a great adventure game, no doubt. When you first start out the premise seems so full of possibility. You really feel like your detective work is putting away bad guys. Or possibly not. You might be locking away the wrong guy but at least, in the early going, it’s ambiguous. It made me want to go back through again and see if I could connect the crime to a better suspect who may have just wormed his way out of the noose by a missed question or two. That feeling doesn’t last. Without spoiling anything I will just say that there comes a point at which I felt a disconnect from my character as he becomes a victim of circumstances and my efforts felt pointless. It’s the difference between playing a game and getting played. I would have preferred there been more standalone cases not connected to larger stories.

DomStLeger
Jun 3, 2011

Hmm since Heavy Rain came out I’ve been really tempted to buy a PS3; this sounds like I may have a 2nd reason to buy one. Must admit I’m not entirely convinced by the 5/5 effusive review but reading Nats bio and list of favourite adventure games is gives me more confidence in the verdict. Maybe its time to cave in and go console!

River
Jun 5, 2011

Great review. It is lame the game is not translated to other languages. The facial animation is amazing and, in my opinion, this is the most inmersive title since Heavy Rain.

Jettatore
Jun 6, 2011

This game is vastly over-rated.  I kind of feel like Adventure Gamers is a dead website for even considering to give this 5 stars.  I’ve been suspect of AG’s overly generous ratings the last few years, almost as if they are just happy to get any software that fits the adventure genre that they don’t want to chase developers away with bad reviews.

There are barely any puzzles in this game, it’s mostly entirely story driven + rinse and repeat gameplay of look at objects (aka “evidence”) and then talk to people using the truth/lie/doubt system.  The rest of it is just following some absolutely sub-par narrative (even for a video game).

The addition of sandbox and action gameplay only add to the list of chores the player needs to go through and are also rinse and repeat throughout the length of the game.  The graphics are superb for an adventure game and about average for a console mass/market release and don’t add anything.  Overall this game is trying to be too much, from a staff that isn’t even qualified to be tackling this genre yet.  I’d have gotten more out of watching someone replay the original Myst or Monkey Island.

My purpose on giving you these raw feelings that contradict popular opinion is that I know many adventure gamers don’t also have a console, and I don’t want purists to waste a considerable amount of money here.  If you can and must, as least find a friend who has a console so that you can just rent the game and bring it to their house for only a fraction of the investment, or even simpler, watch someone play through as much as you can stomach on Youtube to see how simple/lame of a game it is after the first few minutes.

My rating for this game is mediocre garbage out of 5.

subbi
Jun 7, 2011

Jettatore,

If you care to check out AG’s stats on metacritic.com, you’ll see that their scores tend to be slightly lower than the metacritic’s average on the same games:

http://www.metacritic.com/publication/adventure-gamers?filter=games

So based on what fact do you claim that AG’s reviews are generally overrated?

Jackal Jackal
Jun 7, 2011

Based on selective anecdotal evidence, of course. Wink In any case, let’s leave debates about AG’s review policies and trends for the forums. These comments are reserved for L.A. Noire.

Marduk
Jun 14, 2011

I think 5 stars is more than a little generous.

I mean if you rate an AG purely on its story and story telling then this game is a work of art that makes you ponder if the rating system should be adjusted to accommodate a new standard.

But the puzzles become stale and repetitive very shortly into the game, pretty much entirely using observations of the behaviour of suspects and witnesses to determine how truthful their statements are and, in the event of a lie, referring to a piece of evidence to back up your claim.

And that’s the whole game, or at least the overwhelming majority of it.  You repeat that and the other cases become, as the saying goes, ‘same sh*t, different day’.

syberia syberia
Sep 4, 2011

can’t believe it.
why the hell it;s just for PS3 & XBOX ?
Aren;t they gonna release a pc version?

Jackal Jackal
Sep 4, 2011

Um, yes, a PC version was announced months ago: http://www.adventuregamers.com/newsitem.php?id=2266

Matan
Sep 9, 2011

I was really excited about this game, but ended up disappointed.
The adventure parts just feel really random to me - the investigations are basically elaborate pixel hunts (and the cop would only look at certain pre-defined thing. Kept wondering why he’s not looking at a certain cupboard but does examine every beer bottle).
The questioning part - just felt like I need to randomly choose a response most of the time.
Also, many times the order at which you go to interview the suspects or go to certain places in the end determines whether you succeed or fail, without any way of knowing beforehand the “correct” order.
The plot is ok and a little bit boring.
The GTA parts just felt out of place.

ghettodoghammer
Nov 6, 2011

5 stars? Are you kidding me? This game does not deliver that much, it’s the most overrated game in years.

Gabe Gabe
Nov 22, 2011

And top of everything game is non-linear,can you believe that 5 stars
doesnt good enough for this.

Sigma.40
Dec 13, 2011

I could not stop playing this game! It was like Carmen Sandiego on steroids. The detective thing has been tried before but this is the first to truly pull it off. Thank god theres a sequel coming.

marvio
Feb 18, 2012

So yet again I’m disappointed at a title.. Sigh, I should just give up playing games, really…

I’m not sure what the reviewer was on, but whatever it is, pass it along dude because that’s some good stuff! Smile

If nothing else just for the technical parts of the game it shouldn’t have gotten 5 stars. Let’s start on the graphics.

1- Facial animation

Seems like most of the marketing of this game revolved around that? Guess what, it looks really bad, and creepy at the same time, it’s akin to somebody using a latex mask trying to act, very fake looking, skin deforms in places it shouldn’t, and there’s no sense of a bone structure under it, it’s as if their faces were made out of jello, vary strange looking indeed. I really don’t care how cutting edge the technology is, if it looks this bad it should never have left its testing phase.

2- Overall look.

This is one of the worst looking games I’ve seen in a while, and that includes our lowly genere of choice (adventures), which is kinda sad when you consider how much more money this game had behind it , this looks like a game from 10 years ago, the light falls flat everywhere, there’s no nuance at all. The textures are bland, and even knowing LA is not a masterpiece in architecture, it’s actually pretty boring in that respect, for crying out loud people take some artistic license and make it more interesting..

3- Sound design

There’s very little right in this respect, car makes noises it shouldn’t (you know there aren’t an endless choice of gears), voices don’t blend in with the enviroment, which is a really rookie mistake, very little in the way of ambient sounds, and the whole final mix is off by something terrible, did anybody analyze the frequencies on the different channels before realising this? There are clashes all over the place, making the game really hard on the ears.


The story.

You’re standard b movie detective story, but I’m yet to see a game which satisfies me in this regard, so I guess I give it a pass.

The gameplay:

Can you say R E P E T I T I V E! After you very first case the game should have ended, because the rest is just rinse/repeat, to such a degree I almost couldn’t finish the game. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t mind repetitive games per se, but here it just doesn’t work, mostly because of the slower pace of the game; In a shooter, you expect this kind of thing, and because things are going by so fast, a lot of the fun is just trying to keep up with it.

I could go on and on, but you get my drift
I’d give it 2 1/2 stars, tops

Foinikas Foinikas
May 6, 2012

The Verdict says it all.And I disagree about the body movement not being par with the facial movements and all that.The animations are incredibly well-done and look very natural. I will not say a lot of things.I will just say that I LOVE this game.It’s moody,it’s smart,it’s beautiful.It’s fantastic.Like the reviewer said,it really is something special!



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