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L.A. Noire review

We've spent some time investigating L.A. Noire--the new game from publisher Rockstar Games and developer Team Bondi--and offer you our final notes on the case.

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There's a great quote from the classic film Chinatown that perfectly explains the world of L.A. Noire: "This business requires a certain amount of finesse." The new game from publisher Rockstar and developer Team Bondi is an amalgamation of various inspirations, offering players the chance to be an investigator rather than an instigator in a crime-filled late 1940's Los Angeles. Success in the story isn't based on body count, but a willingness to sit back and pay close attention to everything around you. L.A. Noire is no action game. Though the game sports a similar open-world environment as many other Rockstar titles, the game is primarily focused on staying in one isolated area and investigating a crime. You're part of the team that examines the areas after the action has occurred. Pacing in the game is slow and looks to the player to progress the narrative by examining clues and discovering motives. This might be a sore spot for some--the process can seem tedious after a few hours--but, for me, I never felt bored by it. In fact, I loved the investigation and interrogation in the game. It's realistic in many ways: investigators examine every shred of a scene to discover the figurative "smoking gun" and then square off against suspects to get the scoop on who belongs in bracelets. Interrogations are sometimes easy due to obvious body language, but more skilled liars can offer a great challenge where keen investigation skills are put to the test. Sometimes, however, the game falls into basic storytelling tropes by offering "action sequences" that almost always end with a pile of dead bodies. A Rockstar rep told me that the "random crimes" found throughout the game are intended to be more action focused. While they are, it conflicts with the game's core concept of being an investigator with a dark past. Detective Cole Phelps--the game's lead character--usually ends up adding to his body count, even in situations where you try to avoid a visit to the morgue (as explained in my Field Report for the game). The late 1940's Los Angeles looks marvelous and most character faces--when modeled using the game's highly-touted performance capturing process--look great. This sometimes works against the game, though, as the realistic performances embellishes how unrealistic the character models are. The effect sometimes look like the face of a character is being projected on a blank slate, rather than one solid model. Additionally, characters created without the process really stand out. The game's main focus is telling the tale of one war vet's rise in the LAPD. For the most part, I enjoyed the game's narrative. There are moments--especially at the end of the Homicide division--where the story does some wonderful things and (later in the game) completely changes the gameplay approach. But the narrative structure is extremely abrupt. Questions (and tension between characters) are raised for a moment, but then the story progresses quickly past this conflict and moves on to the next item.

Taking place in the late 1940's, L.A. Noire details the story of Cole Phelps' rise through the LAPD ranks.

L.A. Noire's ending is the biggest culprit of abrupt storytelling. As stated in promotional material for the game (so it's not much of a spoiler), Cole Phelps is a man who is known as a war hero but doesn't consider himself to be one. The game offers flashes of his past, unlocking the story of who the man was before he donned the dark blues of the LAPD. When players finally find out the real story and redemption is offered, the game ends. You don't get the payoff for the entire journey until the last three minutes of the game--and it's all offered in a cutscene. I actually liked the ending, but this (and far too many other narrative threads throughout the game) just end by slamming the brakes and hitting a solid, concrete wall. It was disappointing to fight so hard for the answers and get a piece of the overall puzzle during each police division's ending, but not be rewarded with more for my hard work. It was the overall journey that captured my attention, though. L.A. Noire is a mature game on many levels. It doesn't give players command of weaponry at all times, rather it forces players to stop what they're doing and think. It's a new form of interactive media, pulling in threads of inspiration from everything from film and novels to adventure games and the past of the game's publisher. It offers the chance for people to test their power of intuition, deduction, and dexterity. Though these are elements found in a lot of games, it has never been as prevalent as it is in L.A. Noire. [This L.A. Noire review is based on a retail copy of the game for PS3, provided by Rockstar Games.]

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    May 26, 2011 2:45 PM

    Xav de Matos posted a new article, L.A. Noire review.

    We've spent some time investigating L.A. Noire--the new game from publisher Rockstar Games and developer Team Bondi--and offer you our final notes on the case.

    • reply
      May 26, 2011 3:13 PM

      Why does Shacknews post game reviews so late after release? Do the reviews not attract readers?

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        May 26, 2011 3:26 PM

        Shack reviews, unlike most, read like they come from people who actually play the game most of the way through. It takes time for people to actually PLAY a game to form an opinion. If you want prompt day of release reviews then check out IGN. They'll slap a number on it based upon how much their palms were greased having played, maybe, a few hours.

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          May 27, 2011 3:04 AM

          I'm sorry, but that's complete bullshit. My brother writes for Gamasutra and posts game reviews when/before games come out. He gets given review copies weeks in advance. By the time Portal 2 came out, both of us had finished the single player and the coop and got all the achievements other than the ones which require friends online with a good week to spare before public release.

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            May 27, 2011 6:05 AM

            Not every outlet gets review copies weeks in advance.

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              May 27, 2011 7:05 AM

              If Shacknews is not then they are doing something wrong.

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                May 27, 2011 7:57 AM

                If we get the game well in advance we have a more timely review. Our LA Noire copy arrived the day before launch.

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                  May 27, 2011 7:59 AM

                  Stop being so informative and helpful, Xav. It's inappropriate for game journalists.

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                  May 27, 2011 8:01 AM

                  Yeah I know not every release has early copies sent out, but it seems like we see very few reviews at or before release. I am willing to write that off due to the site being more focused on news than reviews though.

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                    May 27, 2011 8:09 AM

                    If we didn't think it was important we wouldn't do it at all. We have a small staff and tackle as many reviews as we can. Sometimes we want to spend more time with it, like playing Brink on real servers under real conditions.

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                May 27, 2011 8:00 AM

                i.e. not promising a favorable review. Early access always has a cost.

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                  May 27, 2011 8:03 AM

                  So you believe that any outlet that gets an early review copy is promising a favorable review? A lot of games get sent out early because publishers have faith in the title and want consumers to know it is good day one.

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                    May 27, 2011 8:15 AM

                    So they pick which outlets get it early based on nothing?

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                      May 27, 2011 8:17 AM

                      No they most likely pick it based on who gets the most exposure and has not fucked them by breaking embargoes previously.

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                  May 27, 2011 8:06 AM

                  That's a silly theory. I've worked for many outlets and written many reviews and was never guided to give a game any score. This is one of the many false assumptions about video game reporters some people latch on to.

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                    May 27, 2011 8:19 AM

                    Whatever Xav, how much did the publishers pay you to make that comment? You don't need a tinfoil hat to see that sites that do reviews are obviously in the pocket of the big publishers.

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                    May 27, 2011 8:24 AM

                    I am literally just repeating shit I heard from the old GFW podcast guys. If you're saying they have a silly theory, I'll take that under advisement. But I know they're not the only ones to say that 'exclusive review' reviews are suspect as hell, whereas the ones (like yours!) that come from retail copies tend to have more freedom to be honest.

                    Also, I never said reviewers were *guided* to do anything. It's a little more complicated than that.

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                      May 27, 2011 9:19 AM

                      There's a difference between "Exclusive" reviews and what you mentioned as "early access". A lot of outlets get early access. Exclusive reviews are agreements to allow one outlet to release their review prior to any other outlet. I've never seen the "Exclusive" review process so I cannot speak to how that works.

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            May 27, 2011 8:00 AM

            Good for you and your awesome brother.

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        May 26, 2011 5:48 PM

        There's no score and that sadly makes them less attractive to the general browsing populace.

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        May 26, 2011 7:56 PM

        I believe shack actually finishes the game they're reviewing before writing their review, I may be mistaken.

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      May 26, 2011 3:20 PM

      I have a question. That new BBC Sherlock series to me is pretty much the greatest thing ever. Is the type of dediction similar, Meaning is it challenging to an adult of above average intelligence (and I mean by alot) ?

      I actually prefer the Poirot series to Sherlock only because we don't get to even see all thr evidence in Sherlock until the reveal.

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        May 26, 2011 4:10 PM

        Can't wait for season 2 of Sherlock, that show is incredible.

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          May 26, 2011 4:16 PM

          i thought the first episode was great, the second was awful and the third was somewhere in between. it went from a sort of slick deduction to 'oh of course, why don't you know that' or see something off screen approach.

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        May 26, 2011 4:22 PM

        LA Noire is not in any way a challenging game. So if you are looking for that kind of thing, you had best look elsewhere. It is a well made narrative driven adventury type game though, so if you like that, then look no further :)

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          May 26, 2011 10:36 PM

          I disagree. The interogations can be quite challenging. It's not physically challenging but it demands your attention like few games do.

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        May 26, 2011 5:11 PM

        Why, do you know someone of above average intelligence?

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        May 26, 2011 5:59 PM

        No, it kind of leads you through the cases regardless of how much you're paying attention. I've finished cases and had no idea what happened even after closing the book on the criminal I just caught. Phoenix Wright does a much better job of creating deep mysteries that require out-of-the-box thinking to reason your way through them.

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          May 26, 2011 10:37 PM

          I love phoenix wright but I'd say there are way more WTF guessing situations in it than here.

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      May 26, 2011 4:53 PM

      Take the facial technology and use it to give me GTA V. I don't want to investigate a crime, I want to commit one!

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        May 26, 2011 6:31 PM

        I'll show you some facial technology!

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          May 26, 2011 10:35 PM

          wait until Japan get their hands on this.

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      May 26, 2011 8:02 PM

      I loved this game can't wait for the DLC, the game may tempt you to start smoking cigarette's....

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      May 26, 2011 10:33 PM

      Mature is a good discriptor (I am smarter than spell check haha). I was just thinking this tonight. I would advise players to pace themselves. If you are trying to plow through more than two or three cases a night the repetition will grate more than if you space it out. It's set up in a very episodic way and lends itself to this kind of play very well. I actually think it's be an awesome Ipad game...and I kinda think awesome ipad game is an oxymoron at this point.

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        May 27, 2011 4:48 AM

        Yeah. I'm playing one case a night if that. The only thing I don't like about LA Noire is the driving. I avoid it when ever possible.

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          May 27, 2011 6:41 AM

          same, i like starting a case in the evening and following it all through so i can keep track of suspects and evidence in my head.

          I'm finding the driving quite fun. The way cars handle is definitely better than GTA4. i can slide nicely round corners and weave in and out of traffic. I like pretending it's an emergency every time i drive, even if i'm just going to inform the husband.

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            May 27, 2011 8:08 AM

            for me the setting(LA) and music, however authentic and I love it, I dont find as interesting as say present day stuff so I dont find the driving as enjoyable as GTA4. I do wish it would not skip to the destination if my partner drove, I really enjoyed that about taxis in gta

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          May 27, 2011 10:46 PM

          You can hold Y to make your partner drive. Then the journey will only last as long as the conversation.

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            May 28, 2011 5:40 AM

            That is true except in special mission segments where the game forces you to follow someone or a shootout chase.

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      May 27, 2011 7:00 AM

      Has there ever been any word on PC version? And on related subject, how about Red Dead Redemption?

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        May 27, 2011 7:03 AM

        I think Rockstar is focusing on platforms where people still actually buy games. Maybe if they made L.A. Noire for Facebook the PC will get a version.

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          May 27, 2011 11:49 AM

          Wow, you're either badly confused or trying (and failing) to be really funny. Either way you're wrong.

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        May 27, 2011 7:04 AM

        absolutely nothing. its worth getting a console for console only games these days and for other couch games. PC can be your preferred platform for everything else.

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          May 27, 2011 5:47 PM

          I would love for this to be on on-live. Seems like just the sort of game that wouldn't care about latency.

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        May 27, 2011 8:20 AM

        The last update that I heard was: lol.

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      May 30, 2011 8:52 PM

      put this on PC already please and thank you