My spoilerific issues with L.A. Noire after just finishing it.

I rarely buy games based on critical reception. I pretty much never do that, but after seeing such rapturous praise for LA Noire, I decided it looked pretty interesting, that I could get into it, and enjoy it.
 
I had trouble finishing this game, though. Not in a "this game is too difficult for me" kind of way, because if there's anything LA Noire isn't, that would be at all difficult, but in a "this game is incredibly repetitive, what is even going on" way.  I basically took a two and ahalf month hiatus from the game from after it's release, just as I had started the Vice desk. So a few days ago, I finally picked it back up and decided "I'm going to finish this, so at least I will be able to articulate why I don't like this game."
 
I had no idea what I was in for.
 
This game went right off the fucking rails after the Vice desk. Suddenly everyone, literally the entire city, hates Cole, because he cheated on his wife with a character I had never even heard of aside from a mention or two in conversation up to that point, and I get demoted to Arson. Really? I understand why they came down so hard on him, the conspiracy, and everything, but it seemed entirely unbelievable. Even the entire notion of Cole cheating on his wife, a woman I have never seen or heard anything of up to this point so why the fuck should I even care about her, was completely out of left field. 
 
And the fact that Elsa was so critical to the endgame was crazy in and of itself. She's a catalyst for the ending and unraveling the redevelopment fund conspiracy, and she's introduced to me, the player, in the final hours of the game? These omissions are just plain lazy, and for a game that tries to put slow paced narrative at it's forefront, it's completely inexcusable. 
 
The fact that I was suddenly playing as a different character in the end, however, is one of my biggest problems. The game has spent the entire narrative getting me attached to Cole, and then I'm suddenly playing as someone else in the eleventh hour. There was no reason at all that they couldn't have written the story in such a way that Cole unravels the conspiracy on his own, or even that I only play as Kelso for a single chapter, as opposed to right up until the ending of the game. 
 
Even the way that you unravel the conspiracy was silly and everytime I found a new clue I basically just thought to myself "Oh right, this is a video game." Why can Kelso use police phones? I know he's an investigator for an insurance company, but as far as I understand it, that doesn't suddenly give him the right to use police phones and police resources. Why is there a film reel laying right out in the open handily detailing for me everyone who is involved in the suburban redevelopment fund?  And why would receipts for the lumber be conveniently placed on top of it all giving me the incredibly helpful information of exactly who it was I was supposed to be pursuing? And why is it that everytime I enter someone's apartment, the most important documents I need are just laying right out in the open, requiring no searching whatsoever, and it immediately tells me what the important bits are?
 
For such a carefully laid out conspiracy, they did a pretty shit job of covering their tracks, what with leaving important documents out in the open and film reels being loose. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the gameplay is stupefyingly simplistic. The game tells you where all the clues are, it tells you the important information, it tells you everything, and the cases end regardless of how good or bad you did in them anyway!
 
After I beat it, though, I wasn't thinking much about the game, I was thinking about the nature of game reviews. Can they be trusted, pretty much at all? Think about the process of game reviews. You get an early copy, you get a few days to poke around with it, finish it, and write up a review. It doesn't leave a great deal of time for introspection or critical analysis. It doesn't really lend itself to nitpicking until after the fact, when the job of the critic is already over.
 
LA Noire doesn't seem like the type of game that was built to withstand the test of criticism. Aside from the amazing tech in facial animations and the beautiful recreation of 1940's Los Angeles, there doesn't really seem to be a whole lot there. The gameplay is simple, the story gets increasingly ridiculous before just going full bullshit at the end, and it just got me thinking, "I feel like I've been let down by critics." 
 
Because this feels like it was a game built to wow you and coast you gently toward the ending. It feels like a game tailor made for game reviewers. It has amazing tech that impresses you out of the gate, the gameplay isn't at all demanding, the story is okay as long as you don't think about it too much, and it's a nice gentle ride toward the end that's pretty much impossible to fail at. In my view, it's a game made for people who review games, not for people who play them repeatedly. For people who don't have a lot of time on their hands, not for people who are going to really have the time to spend with it and really think about what it is the game is actually presenting.
 
In short, I just feel really disappointed, not only by some of the baffling decisions in the game's writing, but also in how simple the gameplay is, and how much I feel let down by reviewers, who seem almost universally in love with the game. A recent bombcast started to criticize the game a little more, and now that I've finally finished the game, I think that's a great thing. But I'm a little sad these thoughts weren't considered before Brad basically instantly labeled it a top pick for GOTY.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by Marokai

I rarely buy games based on critical reception. I pretty much never do that, but after seeing such rapturous praise for LA Noire, I decided it looked pretty interesting, that I could get into it, and enjoy it.
 
I had trouble finishing this game, though. Not in a "this game is too difficult for me" kind of way, because if there's anything LA Noire isn't, that would be at all difficult, but in a "this game is incredibly repetitive, what is even going on" way.  I basically took a two and ahalf month hiatus from the game from after it's release, just as I had started the Vice desk. So a few days ago, I finally picked it back up and decided "I'm going to finish this, so at least I will be able to articulate why I don't like this game."
 
I had no idea what I was in for.
 
This game went right off the fucking rails after the Vice desk. Suddenly everyone, literally the entire city, hates Cole, because he cheated on his wife with a character I had never even heard of aside from a mention or two in conversation up to that point, and I get demoted to Arson. Really? I understand why they came down so hard on him, the conspiracy, and everything, but it seemed entirely unbelievable. Even the entire notion of Cole cheating on his wife, a woman I have never seen or heard anything of up to this point so why the fuck should I even care about her, was completely out of left field. 
 
And the fact that Elsa was so critical to the endgame was crazy in and of itself. She's a catalyst for the ending and unraveling the redevelopment fund conspiracy, and she's introduced to me, the player, in the final hours of the game? These omissions are just plain lazy, and for a game that tries to put slow paced narrative at it's forefront, it's completely inexcusable. 
 
The fact that I was suddenly playing as a different character in the end, however, is one of my biggest problems. The game has spent the entire narrative getting me attached to Cole, and then I'm suddenly playing as someone else in the eleventh hour. There was no reason at all that they couldn't have written the story in such a way that Cole unravels the conspiracy on his own, or even that I only play as Kelso for a single chapter, as opposed to right up until the ending of the game. 
 
Even the way that you unravel the conspiracy was silly and everytime I found a new clue I basically just thought to myself "Oh right, this is a video game." Why can Kelso use police phones? I know he's an investigator for an insurance company, but as far as I understand it, that doesn't suddenly give him the right to use police phones and police resources. Why is there a film reel laying right out in the open handily detailing for me everyone who is involved in the suburban redevelopment fund?  And why would receipts for the lumber be conveniently placed on top of it all giving me the incredibly helpful information of exactly who it was I was supposed to be pursuing? And why is it that everytime I enter someone's apartment, the most important documents I need are just laying right out in the open, requiring no searching whatsoever, and it immediately tells me what the important bits are?
 
For such a carefully laid out conspiracy, they did a pretty shit job of covering their tracks, what with leaving important documents out in the open and film reels being loose. I'm not even going to get into the fact that the gameplay is stupefyingly simplistic. The game tells you where all the clues are, it tells you the important information, it tells you everything, and the cases end regardless of how good or bad you did in them anyway!
 
After I beat it, though, I wasn't thinking much about the game, I was thinking about the nature of game reviews. Can they be trusted, pretty much at all? Think about the process of game reviews. You get an early copy, you get a few days to poke around with it, finish it, and write up a review. It doesn't leave a great deal of time for introspection or critical analysis. It doesn't really lend itself to nitpicking until after the fact, when the job of the critic is already over.
 
LA Noire doesn't seem like the type of game that was built to withstand the test of criticism. Aside from the amazing tech in facial animations and the beautiful recreation of 1940's Los Angeles, there doesn't really seem to be a whole lot there. The gameplay is simple, the story gets increasingly ridiculous before just going full bullshit at the end, and it just got me thinking, "I feel like I've been let down by critics." 
 
Because this feels like it was a game built to wow you and coast you gently toward the ending. It feels like a game tailor made for game reviewers. It has amazing tech that impresses you out of the gate, the gameplay isn't at all demanding, the story is okay as long as you don't think about it too much, and it's a nice gentle ride toward the end that's pretty much impossible to fail at. In my view, it's a game made for people who review games, not for people who play them repeatedly. For people who don't have a lot of time on their hands, not for people who are going to really have the time to spend with it and really think about what it is the game is actually presenting.
 
In short, I just feel really disappointed, not only by some of the baffling decisions in the game's writing, but also in how simple the gameplay is, and how much I feel let down by reviewers, who seem almost universally in love with the game. A recent bombcast started to criticize the game a little more, and now that I've finally finished the game, I think that's a great thing. But I'm a little sad these thoughts weren't considered before Brad basically instantly labeled it a top pick for GOTY.

Posted by Sooty

Yup. Reviewers dropped the ball big time, I'm just glad I got almost all my money back after I traded it in when I finished it.
 
Games can be repetitive at times yet still fun. L.A. Noire is not one of them.

Edited by Superfriend

That´s one of the issues I have with a lot of game reviews these days. They come across as some kind of wannabe film critic-blog. You know talking about writing and pacing and character development is fine and all, but the gameplay part is real important too.
While I think some of the praise this game got for story stuff was too much, I also feel they really should have told  me how fucking simplistic everything about these investigations is. 
 
Most of them didn´t. Instead they threw around film jargon and sounded like stupid hipsters who have no fucking clue.
You know, there´s a reason these terms exist within the film industry. It is technical jargon and game reviewers who have no fucking clue about how a movie gets made shouldn´t throw it around like that.
They should tell me about the game. If the game has technical problems, tell me. If it plays like crap, tell me. If the driving is straight outta GTA 3/Saints Row (so its shit) please, by all means, tell me. If the game is so mind numbingly easy that I fall asleep while collecting evidence.. you know what you gotta do. 
 
If a critic wants to tell me about dutch angles and vertigo effects and fucking Ingmar Bergman then he should head on over to screened.com. Its about them gamez over here.

Edited by Slaker117

My favorite part wasn't that the bad guys filmed themselves discussing their criminal conspiracy and left the reel in a projector, it's that they did it from multiple camera angles and edited it together. Perfect example of how the game put style over everything else, and was worse for it.
 
You're completely right about this being a critics' game, and it's a shame I wasted money on it because of them, but at least now I know who's reviews to look at with more scrutiny in the future.

Posted by Quemador

Wow you two are some really angry nerds... The game was fine, I like it move on and play more games.

Posted by Slaker117
@Quemador: If you're not into evaluating games critically, that's fine, it's admittedly kind of pointless, but dismissing people as "angry nerds" for doing so is pretty damn reductive. It's perfectly valid to discuss perceived failings of a video game and the reviews around it.
Posted by Deathmachine117

At least it was trying to be different from all the other generic crap mostly coming out these days. The point about the gameplay being repetitive I understand yeah it kind of was but it was going for a realistic portrayal of Detective work in the early 50's or whatever time frame it was. It was about solving crimes and questioning people that had some shooting and driving elements thrown in to liven the game up. I thought the game and marketing (Maybe some critics left out points about the game) presented exactly how the game was going to be, but people ran out snapping this up thinking it was another GTA game set elsewhere.

Posted by MayorFeedback

Agreed 100% with everything you wrote. The second Vice was over, the game went insane in the worst way possible. I don't think I've ever been more disappointed by a video game.

Posted by babblinmule

The story completely left me when Cole cheated on his wife for apparently no reason. It just seemed like they couldnt figure out a good, believable plot twist, so they just said 'fuck it, lets make him cheat on his wife or something'.

Posted by penINC
@Deathmachine117: My problem with LA Noire wasn't for being repetitive or for not being GTA, it was for being shallow. I wanted the cases to be puzzles I had to solve, but instead I just moved my guy from point A to point B, and the game did all the detective work for me. Bumping around an environment to find marked clues and have them explained at me is hardly compelling. Being different does not justify being boring.
Posted by MooseyMcMan
@Marokai: While I definitely agree with some of your complaints, Elsa actually was briefly introduced earlier in the game when Cole and Roy went to that nightclub. I want to say it was after the end of the traffic desk, but I'm not sure. 
 
I do agree that the affair appeared out of nowhere and didn't make a ton of sense.
Moderator
Posted by Hargreaves93

Some of the stuff you mentioned is true but on the whole I found the game fun and enjoyable. The murder desk being a personal favourite of mine, I just liked the storyline.

Posted by Deathmachine117
@penINC:  To be fair to the game you could turn off all them hints or music cues when close to any evidence. You could have played the game like that and it wouldnt give the impression of hand holding but then again its a detective game like an old school point and click where youd just click on random objects to see if it would work.  
 
I understand why you dont like the game, I found it compelling flawed but compelling. Each to their own I guess.
Edited by thebexexpress

@Marokai said:

And the fact that Elsa was so critical to the endgame was crazy in and of itself. She's a catalyst for the ending and unraveling the redevelopment fund conspiracy, and she's introduced to me, the player, in the final hours of the game?

Nope, Elsa was in the game from pretty early. Cole is introduced to her when he makes Burglary, and he goes to see her sing at the club several times throughout the film. His infatuation with her is well and truly established. I agree about his wife though, if we'd gotten even ONE scene with her earlier in the game, she wouldn't have seemed like such an arbitrary presence.

Other than Cole's wife, little of the stuff you identified was a problem for me. The film reel was obviously not great, and I'd love to hear the developers justify that bit. But I only found the game repetitive in the homicide section, where we were stuck doing essentially the same case every time. Elsa and Kelso were both well set up for their roles later on as far as I'm concerned. One character who did need to be introduced earlier is Ira Hogeboom- he was way too significant to get absolutely no coverage earlier, especially when Sheldon is given so much screen time. It ended up feeling disorientating rather than serving as a big reveal.

As far as critics being misleading, or being pretentious for talking about movies or whatever you guys mean, I can't side with you on that. This game heavily relies on film conventions, and critics wouldn't be doing much of a job if they ignored that. I've also never read a review of this game that didn't make the nature of its attractions clear- if you don't like genre fiddling, cinematic references or games that prioritise narrative devices over game play, you should have never thought you would like this. Unless you only read the scores that come with the reviews?

If a critic wants to tell me about dutch angles and vertigo effects and fucking Ingmar Bergman then he should head on over to screened.com. Its about them gamez over here.

Although according to this, I obviously forgot that "gamez" operate in a cultural vacuum completely devoid of intertextuality. Whoops.

Edited by Marokai
@thebexexpress said:

@Marokai said:

And the fact that Elsa was so critical to the endgame was crazy in and of itself. She's a catalyst for the ending and unraveling the redevelopment fund conspiracy, and she's introduced to me, the player, in the final hours of the game?

Nope, Elsa was in the game from pretty early. Cole is introduced to her when he makes Burglary, and he goes to see her sing at the club several times throughout the film. His infatuation with her is well and truly established. I agree about his wife though, if we'd gotten even ONE scene with her earlier in the game, she wouldn't have seemed like such an arbitrary presence.

Other than Cole's wife, little of the stuff you identified was a problem for me. The film reel was obviously not great, and I'd love to hear the developers justify that bit. But I only found the game repetitive in the homicide section, where we were stuck doing essentially the same case every time. Elsa and Kelso were both well set up for their roles later on as far as I'm concerned. One character who did need to be introduced earlier is Ira Hogeboom- he was way too significant to get absolutely no coverage earlier, especially when Sheldon is given so much screen time. It ended up feeling disorientating rather than serving as a big reveal.

First of all: This is a video game, not a movie. You can argue that it borrows a lot of film conventions and you can argue it tries to emulate films in it's cutscenes, but this is not, a movie. Simple, obvious, empirical fact. 
 
Now that that's out of the way, I really don't think it's "well and truly established" at all. I don't know how anyone could get that impression. She's mentioned a few times, but nothing more than that, and you have no more reason to think of her anymore than you think of any other character until the end of the Vice Desk. You could make the incredibly tenuous argument that his infatuation with her was (very lightly, in my opinion) implied, but it was by no means clear and the sheer abruptness with which he suddenly gets come down on by the entire city, practically, is still way out of left-field. 
 
The whole game is also just littered with moments of "oh, well that was convenient."
 
I didn't necessarily have any problem with the way Elsa and Kelso were set up for the ending of the game, but suddenly playing as Kelso and Cole pretty much being relegated to the back-burner, and I didn't actually have a problem with playing as Kelso for the first chapter where he begins to investigate Elsa's settlement, but playing as him right up to the credits was my problem. I know almost nothing about Kelso aside from the fact that he was antagonistic to Cole in the army and has a similar sense of honor. As for the rest, he's a total nobody. To suddenly wind up with a main character shift in the last few hours of the game is totally jarring and, I would argue, unnecessary.
 

As far as critics being misleading, or being pretentious for talking about movies or whatever you guys mean, I can't side with you on that. This game heavily relies on film conventions, and critics wouldn't be doing much of a job if they ignored that. I've also never read a review of this game that didn't make the nature of its attractions clear- if you don't like genre fiddling, cinematic references or games that prioritise narrative devices over game play, you should have never thought you would like this. Unless you only read the scores that come with the reviews?

I don't actually have a problem with any of that, my only problem would be critics failing to analyze a video game as a video game. The narrative may be totally neat and all (although like I said, I don't actually think that's the case, the only way you justify the incredible ease with which you uncover the conspiracy is by saying "Oh well who cares" which is not actually a good reason, like, at all) but if the game plays incredibly simplistically, then it's not really a good video game. I have a problem with the critics being sort of hoodwinked into seeing the amazing facial animation tech and being suckered in by the nice gentle ride to the end it gives the player, and passing it off as some sort of monumental achievement for video games.
 
I paid sixty dollars for this game. Not six dollars for a movie ticket. I like genre fiddling. I love games that prioritize story over gameplay. That does not, however, give the developer an excuse for when the gameplay is utterly simplistic. And I don't even think the story was all that well executed. I don't want to drift off into a topic that wasn't what I was originally talking about, but, video games aren't movies. They are completely different beasts. The level of interactivity and depth expected out of a video game is exponentially greater than that of a movie, and the barrier to entry is similarly higher.  I believe that video games can be far more powerful and emotionally affecting than movies. Video games can certainly borrow cinematic elements, and be way way better for it, but if there is no gameplay, or the gameplay isn't particularly good, then it's a less-good video game because of it.
 
Because these are video games.
Edited by thebexexpress

@Marokai said:

I paid sixty dollars for this game. Not six dollars for a movie ticket. I like genre fiddling. I love games that prioritize story over gameplay. That does not, however, give the developer an excuse for when the gameplay is utterly simplistic. And I don't even think the story was all that well executed. I don't want to drift off into a topic that wasn't what I was originally talking about, but, video games aren't movies. They are completely different beasts. The level of interactivity and depth expected out of a video game is exponentially greater than that of a movie, and the barrier to entry is similarly higher. I believe that video games can be far more powerful and emotionally affecting than movies. Video games can certainly borrow cinematic elements, and be way way better for it, but if there is no gameplay, or the gameplay isn't particularly good, then it's a less-good video game because of it.

Because these are video games.

The way you're talking about this, though, sort of indicates to me that your problem is with games that prioritize complexity of narrative over complexity, or maybe difficulty, of gameplay, not games that borrow cinematic elements, and that's kind of another issue. Superfriend's comment singles out reviews talking about movie stuff in their games reviews, and I addressed that, but you're talking something different.

The gameplay elements of the game (the investigations, the chases etc) were definitely simplistic, but this was a game that deployed interactive elements to propel the story and immerse the player in it (or at least that was the intention, if we're talking the broken interrogation mechanic). They're meant to make the journey through the narrative smooth, and they're supposed to blend in with it. They were never intended to carry the game, and they would be useless out of context.

When you say the gameplay isn't "particularly good", and you then talk about good games having a high "barrier to entry", it makes it sound like you classify a game's quality according to the difficulty of the gameplay elements, and how prohibitive it is? As someone who is crappy at games, and who plays them anyway (usually on easy), I kind of take exception to that view.

And then you claim that in order to BE video games, they have to have that 'complexity'. So is Heavy Rain, a game that reviewers (including Brad) clearly referred to when discussing this, one with even fewer complex game mechanics, not a game? Are point-and-click adventures not games? They're different types of games to those which rely on competitions based on skill and reflexes, miles away from those, but they're still video games. Is that entire area of games 'less-good'?

First of all: This is a video game, not a movie. You can argue that it borrows a lot of film conventions and you can argue it tries to emulate films in it's cutscenes, but this is not, a movie. Simple, obvious, empirical fact.

I have no idea why you've said this in response to the bit where I discuss Elsa and the narrative of the game, because I don't use a single piece of film-y terminology in that discussion. I say scene, but games have those, just like they have stories. And when I say that Cole's infactuation with Elsa is well established, I mean the three or four scenes leading up to their tryst in which Cole does nothing but sit in the club watching her sing and make eyes at her- those scenes are implying that infactuation, I suppose, but I'd argue that it's pretty darn obvious. I don't know how else you would interpret those cutscenes.

Posted by Pezen

I think one of my main issues with the game (though there are plenty more but this one was probably worst) is the whole Elsa/Wife thing. The reason that bugged me was not only that it was so lightly done, but also because Cole was never portrayed as someone who needed to cheat on his wife nor did it seem like Elsa was his type of female. It seemed so entirely out of character for someone like him. Overall I think the idea of what type of person Cole is never truly comes across, in contrast to a lot of other people in the game that feel a lot more established.

Posted by thebexexpress

@Pezen: The silenced wife is one of my bigger problems with the game, that's for sure. I can see why they did the whole adultery thing, Elsa makes perfect sense to me, but it didn't seem as natural as it could have if they'd SHOWN THE WIFE. They never established how his home life was! I have to fill in the gaps myself so that it makes enough sense.