slaker117's L.A. Noire (Xbox 360) review

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  • 40 out of 61 Giant Bomb users found it helpful.

Conceptually Intriguing, Strikingly Shallow

LA Noire is more concerned with showing you everything it has to offer than demanding any critical thinking from its players. If you become engrossed in the story and just want to see unfold, this probably won't be an issue, but those looking to solve complex logical puzzles are going to be disappointed.

LA Noire does do a lot of things well. The technology on display is wonderful, accurately capturing the details of facial movement to a amazing degree of believability, and the atmospheric qualities of the painstakingly rendered 1940's Los Angeles are second to none. The issue comes from the gameplay and structure. The way you interact with this world is limited to a frustrating degree though poor implementation of shallow mechanics.

This game, of course, is not GTA, nor should it be. The violent sandbox that series is infamous for wouldn't make sense given you role as a LAPD detective. It instead finds itself in the realm of adventure games. The only problem is, it does not provide what is traditionally expected from the genre. Instead of using logic based puzzles as a roadblock that needs to be solved in order to continue, LA Noire moves forward no matter what. It guides you through the motions of an adventure game, but never lets you play for yourself. You never have to just figure something out. In fact, the game doesn't let you. It steers you in the right direction so much, it never feels like you solved a case so much as it feels the solution was presented to you. Even if you do manage to make mistakes, you are never punished for them as you can not fail. Every case ends with an arrest. Messing up an investigation by missing a clue or being a poor interrogator will only momentary set you back, as the game is sure to provide more than enough critical pathing to make sure you get your man. The harshest the game gets is grading your performance at the end with a star rating of one through five, but that superficial consequence has no bearing on anything.

The game sidestepped the adventure game problem of convoluted puzzles not by giving logical puzzles, but by giving you shallow ones instead. Shallow ones that don't require any thought from the player in order to progress, and yet the interrogation sequences still fall victim to "the script writer designed it this way, so even though this other way makes prefect sense, you can't do it" issues. As a result, everything you do feels unsatisfying on a mechanical level and it soon becomes tedium as you go through the same steps over and over. The story has some interesting threads, and the acting is best in class for a video game, but it's not enough to justify the hours you spend repeating the same empty motions. Searching a crime scene quickly devolves to bumping up on the edges of the environment waiting for the controller to rumble to indicate a possible clue. When picking up the object, your character will tell you if it's important or not, and why. It removes any any chance of approaching the cases critically and is merely a change of pacing in an interactive movie.

Interrogations are equally simplistic. Despite the subtlety the faces in the game are capable of, detecting a lie from the truth is practically binary. A stone faced gaze shows there is nothing to hide while lairs will look around nervously or smirk like morons. The only difficulty comes from deciding between a "lie" and a "doubt". Doubting is to be used when you don't have the evidence to prove dishonestly, while accusing a lie requires proof. When you choose "lie" though, the necessary support will be spelled out fairly clearly through the conversation, so it again does not require much thought on the players end. The only exception is for the times previously mentioned where things are more ambiguous, not through challenging design, but by sloppy, arbitrary decisions by the writers.

The other aspects of LA Noire are serviceable, but totally incidental and forgettable. Action sequences found in missions work, but have no intent in providing any actual depth or challenge. Street crime side quests are the same. Collectables are probably the simplest and most boring thing you can put in an open-world game, and are no exception here. The only possible redeeming quality is the story. I personally found it decently entertaining, but incredibly contrived and lacking in some regards. The characters were pretty well done, but the plot has many pacing issues and several poorly handled twists. In addition, if you do decide to use you detective skills anyway, it's likely you'll be able to call some of these curve-balls. In that case you'll probably be frustrated when you still have to let the game decide that it's time for you to know as you continue down the linear progression, forced to make choices you know don't matter, and are really quite ridiculous given the true nature of things. Your mileage may vary though.

As a piece of interactive fiction, LA Noire is still probably the best you can find today. If that's what you want, fine. But as a good game, something with solid mechanics that work together to make an interesting play experience, LA Noire is a failure. It is shallow, repetitive and unsatisfying. The trappings are there, an interesting setup, but I can not recommend this to people who wanted a well executed adventure game.
 

27 Comments
Posted by Jack_Frost

Thanks so much for this review, I appreciate your ability to cut through the hype and see that this game isn't the as groundbreaking as everyone seems to think.

I have been unable to properly put into words what I haven't liked about the game, but you definitely put a finger on some of the things, for sure.

I adored Red Dead Redemption and have played it nearly every day for the year it has existed - I do not see anything like that happening with L.A. Noire...

Posted by Slaker117
@Jack_Frost: No problem man. I also thought RDR was an excellent title, this game however, a disappointment. There does seem to be a fair segment of the audience who agrees with us though, so that's nice, even if most are still signing LA Noire's praises.

There was more I wanted to talk about, namely the failure to maintain the illusion of choice due to the predetermined outcomes of the script, and give specific examples for the rest of my complaints, but I got to a point where I felt the review was already too long and started tripping over my own words.

Anyway, I appreciate the comment and recommendation. Thanks.
Edited by Yummylee

Really well done review here. I don't agree entirely, and I think the end score it is a wee bit harsh, but you definitely point out a lot of solid criticisms and explain them well as to what makes them shallow and unsatisfying. Surprised this is your very first review since you clearly have some writing talent!

Posted by Akrid

Was going to write a review for this, but it seems you've saved me the trouble by mirroring my sentiments pretty accurately. Though I don't think I would have given it such a low score. Despite all it's flaws, the script, acting, and storyline saves it, and I'd still recommend that people play it.

Posted by Slaker117
@Abyssfull: Thanks for the compliment. I've always done pretty well with expository writing throughout school, so though I don't have any experience writing about games, it was really no different.
@Akrid: I tried to be as honest as I could so that someone with an open and objective view would find my observations similar to their's. Glad I managed to capture that effectively.
 
As for my score, I'll agree that it seems harsh. My intended approach was to use the whole scale equally. A 2.5 is obviously the midpoint, so the score is meant to say the game sits on that tipping point between positive and negative. If you come in wanting a noir story you can very easily enjoy what LA Noire offers, but can just as easily be put off by the shortcomings it has as a game. It's hard to balance when I feel most people who like it will probably really like, while others will probably write it off entirely as "not a game". And in the end, my personal frustrations played a role in bringing that number down.
Posted by Aetheldod

My exact sentiments that I had with the game are perfectly represented in this review. Congrats that you managed to say the wrongs of the game without recurring to spoilers and such. And like you I will not deny that some people may actually enjoy this game but the blind positivism (to its gameplay)  is what bothers me. Also it good that you mention that we didn't expected a GTA/ RDR clone as most people think that we detractors of this game didn't know , we know that it is an adventure game , poor one tho.

Edited by Slaker117
@Aetheldod: Glad you liked it. I tailored it specifically to counter some of the misunderstood arguments I've seen on the forums.
 
Very happy to see in general that open minded people seem to recognize my review to be well reasoned and fair. I tried my best to make it so, but of course, being the one who wrote it, I'm not an impartial judge.
 
And to any critics of my criticism, I welcome you to comment and express what you feel I did poorly.
Posted by sensory
@Jack_Frost said:
Thanks so much for this review, I appreciate your ability to cut through the hype and see that this game isn't the as groundbreaking as everyone seems to think.

I have been unable to properly put into words what I haven't liked about the game, but you definitely put a finger on some of the things, for sure.

I adored Red Dead Redemption and have played it nearly every day for the year it has existed - I do not see anything like that happening with L.A. Noire...
Exactly what I wanted to say after reading this review.
 

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW


I'm picking up some achievements on my second playthrough and I would also like to add that the "Homicide arc" in the story is probably one of the worst excuses to introduce a twist that I've ever seen in my life. 
 
The twist, which you see coming a mile off, is very poorly executed and leaves you hanging there after having been forced to go through the motions of all the previous cases knowing that the people you're putting away are innocent. Then, after you've had to stomach the poor end to what could have been an amazing set of cases, had they not focused so much on one serial killer, you're thrown into about four cases in the Vice desk which have great potential but never really grasp it, except for maybe The Naked City DLC and Boxing Clever. 
 
And after a decision by Cole that I will NEVER understand, you're thrown back down the ranks to the Arson desk, which isn't given the opportunity to be great before you're tossed into a twisting vortex of what I can only imagine was the writer's desperate attempt to be clever and finish the game in way that the gamer wouldn't see coming, given how terribly he failed with the homicide story arc.
 
After all's said and done, I'm not angry with you L.A. Noire, just disappointed. You could have been so much better.
Posted by Slaker117
@sensory: It was halfway through the homicide desk that I realized I didn't really like the game. Easily the weakest section, especially if you call the heavily telegraphed twist. Cole also seemed to be in tune to it, yet he never mentioned it to his superiors while putting away innocents. It seemed totally out of character. I mean, I get that the bosses don't want to admit that there is a serial killer, but a boy scout like Phelps shouldn't have been ok with it. I actually found the last case to be a little clever though. Not how they present it, which is poor like the rest of the game, but the core idea of what the crime was seemed neat.
 
It definitely feels like there are good ideas that want to break free of the sloppy framework of LA Noire. So much potential, but I just didn't have any fun playing it,
Posted by zitosilva

For as much as I enjoyed the game, I can absolutely understand why someone would feel the way you do about it. Even while playing it, it was clear that it was not something that would click with everyone, and the motives you give are fair and well explained. As I said, I enjoyed the game and loved playing it, but I still think your opinion and review are valuable and should be taken into consideration by those interested in purchasing L.A. Noire.

Posted by Slaker117
@zitosilva: Thank you for being fair and respectful about it.
Edited by Ramone

I almost whole heardtly disagree with you. In your first parargraph you define the game as an adventure game which is fair enough, it's certainly not a third person shooter, but then you complain that there are no roadblocks to your progress such as logic puzzles etc. Would L.A Noire suit logic puzzles? And does a game need roadblocks to be enjoyable? You also talk about the critical path and your inabilty to 'fail' why does a game need to make you 'fail' would the game be better if as soon as you made a mistake it said GAME OVER PRESS A TO RETRY. No, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong L.A Noire, like every game, has issues, I feel the interrigation should have taken some pointers from Mass Effect 2 and the shooting isn't as satisfying as I would have liked overall though I am thoroughly enjoying my time with the game. Games don't need to be challenging to be good.

Edited by Slaker117
@Jonny7892:
I think a game were you play a detective solving crimes is perfectly suited for logic puzzles. They don't have to be as abstract or silly as they are in other adventure games because a crime scene provides the prefect context. Also, much of the reason I wrote this review was because I felt many publications failed to express just how simplistic and non-challenging the game is, so that is why that's the focus. The fact that you can not fail doesn't automatically make a game bad, but I think it takes clever design to make it work and be meaningful. I don't feel LA Noire had that. Most of the time they just made up for it by providing unmissable clues for key pieces of information that became completely redundant if you played well. Cases hardly ever unfolded dynamically, they just relied on that one trick. Hard roadblocks aren't necessary, but for as simple as they are, they go a long way in encouraging smart puzzle design from the developers and critical thinking from the players.
 
You have every right to disagree with me, but I do think games require some amount of challenge and depth to be satisfying. As I said in the review, I think LA Noire works as interactive fiction, but the gameplay mechanics never do anything fun or interesting. It didn't properly balance plot with play. To me, that's not a good game.
Posted by Dahitman
@Slaker117 said:
@Jonny7892: I think a game were you play a detective solving crimes is perfectly suited for logic puzzles. They don't have to be as abstract or silly as they are in other adventure games because a crime scene provides the prefect context. Also, much of the reason I wrote this review was because I felt many publications failed to express just how simplistic and non-challenging the game is, so that is why that's the focus. The fact that you can not fail doesn't automatically make a game bad, but I think it takes clever design to make it work and be meaningful. I don't feel LA Noire had that. Most of the time they just made up for it by providing unmissable clues for key pieces of information that became completely redundant if you played well. Cases hardly ever unfolded dynamically, they just relied on that one trick. Hard roadblocks aren't necessary, but for as simple as they are, they go a long way in encouraging smart puzzle design from the developers and critical thinking from the players. You have every right to disagree with me, but I do think games require some amount of challenge and depth to be satisfying. As I said in the review, I think LA Noire works as interactive fiction, but the gameplay mechanics never do anything fun or interesting. It didn't properly balance plot with play. To me, that's not a good game.
I came across this review the second time, to see how GB's user review scores racked up. And in fact and fairness I believe the point about the logic puzzles being not up to par is correct. And about the score thing, if Brad Shoemaker can eat the hype up and squeeze out a perfect, you can cut that even and give it a 2.5. Cheers!
Posted by Slaker117
@Dahitman: Glad you agree with my reasoning.
Posted by Oni

Good review. Only on the second Vice case but I kind of agree, though I think I'm enjoying it a bit more. The homicide arc was really disappointing, and unjustified, and it's very unsatisfying. And I don't like how most cases just kind of end, you don't drag a confession out of someone through hard work. You should be able to fail cases and use logical thinking to progress, but the game just hands you everything on a silver platter. I really don't understand why they made the calls they made with the homicide arc, it's very unfortunate.

Posted by Slaker117
@Oni: Not to spoil anything, but you haven't gotten to what I think is probably going to be a really divisive point, even among fans. After that the game picks up some, actually transitioning into one of the better segments, but how you come away from that particular arc will likely color your opinion further.
Posted by afrokola

I don't necessarily agree that the interviews were that easily figured out on a first go at the game, there's definitely some slippery suspects you'll run into throughout the story. On the flipside, I cannot really fault you're score entirely, based on the rest of your review, even if I'm not fond of the conclusions you came to with it.

Posted by burjeffton--defunct

I've really enjoyed this game, but appreciated how well you articulated some illogical holes in the gameplay design and story arc. Well written.

Edited by Oni
@Slaker117 said:

@Oni: Not to spoil anything, but you haven't gotten to what I think is probably going to be a really divisive point, even among fans. After that the game picks up some, actually transitioning into one of the better segments, but how you come away from that particular arc will likely color your opinion further.

Having finished the game, I find myself wondering what that point was for you.
Strangely enough, I found myself enjoying the game more the last few 'cases', even though it became even more linear. But when it dropped the pretense of actual police work, I could enjoy the story for simply what it was a lot more, as everything started coming together.
Posted by Slaker117
@texaseanacre: As long as you realize I have legitimate problems with the game and am not just hating on it because it's popular, it's cool.
 
@burjeffton: Thank you. Again, I'm glad I could get my points across effectively, even if you disagree with the final assessment.
 
@Oni:
I think I understand the vibe there were going for, a noir character is nothing without his flaws, but something about how vague the whole setup was really bothered me. It felt unearned. I'm not sure how exactly to articulate it without writing an essay, so I'll leave it at that.
 
I agree that the game got better once it stopped pretending to demand anything from you. I liked seeing the final case play out without having to waste time with false challenges. The game should have committed more one way or the other, either making you solve actual puzzles, or allowing you to just skate through. The middle ground they went with instead highlighted the shortcomings of both design philosophies, and did little to show their strengths.
Posted by marlow83

       I'm honestly having a hard time understanding your argument regarding the interrogation sequences, and I pose the question to you: What would you have done to fix them? The system worked about as well as it could, considering that the occasionally goofy smirks were necessary to show that a person was lying, because of the evidence system. If you did not have evidence against a person, there would be no other way to know they were lying. It's a concession made for the sake of gameplay, and a necessary one at that.  
       And honestly (though this is more a reflection of my philosophy when it comes to game reviewing) you made the worst mistake a reviewer can make by complaining that the game wasn't the style of game you wanted it to be. That is, you wanted a flexible, difficult puzzle game when what LA Noire had to offer was a linear, interactive story driven experience. Does that warrant personal disappointment? Certainly. Does that warrant a review in which you condemn the game because it didn't match your desires and you criticize it because of that? No. One thing nobody seems to understand about the reviewing process is that personal thoughts about what something should be have no basis on the actual quality of what the game offers. If it actually offered a more flexible experience, and that flexibility was poorly executed, that would justify a poor score. But none of what you describe justifies the score to me. 

Posted by Slaker117
@marlow83: First I'd like to just point out that I am not a professional reviewer with standards to live up to. My review is not wholly impartial, it is a reflection of my own experience and nothing more.
 
I went into LA Noire wanting to like it. I was willing to let it show me what it had to offer. The more I played, to more I wished it was a different game. I feel like it aspired to achieve certain goals which it failed to do. I did not enjoy my time because of it. The game pretends to offer choice and acts like you are supposed to be solving cases, but true nature of the game is is actually quite different. Design aspects are at odds with each other, and I found the result of the clashing philosophies to be largely underwhelming. If I do not find the game to be compelling, what am I supposed to do?
 
As for interrogations, I would have appreciated more subtlety in presentation, and having over expressive faces is only part of the problem. My biggest issue with how they work is actually in the "lie" functionality. When accusing a suspect, their response will very neatly telegraph the expected evidence, and allows the player to back out if they realize they can't provide it. It forces an extra, and poorly integrated, step for players who want to make there way through the game as effectively as they can, as it provides more information that they would never know otherwise. It's a misstep that, in my opinion, makes a bland mechanic into a bad one.
 
A large part of why I wrote this review was to provide a counter argument to praise I was seeing elsewhere. Other reviews had me believing that the game provided an experience I did not find, and when that happened, I felt I had been mislead. While to focus is meant to be the game itself, looking at it now, I feel this review is also a response to what I felt was a failing by games media to correctly portray LA Noire.
 
I hope that clears things up. I can understand why you still might not like my approach, but regardless, I'm happy with it. I took the opportunity to say what I wanted and gardened a fair amount of support from it. You are free to oppose, however
Posted by marlow83
@Slaker117: I'll keep this brief. Let me just say that while I oppose your view, you have made your argument more clear to me. Also your excellent, well thought out defense of your point of view leaves me with nothing but the utmost respect for you, and I will likely read any future reviews you post
Posted by Slaker117
@marlow83: Thanks. I appreciate both your criticisms and respect, though I doubt I'll be writing many more reviews. I don't care much in reiterating the majority opinion that I normally agree with.
Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

Great review man, now I'm less pissed its not out for PC. Thank you for that.

Posted by Still_I_Cry

I agree wholeheartedly.

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