LA Noire [Available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3]
ESRB Rating: M
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Parent Talk: LA Noire is a crime-thriller that earns its “M” rating. There is plenty of profanity and violence, but it’s all in the context of a gripping crime story. LA Noire doesn’t compare to the obnoxiously profane Grand Theft Auto, but parents should still be cautious.
Review Basis: Completed the main game: The Consul’s Car, The Naked City, A Slip of the Tongue, (89% total completion) and all street crimes.
A gripping story. LA Noire focuses on narrative, and is as enthralling as the classic TV and film noir that it’s inspired by. The cast is diverse and humanistic; the script is well-written, and the action scenes are tense and engaging. Every element of a good crime drama is here. The game is divided into different areas of investigation: traffic, homicide, administrative vice, and arson. Each features individual cases full of unique stories with dozens of characters. While most games try to win us over on the promise of some emotion in the narrative, LA Noire’s plot makes the competition look paltry.
+ A large, sprawling city. Rockstar’s fictional recreation of Los Angeles is impressive. The city is huge in scope, with lots to see. It takes a long time to just drive from end-to-end, but it adds to the immersion. Thankfully, Team Bondi included the option to skip the commute so you’re never forced to drive from point A to B. Still, whether you’re joy-riding or engaged in a high-speed chase, the city is fun to take in.
+ Varied gameplay. A great story is nice, but LA Noire isn’t a “game” without good supporting mechanics. Team Bondi delivers. The game employs distinct elements of play, including: gathering evidence, interrogating witnesses, engaging in shoot-outs, and pursuing after suspects (on-foot or via car chases). Interrogating witnesses is a highlight, and adventure fans may think of Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series because of the Truth, Doubt, and Lie system. The shooting, brawling, running, and driving is responsive and intuitive, and avoid the only trapping that other noteworthy thriller Heavy Rain had—not everything is a quick-time event.
Furthermore, LA Noire is far from the typical action game. Bondi knew that good crime drama requires action scenes, but in context. You spend much of the game carefully piecing together evidence and studying case notes. You won’t see the mayhem that people expect from GTA. The player is expected to behave, so reckless driving or injuring an innocent bystander warrant serious repercussions. Failing to gather all the clues or flubbing investigations doesn’t halt the game either; the mission continues, even with faulty detective work.
+ Beautiful presentation. The facial expressions must be seen to be believed. Thanks to MotionScan technology, Team Bondi put together an incredibly striking experience. The bar has officially been raised. The sound design and music are exceptional as well, perfectly setting the mood for a crime drama.
+ Value. The cases are a blast, but LA Noire needed more to be truly worthwhile. “Street crimes” are one of the noteworthy distractions. While on patrol, you can respond to calls via radio dispatch. These are “sidequests” and optional, but add another layer of entertainment. The scenarios range from high-speed chases to shoot-outs, suicide jumpers and heists. There are also landmarks and film reels to discover, for the collectible-hunters. The Badge Pursuit challenge is available via DLC as well.
– Repetition. LA Noire’s worst offense is its linear and repetitive design. The cases follow similar patterns and recycle common themes.
– Not quite open. LA Noire is far more structured than Grand Theft Auto . Cases play in order, and the story proceeds on a largely predetermined path, though there are exceptions. “Linear” is a dirty word for gamers. This certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, but many gamers desire to influence the plot at least somewhat.
– One and done. After completing the cases, nabbing all the collectibles and earning the trophies/achievements…the experience is more or less complete. There is DLC, but the appeal comes from unraveling the story and figuring out the “correct” answers.
– Occasional glitches. There’s occasional frame rate hiccuping, rendering issues, and other minor problems. The frequency varies.
LA Noire is an amazing experience. It’s at times difficult to categorize and further blurs the line between video game and film. It adds to the burgeoning trend in developing to push the idea of what a game can be.