I’ll only mention Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto once in this review simply for the purpose of putting down any notion that L.A. Noire is “Grand Theft Auto set in the 1940s,” or even that it’s a Rockstar game. It isn’t. Team Bondi developed L.A. Noire and they went for something entirely different.
You play as Cole Phelps, a soldier turned LAPD officer, whose tenacity as a cop gets him promoted to various other investigative desks. These investigations are where things get interesting. They work quite well, for the most part. You’ll enter a crime scene full of clues to inspect. These clues will lead you to various other locations to examine and people to question. The more clues you find, the more educated you’ll be when it comes time to question a person of interest which in turn makes it easier to get information out of them.
Shifty eyes might indicate some untruthfulness
After asking a question and listening to the response, you have to choose whether to believe, doubt or accuse the person of lying. Your decision is based not only on the evidence you’ve gathered but also on the actor’s delivery of the line. Thanks to L.A. Noire’s sophisticated facial capturing technology the actor’s entire performance is emulated, not just their voice. This means you’ll also have to read a character’s face to come to your conclusion.
Unfortunately, the investigations have some issues. There are no failure conditions, so while you might reach a conclusion in several different ways, a case will never go unsolved. This is regardless of how many clues you didn’t discover or how poorly you questioned suspects. It makes each case feel more like a T.V. show than a game. The cases also, eventually, become repetitive and predictable. About half way in, the game started to run out of ways to surprise me.
Between cases, you have the option to respond to a dispatcher and take care of some more action heavy street crimes. These often involve on-foot or car chases and shoot-outs. Unfortunately, the shooting and cover feel loose, and shooting someone while running is particularly sloppy. The on-foot chase sequences are pretty boring. There are no options to try and flank or out-maneuver the criminal. Instead, you have to follow their exact path. These faster sections of the game also make L.A. Noire’s frequent frame rate issues more apparent.
Shooting just doesn’t feel right
L.A. Noire succeeds the most in its presentation. Team Bondi clearly put a lot of effort into making the entire game feel authentic. People look and act like you’d expect, and every environment is detailed and feels inhabited. Almost everything you see and hear is dedicated to crafting a believable world.
Aside from Cole’s police career, the story is also told through his World War II flashbacks and through cutscenes that play when you find newspapers. The three story arcs only start to relate to each other in the latter half of the game, but even then the overarching story in L.A. Noire didn’t engage me. The story as a whole feels a little flat and uninteresting. It’s ultimately about the enthralling world of insurance fraud and it often tries to tell you that what’s going on is a huge deal without really showing you why.
I get the feeling that Team Bondi wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted from L.A. Noire. The investigations and interrogations make it evident that this is like no other game. However, some of the action sequences include classic video game tropes like exploding red barrels and collapsing bridges. Moreover, if you play each case like an interactive episode of Law & Order it is much more enjoyable than treating it like a mission that must be completed, but this is contrasted when the game gives you a score sheet at the end of each case. While criticizing a game for being “gamey,” might seem strange, L.A. Noire tries so hard to transcend video games but occasionally falls short. It’s as if someone during development said, “Wait a second, this won’t resonate with the average gamer. Let’s add something that will.”
The first half of L.A Noire is plagued by a disjointed narrative, the second half by repetitive and predictable cases, and the entire game from performance issues and mediocre action sequences. Although, full of ambitious and unique ideas, the many flaws of L.A. Noire keep it from coming together to form something truly exceptional.
- There’s nothing else like it
- CSI and Law & Order fans will love the investigations
- 1940s L.A is expertly recreated
- Excellent character performances and writing
- Sloppy shooting and running controls
- Investigations get repetitive and predictable
- Story takes much too long to pick up
- Frequent frame rate and texture pop-in issues