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Review

Review: L.A. Noire

My city and other criminals.

L.A. Noire is something new, that’s for sure. Technology has come to a point where intricate facial expressions can be shown in real-time and not just in cutscenes, and for the first time we have a detective game where not everything is about driving around at high speed while your partner fires a gun out of the passenger side window (no offence to World’s Greatest Police Chases on PSone). But when all is said and done, does the gamble pay off?

So first of all, let’s talk about what exactly it is that’s new. L.A. Noire sees you rising through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, through vice, homicide, arson and more. To do so, you’ll find yourself picking up cases in a linear fashion (no GTA-eque free-roaming for missions here), chasing suspects, interrogating them – making full use of the game’s impressive facial animation sequence, which we’ve talked about plenty before – searching for evidence, and putting bad guys in jail. There’s gunplay and vehicle chases of course, but much less than in something like Rockstar’s GTA or Red Dead series, with the emphasis more on taking your time, scouring locations for every little bit of evidence, and considering everything you find before interrogating a suspect.

For the large part, it works very well. Rockstar has always been good at pulling you into a well-crafted world, and that’s much the same with L.A. Noire; it won’t be long before you’re splashing out on some smooth jazz, wearing a snazzy hat, and smoking in public places. The cars, the brands, the music – it all makes you feel like you are very much a part of 1940’s L.A. The characters, bar one crucial person, are all very believable and consistent, and the dialogue is well-written.

On top of that, you get a lot of game for your money; whilst L.A. Noire is reasonably linear in nature (there are a set number of cases in the game, even if you maybe miss some clues, a location, or a suspect in those individual cases), I still racked up a gametime to story completion of sixteen hours, and that’s only responding to around ten of the calls that come over the radio throughout the game, of which there are forty. Once each desk is completed, you can go back and replay any case in that desk to improve your score or find missing collectibles (newspapers, golden film reels). There are plenty of landmarks to ‘unlock’ and hidden vehicles to find too.

So far, so good: the story’s solid, the characters are strong, and the atmosphere is authentic. It’s a shame then that where the game actually falls down is in the gameplay itself. That’s not to say it’s not good, just that in a game that long, you only get to around halfway through before you start to seriously notice the repetition. Arriving at a location, you’ll have to do one of the following: search it for evidence, interview someone, fight someone, or chase someone. There’s a little bit of variation in that sometimes the person will pull a gun instead of just smacking you one, or they’ll escape in a car rather than on foot, but after the middle desk, the game takes its foot off the gas a little and you suddenly realise just how repetitive it is. There are a couple of extra mechanics that appear later on, and one or two simple puzzles to solve, but the only real difference is that the later in the game you get the more likely you are to just find a room with a whole bunch of armed gangsters and some convenient cover – but more on that in a bit.

Probably the biggest disappointment in L.A. Noire, and something that really drags it down as the game progresses, is the pacing. Of the five desks in the game, the first is really a tutorial, but the ‘cases’ are so short that you spend more time watching cutscenes in the first hour than actually playing, and that’s pretty grating. The second desk is much better, and sees you tackling a number of quite interesting different cases. The third is made up of six cases, but they really all tie together into a longer story arc, and it’s really the strongest of all of the desks with a great and unique finale that requires some real detective work.


Cole investigating one of the many, many murders in the game.
The fourth is also made up of largely independent cases, but is rather short, and the fifth and final desk is just a mess. I’m trying to remain as spoiler-free here as possible, but that final desk features a pretty dramatic shift, and it’s not really one that pays off. It’s completely unprecedented, features a character only really mentioned about one cutscene prior, and just completely breaks the flow of the game. I’d almost go as far to say that the game could have finished around the beginning of the final desk, and would probably be better and more rounded off as a result.

Earlier I mentioned that there’s one character that isn’t quite as believable as the rest. Unfortunately, that’s Cole Phelps – the main playable character. Much like with the game mechanics, it’s not really a problem for the first half of the game, and Cole plays the role of the straight-up copper who wants to clean up the streets pretty well. However, during both the forth and fifth desks, Cole does things which are completely out of character that whilst furthering the plot are seemingly random with no real build up or explanation. That’s on top of that character which just appears randomly halfway through the final chapter and becomes crucially important, despite never really appearing before. It’s a shame for two reasons: firstly because so much of the rest of the plot is really engrossing, and the cases themselves are really well-written, and secondly because there’s one plot strand that is woven through the game via hidden newspapers which works really well, but these other elements just pop up out of nowhere with no mentions earlier in the game.

As much as L.A. Noire has been lauded for its new gameplay elements – the interrogations especially – it perhaps inevitably falls into the same trap most games trying to do something new fall into, and that’s that the last part of the game ends up feeling like grinding. Despite all the emphasis put on searching locations and interviewing suspects, in the final desk – and a little bit before that – you’ll find yourself driving to one place, shooting some guys, driving to another place, shooting some guys, and so on. It’s particularly disappointing given that L.A. Noire had tried so hard up to that point to keep the gunplay to a minimum, swapping what would likely be gunfights in something like GTA or Red Dead for a good old fashioned fistfight, and only using weapons when it felt most necessary. Also of note, the very last ‘case’ sees you pick up a flame-thrower for all of a couple of minutes, for no good reason, and it does nothing that your other weapons wouldn’t do apart from completely slow you down. It’s a strange choice, and there’s no real reason for it.

Finally, the difficulty balance is, well, not really existent. In locations where you have to search for evidence, the pad will rumble and you’ll hear a little ‘ding’ when you’re near something important, which makes things pretty simple, and once you’ve found everything the music in the background will die out. These hints can be turned off, but then it becomes almost impossible to determine what in a location can be interacted with and what can’t besides running round the walls of a room repeatedly pressing X in hope.


One of the few variations in gameplay sees Cole sketching to reveal hidden messages.
Better is the Intuition ability, which allows you to temporarily show all clues in a location, or remove an incorrect option in an interrogation. Warning though, whilst you won’t really run out of Intuition points if you use them sparingly – you usually get one for ranking up by completing actions in cases – you’ll probably get annoyed by the seemingly random placement of evidence when you can see where it all is.

In one particular arson case featuring a burnt-down house, the piece of evidence I was missing was not only not in the house, but in fact under a tree in the garden of the house next door. It’s not just evidence searches though; every so often the game throws up a unique ‘action sequence’ – chasing a suspect through a collapsing film set, making your way carefully through a tar pit – which mix up the gameplay a little bit. However, these sections are packed with cheap deaths; I didn’t die once from fights or shoot-outs in the whole game, but constantly died from dodgy scenery or bizarre death clauses in these action sequences. Don’t worry though: incredibly, you can just skip these sequences entirely should they be troubling you. As if there was just too much varied gameplay elsewhere.

I’m very aware that this is coming across as a particularly negative review. Let’s put it this way: it’s an action game that feels like GTA, just with a linear mission path. It’s technically sound, and really up until halfway it’s a fantastic game. Unfortunately, the game peaks at that halfway point, and never really picks that momentum back up, and loses it completely as a result of the bizarre change in the final desk. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable past that halfway point; the partners and other characters are just as good, and the cases themselves are good, but you’ll really start to notice the repetitive nature of the gameplay and the sudden appearance of important characters in the plot as the game slows down a bit.

Pros:

  • Well-realised 1940’s Los Angeles.
  • You get a lot of game for your money.
  • Something fresh and new.
  • Solid and enjoyable first half.

Cons:

  • Unrealised potential.
  • Gets very repetitive.
  • Strange pacing puts the game’s high point halfway through.
  • Complete mess of a last chapter.

The best way to sum up L.A. Noire is that it suffers from Assassin’s Creed syndrome. You’ll certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of it. There’s something new and refreshing about a witty, intelligent game that requires a little bit more thinking than the norm. However, it’s a bit repetitive and kind of loses its way after the halfway point. Pull an AC2 and give me an L.A. Noire sequel after a couple more years in the oven, with more variation and a more thought-through plot, and it could be something really special.

Score: 7/10

63 Comments
  1. Mason_Mk
    Member
    Since: Feb 2010

    Im on case 14 and haven’t feeled likes it been repetitive at all. Really enjoying the ride, and sad that im only a few cases away from the end now, although i still have 35 street crimes, collectibles, 5 starring and dlc afterwards to do.

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:03.
    • JoshHood
      Small briefcase w*nker
      Since: Forever

      Does that put you at the end of Homicide? You’re only a half to two-thirds through :)

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:22.
      • Mason_Mk
        Member
        Since: Feb 2010

        just completed the first vice case, wow not much left then :(

        Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 20:52.
      • Origami Killer
        Member
        Since: May 2010

        on arson now me, really loved it and havnt found it to repetative, although i hated the vice desk, was boring

        Comment posted on 30/05/2011 at 22:43.
  2. iamtdogg
    Member
    Since: Oct 2010

    Gets very repetitive. – that will definately be me endearing memory of this game… still to complete it as i just got so frustrated with it being the same, over and over again :(

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:04.
    • iamtdogg
      Member
      Since: Oct 2010

      DOH, should have said enduring memory.

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:04.
  3. BIGAL-1992
    Member
    Since: Jan 2009

    It’s this year’s heavy rain, so to speak. Either you love it, which I do, or you don’t.

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:04.
    • skibadee
      Member
      Since: Oct 2009

      love it as well felt nothing like a GTA game to me felt like what police work would be 9/10 imo.

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:20.
      • scavenga
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        Me too, a definate 9/10. Loved it.

        Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:45.
    • Samiro05
      Member
      Since: May 2010

      Yes very much sounds like Heavy Rain to me. Which I loved to play :) I think it was my only 5 star rated game on Lovefilm, I’ll go n check now to see what others got 5 stars from me [5 stars on lovefilm just means you loved the game]. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was the only other one.

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:20.
  4. matthangzhou
    Member
    Since: Sep 2010

    Great. Was debating whether to get this or wait until the inevitable price crash that comes with these single player only games. Thanks!

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:05.
    • skibadee
      Member
      Since: Oct 2009

      the fastest selling new IP in the UK would not hold out for a price crash anytime soon.

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:18.
      • matthangzhou
        Member
        Since: Sep 2010

        We shall see. There will certainly be a lot of people trading it in once they have completed the campaign.

        Comment posted on 28/05/2011 at 01:49.
  5. Vaile23
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    interesting review…

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:05.
  6. Samiro05
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Fantastic review, well done on taking your time to properly go through it :) I like the ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndrome’ you have put at the end there. I would hope that there is an L.A. Noire sequel and although I’d never have thought it sounded good before but saying it in my head and seeing it, L.A. Noire 2 as the title would not be unlikely.

    I cannot really challenge any points you make as I haven’t played the game yet but I sure enough will do in future :)

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:08.
  7. mynameisblair
    hisnameisblair
    Since: May 2009

    Great review, Josh. I’d pick this up if I had the money to spare. It’s all going towards that game called ‘real life’, unfortunately.

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:08.
    • Forrest_01
      Member
      Since: Jun 2009

      Ah, you don’t wanna play that game – In my experience, you are constantly broke & you only get one life!

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:11.
      • Samiro05
        Member
        Since: May 2010

        You should try playing on hardened; embarrassing in public places.

        Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:19.
  8. philbert8
    The Frankie Boyle Of TSA
    Since: Sep 2010

    This hasn’t changed my mind at all, nice review though. Because of the new tech involved it’s just something I’ll have to play. And when it’s cheap enough I will.

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:12.
  9. Origami Killer
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    just started the game about 30mins ago so don’t want to read the review yet :P suprised by the score though

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:13.
  10. hate_smith
    Member
    Since: May 2011

    I’m not sure why but from the time I first found out about this game I never had any urge to buy it or even play it, but after seeing alot of people getting hooked on this game like its crack, I’ll most likely pick it up when the price drops.

    Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:18.
    • Samiro05
      Member
      Since: May 2010

      I’m hoping to be able to borrow the game over the summer from someone who got it on release or nowish. I don’t have the funds to be buying any games for the rest of the year thanks to my overspending on PS Move stuff I did in the past fortnight ><

      Comment posted on 27/05/2011 at 17:26.

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