The following review is spoiler-free.

It always starts like this: a wooden yellow barrier, men in uniform, and a crowd of curious civilians at the circumference of a tragedy. Come rain or shine, domestic spat, serial killing or accidental overdose, the rubberneckers are a constant presence throughout your time in LA Noire. They stand at the boundaries, gossiping and craning to catch a glimpse of the corpse. They don't really care about the victim - who they were or how they died. They just want to take a good look.

And yet as much as we may look down on these gawkers, their morbid nosiness is ultimately equal to our own. Team Bondi and Rockstar understand this all too well, and LA Noire is an unrelenting exercise in feeding that appetite for death. At the same time, it is also a game that delves deep into our love of detective movies - just as Red Dead Redemption did for the Western this time last year.

But despite what some people may be expecting, this isn't another open-world action game in the vein of Rockstar's previous heavy-hitters. There are similarities, certainly, but the core gameplay is generally closer to the likes of Heavy Rain or the Phoenix Wright series than to the gunfights and vehicle chases of Bellic and Marston. Prior to playing the final code, one of my biggest concerns with LA Noire lay with how the action would be handled; it was clear from early on that Team Bondi was going for a measured, thoughtful approach to the investigative scenes, but how was that going to mesh with the moments where the bullets started flying? It seemed inevitable that the game would have them, but how many baddie-packed scenes could the story sustain before the illusion of reality came crashing down like a house of cards?

As it turns out, Team Bondi's solution has been to make combat an entirely optional affair for the majority of the game. As you drive about the city, soaking up the meticulous splendour of 1947 LA, your colleagues at Dispatch will alert you to crimes taking place in the nearby area. Accept, and you'll race across town to engage in a quick bout of terse violence - a botched robbery, perhaps, or a personal disagreement that's led to someone sprouting a triplet of leaky holes in their chest. As soon as you've completed the self-contained episode, it's back to the heart of the game, to the thoughtful world of procedure and inspection. And, if you never took the call, it's a world you never left in the first place.

The point I'm trying to make, in long-winded fashion, is that plot and character are the bricks and mortar of LA Noire. The story begins in strangely staccato fashion, introducing protagonist Cole Phelps and ushering you through a smattering of brief assignments as a patrolman. Eventually you'll pass through four major crime desks - Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson - but before then it's time to learn the basics. Here, at the bottom of the food chain, you'll be trained to dissect a crime scene, which in turns means learning to listen for the subtle cues that guide your efforts: sleuth-y music to indicate the presence of clues, and soft piano stings to denote the presence of an item that can be inspected.

At the touch of the button you'll closer inspect the object in question, turning it over in your hand with gentle manipulation of the left analogue stick. If there's more to it than what initially meets the eye, vibrations will guide you to a sweet spot that will then reveal further information. Useful observations are jotted in Phelps' notebook, and in the early days useless objects will be greeted with some form of dismissive comment from the man himself. Later in the game these aids will disappear, but by this point you'll have a natural instinct with regards to the items that litter each crime scene. You'll walk in, survey the surroundings, and make a bee-line for the trinket that stands out like a sore thumb.

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User Comments

draytone's Avatar

draytone

Nearly a year since this review went up, and I'm on the last case... that says as much about the difficulty I've had in playing this game as much as the amount of time I've had to play it. LA Noire 2 (if such a game does exist) would have to go a long way to fix some of the big issues in this game. It's incredibly buggy as well, quite big bugs that you can't really help but notice.
Posted 20:49 on 21 May 2012
draytone's Avatar

draytone

I've found the interrogation a bit frustrating at times. Why does he sometimes go mental at a suspect when you hit doubt and other times he goes softly on them?
Posted 22:25 on 24 May 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido@ Clockpunk

I will have to agree on the side missions. I haven't apprehend them (set from car chases), but I have never done the tackle on the person you are chasing. I'm finding it a tad 'unrealistic' as you are a detective, and you don't go around killing most of the people that are committing a crime. I clearly disarmed someone but the option of arrest doesn't appear, it just went into a scene of his body going into the back of a van, for post-mortem related stuff. The only other thing I have performed besides from killing the escapee, is to fire a warning shot.

I think the interrogation alone is enough to steal the attention from the gunplay and driving, which people have been complaining about. Indeed we will have to disagree on this James, but I just find it to be spot on with the gunplay and driving. I think there needs to be more happening in LA than just travelling to your next questioning location and street crimes. I have been going off finding the secret cars to add more exploration, but isn't enough if you ask me, but I do enjoy the street crimes, and I am enjoying the game as a whole.

Still on disc 1 on the 360 and now starting the Homicide desk. Taking the moment now to explore, and increase my rank to get more intuition points to help me in the interrogating.
Posted 16:41 on 21 May 2011
tvr77's Avatar

tvr77@ Clockpunk

a couple of times where i have given chase, if you get close enough a tackle option appears, but mostly i have had to kill the suspect, which i agree is a little harsh in some cases but if a suspect is firing upon police then police will usualy return gun fire and if a gunman has a gun at the head of some poor lady threatning to blow her brains out, and if negotiations are not the best option then they will put the suspect down again and that seems to be the case quite often in this game, it is america after all
Posted 15:03 on 21 May 2011
El-Dev's Avatar

El-Dev

Mafia II had the driving for these types of cars spot on. They probably weigh about 3 tonnes, have V8 engines and crap tyres. They should not feel so light and twitchy.

So far it's an 8/10 for me, I'm being slightly generous as well with this. There's too many faults with the core gameplay elements for it to be a 10.
Posted 14:12 on 21 May 2011
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

Another negative point for me - during a couple of side missions, involving a chase then a shootout, I didlike how when the game says to subdue someone, you HAVE to shoot them. You can't sprint, tackle, then engage in fisticuffs, perhaps with the option of kicking a dropped firearm away. Such a restraint is needless, and such sequences *could* have been made more action-like.

Perhaps I just expected too much from the game's hype, but there are many gameplay aspects done better within RDR last year. The side missions, and shooting, as I have been arguing, definately feel as though they have regressed. Which is a big damned shame.

The driving is just like The Saboteur. I would have preferred the cars to feel heavier, less arcadey and more realistic, as per the rest of the game is trying to be.

Seems like an 50/50 split on the driving, Scott - you and I are going to have to disagree on this one. You can't please everyone, but for a game trying so hard to separate itself from the crowd, you would think they would have tried to do so in more than just a single area.

I remain convinced that LA Noire is not worthy of a 10.
Posted 13:51 on 21 May 2011
guyderman's Avatar

guyderman

I didn't have any issues with the gun play or the driving - I'm with Wido on this as I found it reminiscent of RDR's Gun controls. I think with the driving you are supposed to be driving properly with the traffic - not driving as if you are in a stolen car! - I do however have other gripes with the game, which I've posted in the LA Noire topic in general gaming, but so far for me this isn't a 10/10 game - I'd go with an 8/10 personally although I'm hoping this changes as I delve further into the game.
Posted 13:08 on 21 May 2011
tvr77's Avatar

tvr77

id have to agree with wido on this one, i think the driving is pretty good and the gunplay is ok too, the whole game seems to have a nice clean flow to it, im very impressed so far and im well and truly hooked,
Posted 13:04 on 21 May 2011
Wido's Avatar

Wido@ Clockpunk

I'm going to have to disagree on driving and gunplay there James. I found the driving to be very responsive, and a lot more better than GTA IV. The gunplay is borderline Red Dead Redemption and isn't sluggish or clumsy when going into the cover, as its just like RDR.

I think there is skill to aiming, as I did my first street crime mission, which involved gunplay. A well timed precise shot soon done the job.

So far, so good!
Posted 19:50 on 20 May 2011
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

Hmmmm... I posted my thoughts in the thread in General, but having played the game now, I'm not quite convinced L.A. Noire is worthy of a 10. There are too many little flaws, and I've got to disagree with the gunplay part of the review. It's just bad. The use of cover is clumsy, and there's no skill to aiming.

Driving, gunplay, and other non-storyline elements could have been polished and made a lot slicker. Which is a real shame. This game is more an 8/9 to my mind.
Posted 23:12 on 19 May 2011
Maxxgold's Avatar

Maxxgold

Great Review. Love it when a game gets a 10. No games is without flaws but when a game is plain awesome it deserves a 10. : )
Posted 14:23 on 19 May 2011
RoboTwont's Avatar

RoboTwont

Great review Neon, can't wait to receive my pre-order for this. It will be fantastic if we can see some more games like this with a more mature theme.
Posted 03:16 on 19 May 2011
reynoldio's Avatar

reynoldio

Going to try to sneakily read the review at work today and then all your comments, but I just had to say that my amazing wife pre-ordered this for my birthday! So happy :)

VERY looking forward to it...
Posted 07:27 on 18 May 2011
clangod's Avatar

clangod

Nice review.

Unfortunately I will not be picking this up for a while yet due to limited funds and Dirt 3 arriving in about 6 days.

It's one that I shall put on the list along with Portal 2 as a "must get it soon".
Posted 01:04 on 18 May 2011
mydeaddog's Avatar

mydeaddog

I cracked your mum's case.


Or maybe I just cased her crack? I forget...
Posted 16:53 on 17 May 2011

Game Stats

Technical Specs
L.A. Noire
10
Out of 10
L.A. Noire
  • Original, intuitive game design
  • Superlative voice acting throughout
  • Nails the era to a tee
  • Action controls could be better
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 20/05/2011
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PS3 , PC
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar
Genre: Third-person shooter
No. Players: One
Rating: BBFC 18
Site Rank: 487 26
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