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Critical Reception: Rockstar/Team Bondi's  L.A. Noire
Critical Reception: Rockstar/Team Bondi's L.A. Noire
May 18, 2011 | By Danny Cowan

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Team Bondi's crime drama L.A. Noire, which reviews describe as "a compelling yet flawed epic that fascinates." L.A. Noire currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at

Giant Bomb's Brad Shoemaker gives L.A. Noire 5 out of 5 stars. "Like Grand Theft Auto and its legion of imitators, this game has a sprawling, open city environment for you to explore," he notes, "but don't expect to grab a Tommy gun and wreak havoc in that city whenever you feel like it.

"Instead, the focus is squarely on good, clean police work: scouring crime scenes for evidence, extracting information from persons of interest whether they're willing to talk or not, building a case, making an arrest. It's a hard-nosed and methodical experience that's not quite like anything else I've played in a game of this scale."

The game's unique setting is one of its greatest assets. "Rockstar usually works exclusively with winking facsimiles of actual places, people, and history, but L.A. Noire's ripped-from-the-headlines Los Angeles is the real deal," Shoemaker praises. In addition: "The writing is among the best in the business, creating some really memorable and often despicable characters who speak with just the sort of antiquated speech necessary to make the dialog feel appropriate to the setting."

The conversation system is another strong suit. "This is where you ask questions (or demand answers) from suspects or other people of interest, then have to determine whether they're telling you the truth or not," Shoemaker describes. "Yes, it's not unlike Phoenix Wright. In the absence of the right evidence, you have to look at their faces and body language, and also try to get inside their heads and think about their motives, to get the right 'answer.'"

"L.A. Noire is a bold release, because it defies the expectations not just for the type of game Rockstar usually releases, but also for the type of game that receives this degree of care and proficiency in its execution," Shoemaker says. "The world already has enough open-world action games, but a game which marries that open world to such a methodical style of gameplay, with a budget this big, is a rare thing indeed."

Matt Helgeson at Game Informer rates L.A. Noire at 8.75 out of 10, calling it "a compelling yet flawed epic that fascinates."

Helgeson finds that L.A. Noire's motion capture technology is a successful experiment. "Never before have digital characters conveyed so much real emotion in a video game," Helgeson praises. "In comparison to L.A. Noire, the characters in Heavy Rain and the Mass Effect series appear wooden. In addition, the casting of real-life actors like Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men) and John Noble (Walter Bishop from Fringe) pays off; this game hasn't conquered the uncanny valley, but at times I began to accept these characters as real, breathing human beings."

However: "As masterful as the storytelling is, games are meant to be played. In this regard, I'm conflicted."

Helgeson continues: "Walking around waiting for a controller rumble to alert you to an item of interest feels more like an Easter egg hunt than an actual investigation. In a nod to old-school adventure games, many items you are prompted to pick up are meaningless as well; I'm pretty sure I examined every hairbrush in the greater L.A. area. The cases occasionally challenge your deductive skills, but it's mostly just a case of walking around until you find all the relevant items."

"At times, L.A. Noire is one of the most vivid, gripping game experiences I've had," Helgeson recalls. "Other times, it can be plain boring. As in much noir fiction, the truth lies in the gray area between those two extremes. It's an adventure I won't soon forget, filled with characters as fascinating as they are flawed a bit like the game itself."

GameSpy's Ryan Scott scores L.A. Noire at 4.5 out of 5 stars. "While L.A. Noire has Rockstar Games' DNA all over it, it takes more than a few crafty cues from the adventure game genre," he notes. "Call it a modern-day Police Quest."

L.A. Noire is much more accessible than its predecessors in the adventure genre, however. "Haptic feedback betrays crucial clues, while a telltale jingle indicates when it's time to move on," Scott says. "Disable them if they offend your inclination for arbitrary challenge; I opted out of the contemporary pixel-hunt."

"L.A. Noire's linearity might strike some sandbox aficionados as strange -- and, this being a Rockstar game, it is -- but guided doesn't mean inferior," Scott assures. "The fact that you can usually fast-travel to your next destination (don't, though -- the in-transit banter is always worth the drive) sends a clear 'stay on target' message. It's for the best: The always-on-point narrative hits the beats that it needs to when it needs to, resulting in one of the strongest stories Rockstar's ever published."

Scott makes special mention of the game's quality facial animation and voice work. "L.A. Noire's characters are -- without a doubt -- the most realistic-looking human beings ever designed for a video game," he writes. "The voice-acting is the believability linchpin, though; props to the cast, particularly the performances behind wrathful Homicide Captain Donnelly and affably gruff Detective Rusty Galloway."

"In some ways, this is a weird game for Rockstar," Scott concludes. "It's a guided experience that casts you as an underdog hero, which practically paints it as a full-mirror image of the Grand Theft Auto games. It's good to see the company broaden its horizons more and more; L.A. Noire plays its tropes well, and it's a fine exploration of the crime-adventure genre's flip side."

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Michael G
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I still can't believe how narrow minded reviewers still are, that an open world game is flawed if you can't completely break the narrative and go on a pointless rampage like some another game just because that one was successful.

Sean Currie
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Agreed. I like that LA Noire tells a tightly controlled story. In fact, the one thing I dislike about the game is that at points (particularly during the roaming segments) it still feels too much like GTA.

As an aside, the one thing I'm surprised about is no one is really dinging the game for its broken conversation system. A few reviews have mentioned it in passing, but it doesn't seem to be driving reviewers up the wall in quite the same way as it is me.

In case people haven't played it yet - LA Noire has a really bad habit of failing to communicate what particular conversation choices are actually going to do. Selecting Lie will sometimes have the protagonist accuse a suspect of lying about their previous statement or just straight up accuse them of committing a crime. Selecting Doubt will often cause a conversation to jump into a completely unexpected direction - often killing lines of questioning in the process. I've even noticed a couple of instances when I've selected the Truth option and the lines played were what I would have expected out of the doubt option.

It's problematic mostly because it's a core element of the game. Maybe things even out towards the end (I'm only on the third case after all) but it's inconsistent enough to have caused me some real frustration.

Luke Skywalker
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@SeanCurrie - Ditto!

I'm still confused, you would think that Doubt would be milder than Lie but that is typically the most hardboiled response.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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That's a shame to hear, I had the same problem in Heavy Rain. Of course, Heavy Rain also had words moving behind objects in the environment so I couldn't read them easily...

It's great that big companies are exploring elements of interactive narration, but the attempts lately have had some clumsiness.

Eric Geer
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I had a few issues like this in MassEffect1/2---probably not as many..but still found that some of my responses were quite different than what I was expecting.

There's definitely room for improvement in selection based conversations--but its getting there.

John Tynes
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Yeah the game doesn't feel like a 90 to me specifically because of the core interrogation mechanic and because of the pixel-hunt crime scene sequences. So far I've been pretty frustrated with how a witness's statement relates to the evidence I present to prove that they're lying. There's a lot of ambiguity and it's not interesting ambiguity; it just feels like poor content design.