L.A. Noire: Inside the Reviews

  • Publish Date: May 19, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 18 user comments

Whodunit? Rockstar, again

L.A. Noire (2011)
Critic Review Distribution
360 Version PS3
90 Metascore 89
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.

Your take

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.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (18)

  • David  

    Playing this game and NOT enjoying it anywhere near as much as I had hoped.
    Starting with the good, facial ani... etc amazing. Cases are well thought out and in depth, a lot of detail has gone into little things that make the game more visceral.

    Now with the bad...
    It feels like Murder she Wrote meets Colombo meets 1940s CSI meets a 3D pixel finding point and click adventure.
    It has confusing interrogation scenes like Dagga put very precisely above where you get info by accusing the suspect of lying and pulling out of the accusation to find out where the interrogation aka R* is leading you. A similar system to Mass Effect conversations would have made the whole experience a LOT more engaging There is nothing to do in the city apart from the 40 odd "street crimes," cases that you take care of by interrupting the case you are working on to answer a call from dispatch, which frankly is useless, since unlike in RDR or GTA where you had a "living world" where things happened there and then, and if you missed a situation, you missed it, in LA Noire you can do the street crimes at ANY time in the free roam section one after the other... so you can pokemon them by collecting them all and then doing them later. Boring and unrealistic.
    The 21 cases you have do do one after the other after the other, without rest or any sort of private life. You are married, you have kids, where are they??? (I am over half way through the game so if they appear later I apologise, but please don't spoil it for me!) Why can't you have a home to go to to get away from the constant "office" work. Would have been a nice break, and added variety to your day.
    With regards the open world of LA, sorry but it's probably one of the most boring cities to chose to recreate, gridlike streets, hardly any hills, no highpoint to overlook the city.
    Cars, boring, all look the same (I am no expert so I am biased) and I have nil interest to go to a question mark on the map to pick up my hidden car, what the heck for if i can't even park it in a garage to go back to it and drive it later. Do I really have to go back to the original garage to get it again? Come on R*.
    What is it with the same dispatch lady saying "how can I help you detective?" to get an address or pick up messages. The need to use the police phones located aroud the city all seems arbitrary, too easy because a kick off blue light lights up in every corner, and all this is preceded and followed by long pauses. Very annoying and too rigid a system. Would have been nice to have constant access to this, where you would decide to contact dispatch rather than be guided to do so.
    TOO many bugs in the game. you can stop a bus, look away, and when you look back, it's gone... wtf? character AI is dumb with characters getting stuck and walking or running on the spot. Your car is near indestructible, whereas other cars get totalled on impact. Not good.
    Last of all, I have no affinity for Cole Phelps. I don't relate to him or his ways, I am not Cole Phelps in the game, I am a person who is making this puppet go through the motions under strict instructions from R*, and if I do it wrong I am penilised by low ratings, an angry chief and the feeling that a case turned out wrong, not because my intuition was wrong, but because I guessed wrong.
    UFF. Not happy. I hope their next title is back on the level of RDR, or even Bully. This was not a R* moment of glory in my opinion apart from the technical enhancements.

  • Robio  

    Overall this was a really good game. It was long overdue for someone to take the classic adventure/mystery PC games and merge them with action game elements. While those elements (shooting, driving, fighting etc.) aren't going to win any award they are all solid. The story(s) is solid though it does seem that the writers were a little over ambitious. The individual cases are usually pretty good (the Homicide ones get very repetitive though), but when they get linked together for overarching storylines it suffers. The pacing doesn't work, surprise elements aren't given time to sink in, and in a few instances twist endings seem to be used in favor of a well reconciled plot.

    If nothing else the game is a great first step, and if all parties involved identify the major issues, the part 2 could be excellent.

  • Mark  

    Get the PS3 version, the Xbox version has horrible framerate problems, lower textures, pop-in problems and comes on 3xDVD.

  • Dagga  

    I'm finishing up the game now and on the whole I love it. The facial animation in particular is simply outstanding and makes it much easier to get emotionally pulled into the (many) cutscenes. This is the most movie-like game experience I've had with the possible exception of Portal 2 (no faces in that one), and I'm impressed.

    There are quibbles to be had though, and the metascore deserves to be a bit below RDR and GTA. For one thing, outside the facial animation it's basically the same engine as the other two games, and it suffers from the same shortcomings, only magnified because realist immersion is this game's biggest selling point. Trying to step forward and back over and over to properly position yourself to see a clue that's sitting right there at your feet...aaaugh, that's frustrating. Another pet peeve: chasing a criminal through a doorway only to start running in place because the edge of your shoulder hasn't quite cleared the edge of the door frame. Getting in and out of cover takes too long and can be really awkward to manage, though that doesn't matter much because the firefights are all too easy. Other third person games have developed much better physics and collision systems over the past couple of years, and Rockstar should have added similar improvements to this engine to make the gameplay more seamless. Hopefully next time.

    Another needed adjustment is in the interrogation scenes - in particular, in the way the system handles "lies". If you want to accuse someone of lying, you have to base it on evidence in your possession; otherwise, if you think they're lying but you have no proof, you should "doubt". Problem is, too often the critical info you need to make this decision - i.e., the witness making a statement you can clearly disprove - doesn't occur until AFTER you accuse them of lying. The obvious tactic for the player is to accuse them of lying and then back out of the accusation if the witness doesn't finish with a disprovable statement. But you don't have nearly enough intuition points for that. However, if you just go with what you know, you'll often guess "doubt" incorrectly because the witness looks shifty but hasn't said anything clearly disprovable...yet.

    What this game needs most of all: portable car siren. The only cool thing to do outside of the main cases is to nab some truly awesome-looking cars, but it's not very fun to drive fast-as-you-please in these beasts with all the traffic and no siren, unless you're just trying to cause an unending series of car crashes. But your only other choice in these cars is to drive like a grandma, and that's missing the point.

  • Chris  

    The fact that you like Saints Rowe 2 proves you aren't worthy to review a game based on puzzle solving and intelligence.

  • lea butler  

    im sorry but this game is just not lovable. there is no multiplayer feature the in between bits are tedious and you just dont get imersed in the intention to detail that any of the GTA releases had this was also the case in RDR. the freedom to roam part of the game isnt appealing because there isnt anything interesting to see or do

  • MetaTruth  

    Gaming Age specifically have a % posted just for Metacritic (70%...see for yourself in the left column http://www.gaming-age.com/review/ps3/la_noire ) so why does Metacritic have it listed as 58% on PS3? Listing it as a 58 instead of the 70 it should be skews the data and overall avg. Oops?

  • Russell Gorall  

    For a Rockstar published game scoring this low it is probably a pretty mediocre game. Grand Theft Facial Expressions.

  • Brian Welk  

    Did any of these critics turn on the black and white mode? I guess I think the graphics are okay, but literally the first thing I did once I discovered the game had it was turn on the black and white mode, and everything looks starker, cooler and even more in the period noir setting. It doesn't exactly help your cause for gameplay, but I'm of the mindset that Rockstar made the game in B&W and then were forced to colorize it for fear of poor sales. I do have some gripes: The driving sections, outside of the chases, are pretty much worthless because at any given time you'll only have one, maybe two objectives and no real reason to explore the giant sandbox. In that case, it just feels like an unnecessarily big map and its easier to let your partner drive and sit in loading times. As for interrogation, I feel like one wrong guess can break a lot of the experience points you can earn and your final ranking in the case, so it can get aggravating to guess wrong. I am still quite immersed in the world though.

  • Leo Croft  

    I definitely appreciate the mature content of the game, and in that regard - story, writing, and obviously the facial animation - help make it a unique and positive thing for this medium.

    On the flipside, the visuals aside from facial animation is slightly dated, and the technical aspects are passable at best. Compare it to the PC version of Mafia II, for example, and the game world isn't impressive to my eyes. Also, as some critics have said, the combat is very clunky and not much fun, and that's a problem since LA Noire is *still* a game, not a film.

    Essentially, as a piece of gaming narrative LA Noire is very very good, and an example of what is possible if you treat your audience as intelligent people (which not many games do these days). However, as an actual "game" LA Noire comes short in many areas.

    In all, I'd say the 90 critic score is too high, and would put the game at around 80, which is respectable, but shows room for improvement. Hopefully Team Bondi will take onboard the fair criticisms and have an opportunity to rectify them with a sequel, or other similar game.

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