Whodunit? Rockstar, again
|14%||% Critic Scores = 100||17%|
|75%||% Critic Scores >= 90||74%|
Imagine a videogame set inside a Raymond Chandler novel, or the post-war Los Angeles depicted in classic film noirs from Double Indemnity to L.A. Confidential. That is precisely the concept behind L.A. Noire (for PS3 and Xbox 360), the newest title from Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption creators Rockstar Games (in conjunction with Australian studio Team Bondi).
A rare entry in the genre we like to call Not-A-First-Person-Shooter-and-Not-A-Sequel (or NAFPSNAS for short), L.A. Noire invites players to take on the role of rookie LAPD detective Cole Phelps and assist him in solving a series of crimes that occur throughout a detailed re-creation of 1947 Los Angeles. With Metascores hovering around 90 as we write this, the game will likely finish the year among the highest-scoring releases of 2011 for both platforms, though not quite at GTA IV or Red Dead Redemption levels (which were 98 and 95, respectively).
So what exactly did critics like and dislike about this major new release? Let's find out ...
What they're saying
Here are the most commonly occurring uncommon words found in the full text of the reviews published so far for L.A. Noire (view larger version):
What the critics liked
It's different. "L.A. Noire's not like most games. ... It's a slow-paced, meditative experience," writes IGN, and that echoes the impression that many other reviewers have of this new title: it's new, innovative, and different. Unlike most titles released these days, the game requires much more thinking than dexterity. Though it has a similarly rich and detailed open world, Noire is also different from past Rockstar games like GTA in that the core of the game centers on the detective work, rather than merely driving around town.
It might be the best detective game yet. GamesRadar says that L.A. Noire "feels like the first truly complete detective sim we've ever played."
The setting is incredibly detailed and authentic. Reviewers have been wowed by the amount of research that went into re-creating post-war Los Angeles, and those efforts are clearly visible in the incredible level of detail and accuracy present throughout the game's environment. GameSpot says that this attention to detail runs throughout the game, down to the interiors and individual clues, which is what makes your detective work so "compelling" and "absorbing." Many other reviewers love the game's "cinematic" atmosphere and style, which are a big reason why it is so successful.
The storyline is memorable and realistic. Critics had a great deal of praise for the storylines and characters; Gamepro, for example, calls the plot "engrossing" and "a strong and satisfying narrative," while Giant Bomb says, "The writing is among the best in the business." Despite the fact that it could be so easy for the game to fall into film noir cliches, the game impressively avoids doing just that, according to many reviewers. The subject matter can get very dark and violent -- as it does in many noir films -- and Rockstar is drawing praise for playing it straight, rather than incorporating humor or less realistic elements as it does in its other titles. Several critics feel that the storyline -- along with the atmosphere and setting -- outshine the actual gameplay, and are worth the price of admission alone.
The investigation/interrogation gameplay is well structured. Though there is some gunplay and driving, the bulk of the gameplay is split -- usually 50-50 -- between clue gathering and interrogating suspects and witnesses. Most critics generally enjoyed these aspects of gameplay -- especially since success depends on your own powers of intuition, as it would in real life -- with just a few minor quibbles (for example, many reviewers feel the early cases are far too easy). Critics appreciate how, despite the fact that there is only one "right" answer to every decision you must make, making the wrong call isn't a dealbreaker, but merely forces you to find the same information another way. (This approach, in fact, adds to the story mode's replayability.) IGN calls the interrogation scenes "captivating," while the Telegraph writes that "It's deeply impressive stuff, and quite unlike any other conversation system we have seen."
The motion capture and facial animations are without peer. Because your success in the interrogation phases of the game depends in part on being able to read body language and facial expressions, the graphics could make or break the game. Nearly every critic, however, is effusive in praising this aspect of L.A. Noire, with many reviewers calling the facial and body animations (the result of an innovative new motion-capture technology called MotionScan) ultra-realistic and some of the best they've seen in any game. In fact, if critics were scoring just the facial animation work, the game would have received 100 scores across the board.
The performances are terrific. Thanks in part to that "breakthrough" MotionScan technology -- combined with terrific voice acting from the same cast that lend their faces and motions to the game -- critics are raving about the performances (critics are very insistent on that word, since they were indeed full performances rather than mere voicework) incorporated into the title. The cast is topped by Mad Men's Aaron Staton, and he and his supporting performers are able to deliver incredibly "convincing," "nuanced" and "subtle" readings that make the characters seem believably human and add a great deal to the game's quality. Reviewers also appreciated the sheer size of the cast, with each character played by a different actor.
The soundtrack is great. Many critics are also raving about the game's soundtrack, from the clever musical cues used to guide your investigations, to the score, which is heavy on period-appropriate jazz tunes.
There's an amazing wealth of content. With 21 cases to solve, and many of those cases lasting up to an hour, the title packs in a satisfying amount of gameplay, assuming that you want to get through it all. There are also 40 single-scene side missions, and L.A. Noire functions as an open-world sandbox, encouraging exploration. The result can be up to 30-40 hours of gaming, even before any DLC gets released.
What the critics didn't like
Keep in mind that with a Metascore that high, complaints from critics were not very prevalent, and were outnumbered by aspects of the game that they loved. Still, reviewers found a few annoyances with the title.
It's can be repetitive and boring. Some critics are complaining, as IGN states, that as the game progresses, it gets "repetitive, redundant, and unsurprising." Reviewers wish that it would break free of formula more often. GameInformer writes that "L.A. Noire could have used more action sequences to break up the monotonous investigating."
It's too linear. The scripted, linear, and methodical nature of the gameplay is not a drawback in itself, but many critics did warn that this structure won't appeal to every gamer. The game also walks a fine line between telling the story that its creators wanted to tell, and allowing players to influence the outcome, and, in the minds of some critics, errs in holding too firmly to the former approach, since the story ultimately unfolds the same way regardless of the choices you make. Much of the story also unfolds in cutscenes, of which there are many.
It's inconsistent. The storytelling can be choppy in plotting and presentation. For example, characters aren't used consistently, a late-game twist doesn't feel earned, some storylines don't get resolved, and a narrator provides voice-over for missions in the first half of the game, but disappears later on. Several critics also complain about minor inconsistencies in the AI, with both your partners and the bad guys.
It's not as emotionally gripping as it could be. Several critics complain that in spite of the incredibly detailed performances and strong writing, the game just isn't as engaging or emotionally involving as it could have been. The story is also a bit slow to develop.
Not everyone loved the detective gameplay. Wired is one of several publications to compare the investigative gameplay to that of the more cartoonish Ace Attorney series, saying that the mechanics actually work better in the latter series, though the storyline is more gripping in Noire. That publication found the interrogations sometimes "frustrating," with no good way to come to the right answer without guessing; in fact, Joystiq finds it so frustrating at times that it no longer is fun, though it is still interesting. Clue-finding, on the other hand, can be too easy during many portions of the game.
Action sequences range from adequate to clunky. The action sequences -- frequently, involving driving -- drew some comparisons to GTA, unsurprisingly. Some critics didn't care for the controls during these sequences, however, though others found no problem with the mechanics. Combat is more problematic. Some reviewers feel that the shooting (frequently described as "unremarkable," "competent" or even "over-simplified") is notable only for the setting in which it takes place; if you are looking for a game with lots of combat, L.A. Noire is probably not for you. And other critics had problems with some of the chase sequences, which are clearly intended to end in a certain location, and will cause the game to break from reality if needed to ensure that happens.
Motion capture isn't perfect below the neck. While everyone is raving about the facial animations, several reviewers complain that the body animations suffer from a lack of realism, especially compared with the face work.
Xbox 360 version. Several critics suggest that if you have a choice, the PS3 version has a slight edge to the 360 version of the game, since the latter has a few (very) minor framerate and graphics issues that don't appear in the PS3 version.
What do you think of L.A. Noire? Do you agree with what the critics have been saying? Let us know in the discussion section below.