Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Release Games: LA Noire (2011)

Warning: This review contains spoilers. If you haven't played the game and want to remain spoiler free then do not continue reading.  For everyone else, enjoy the fuck out of it.


Quantom: LA Noire is set in 1940's Los Angeles (duh), immediately following World War II. You play as protagonist Cole Phelps, a returned soldier who is now adjusting to life as an LAPD cop on the beat. The game thrusts you straight into the role of Cole, and you jump into your first case as a traffic cop. The story immediately grabbed me, as it's something that hadn't really been attempted in gaming before. It's definitely edgy, violent, and at times twisted. The similarities are obvious, but at times it really did remind me of playing a game version of LA Confidential.

Jables: I'm a huge fan of the 1940s era in movies and I jumped at the chance to actually get to play it out.  And LA Confidential is a brilliant flick that I should definitely get around to watching again.

However, as much as the first third of the story is brilliant, it does slowly start to unravel. As you work through the different desks (such as traffic, homicide, arson) the story slows down to a plod. That's not to say it's bad, but it does have its problems. I found myself needing to just play through a case a day or it just got too boring. The main issue I have with the story is that Cole starts out as a likeable protagonist, and is a great character to play as, but once the flashbacks to Cole in the war start his character really goes to shit. I haven't seen such a systematic sabotaging of a character in a game ever. As it got to the half way mark and beyond, I really didn't give a shit about playing as Cole as he was a massive jerk. For the most part, it was still interesting enough to play, but the story really did eat all its lollies in a brilliant first act.

Just look at his face.  Has son of a bitch all over it.
I totally agree with everything you've said there Quantom.  I enjoyed mixing it up with the different desk jobs but they definitely lost me as soon as the homicide missions were completed.  The arson missions were just plain boring and at that stage of the game the story was so mixed up in itself that I just didn't want to play it anymore.  I would have been happy to just play on the homicide desk for the whole game.

I also found Cole to be a terrible character and found myself not wanting to play because of him.  I think he was a worse character than bloody Niko Bellic (who I hated).


The gameplay is about as derivative as it gets in terms of using the Grand Theft Auto template, but remains serviceable. The cover system works well, and in general the gunplay is tight enough if not always on the money. The controls work well, but seriously, the amount of times they make you run around chasing shit, or driving after shit, is crazy. The game is HUGE. Luckily in the car you can skip to location, but when they make you drive half way across LA it takes ages.

Serviceable driving mechanics.  All the cars seemed the same too.
The worst part of the game for me (besides Cole yelling at everyone, I'll get to that later) was when I was solving a crime and I'm totally immersed in the scene/mission and then I'm pulled out of it to do a shit chase mission, by foot or car, and it just ruined the moments for me.  I never found myself driving around in between missions because I just wanted to get to the next crime scene and solve me some cases.

Which reminds me, why does everyone always run? Even when they're innocent?

Though as you say, the general mechanics of the gameplay are serviceable.  I didn't have any trouble with the controls, cover system or gun fights.

So the mechanics work well enough in general play, but part of the package of being a detective is searching for clues and interrogations. These were fantastic and by far my favourite parts of the game. Gathering clues was really engaging, even though it was very easy. The interrogations were fun, and the feeling of piecing together evidence and linking it to the suspect was incredibly satisfying.

Interrogating.  Such a great part of the game.
This is what the game is all about and if they didn't succeed with this then it wouldn't be worth playing.  Fortunately, it is an amazing experience and damn fun to play.  From finding clues, using them as evidence and just plain interrogating the shit out of suspects.  This was one of the huge winners for me.

Though the interrogations weren't without their hiccups.  The main idea behind the interrogations is that when you are interrogating a suspect or P.O.I (person of interest) you are given a choice of 3 options, Trust, Doubt or Lie.  You can either believe everything the P.O.I has said, you can doubt what they have said or you can call them a liar which you better hope you have some evidence to back up your allegations.  

Now this works fine.  Except when you decide to doubt what someone has said to you, Cole will go off his fucking tree at them.  This guy has no middle ground.  One minute he'll be talking all nice to you and then bam! he'll just be going loco at you yelling abuse left, right and centre.  This felt out of place at times and helped me in my not liking Cole.  Anyway. 

Cole yelling again.  At least he is showing of the great facial animation.
The main winner for the game is this:


Arguably the part of the game that was most hyped was the facial motion captures. The faces are fucking amazing. Without a doubt, and by a mile, these are the best faces in a game EVER. I mean you could actually recognize a couple of B-grade actors in there, and it really helped with the immersion being able to tell who was who. The scale of the game was also very impressive, with a decent amount of buildings to enter around LA. There were definitely some sacrifices that were made in terms of textures and geography, and some of the city is pretty repetitive. You just never get sick of seeing those faces though.

The amazing facial animations are the thing of dreams.  When playing through the game and you start to recognise some of the actors you are over come with a sort of wet your pants like excitement.  Also to fit in with the film noire fell to the game, they give you the option to play in full colour or go the old school black and white.  I played the game in black and white and loved it.

Looking for clues.  The blood might be a bit of a give away.

The soundtrack features very jazzy music common to the era. It also uses a real 40's sounding "chase" track when you're trying to chase someone down. It works great. The sound effects are a bit limp, and some of the guns don't really sound very meaty. To go with the brilliant faces though, the voice acting is also really spot on. I can't actually recall any voice actor who made me cringe throughout the story (even the kids!), and in particular your partners are all very memorable.

Love the soundtrack.  Fitted nicely and just helped create the 1940's atmosphere perfectly.  The best thing about this game is that there isn't merely voice acting.  There actors actually got to act in these scenes and I think it shows with the voices being excellent and the facial acting great too.  Shout outs to 3 awesome actors Keith Szarabajka (Angel), Greg Grunberg (Heroes) and Australia's own John "I was in Lord of the Rings' Noble (Lord of the Rings).

Aaron Staton (Madmen) didn't do a terrible job of playing Cole either.  Unfortunately for him the game just made him so unlikeable that no matter what Staton did, Cole would be forever hated.  

Another dead broad.  You don't get used to the smell.

LA Noire is a very professionally presented package, and there is no real stand out flaws. It definitely rides on the success of the faces, voice acting and the integration of clue-hunting and interrogating. As much as it grabbed me at the beginning, I can't help but think of some of the miss-steps with the story. If it had remained more of a story about being a cop in LA (which should be interesting enough as is) it would have succeeded a lot more. When it comes down to it though, the game is fun, and it is engaging. With some tighter gameplay and a better story it could be a 9 detective hats out of 10 game, but instead I give it 7 Cole's an arsehole out of 10.

An amazing experience of a game.  At times I felt like I was watching a movie and I was just there to press the button on the controller to get it on to the next scene.  The 1940's setting was great, the graphics and acting superb but the game was let down in a major way with a dodgy story.  As I said previously, I would have been more than happy to play the whole time as a homicide cop but alas I had to do shitty arson at the end of the game just so the shitty final act could unravel the boring as hell conspiracy.

All in all I would still recommend this to any gamer.  7.5 out of 10 for me.  With a better story I think it would have been up there for 9 also.  Not a bad effort though from a small company of around 100 employees out of Sydney (with a little help from Rockstar of course).

It should be noted that the game apparently had massive development problems and the staff got treated like absolute shit, so it is a small miracle that such a good product came out.

Edit:  I just found this picture of Greg Grunberg from the game and had to include it.

The man, the myth, then legend.


  1. My brother's take on it:

    "Jesus, LA Noire, did you just run out of story? GREAT game, but it's kind of like it got fed up with being played and decided to end!"

    Although he's angling for a sequel with Kelso

  2. It did seem like they lost concentration and decided to screw the story up in the last third. I didn't like the fact that I had to suddenly play as another random character at the end but Kelso was a little bit more likeable than Cole.