Capsule Review: L.A. Noire

A noir action-adventure game in which the player takes the role of an LAPD officer in the 1940s to investigate crimes, interrogate witnesses, and do some driving/shooting/punching along the way. The interrogation gameplay relies on impressively realistic facial motion capture intended to allow the player to watch NPC faces for nervous tics and other tells when they may be hiding something.

This game had been on my list for a long time, my interest mainly piqued by the interrogation detective work which was the focus of the marketing and the game’s unique selling point. These are the things I experienced in my hour of play:

The first time I launched the game from Steam, it popped up a Rockstar auto-updater. Which did nothing. Closing and relaunching the game allowed the updater to work - the only thing it updated was “Social Club.” I looked that up and found out it’s Rockstar’s DRM. The game claimed it wouldn’t let me play without this update. Once updated, I was blocked by a dialog claiming I needed to create a Social Club account in order to play. There were some well-hidden options that allowed me to skip the account and just create a “local profile”, so that’s what I did.

The game’s opening cinematic set the scene of 1940s L.A. as a city of opportunity but also corruption and implied that psychology and a professor thereof were going to be important. Okay, cool. But the storytelling rapidly went… all over the place. Missions featured standard Rockstar-style cinematic storytelling introducing some characters and dynamics for the main story. One in-mission cutscene triggered by looking at a newspaper was about the psychology professor and introduced completely separate characters. The between-mission cutscenes were flashbacks to player character Cole’s time in the marines, introducing yet another set of characters (with Cole as the only overlap). There were three separate stories being told with three sets of characters before any of them had a chance to develop - the one I learned the most about is the marine flashbacks, which is the one that isn’t in the present day. As a result, during a mission when a name showed up that Cole obviously recognized as significant, I had no idea who it was and had to look it up. It was a character I’d seen, but very briefly.

The first several missions were completely disconnected and played like a series of tutorials introducing the game’s several systems. None had closure - once I’d learned whatever gameplay it taught, I was treated to a flashback cutscene and then dropped into a completely different one. The missions themselves featured some moderately obnoxious instructional prompts which repeated themselves frequently and occasionally contradicted the game - I was instructed at one point to press a button to open the patrol car’s trunk and retrieve a weapon, while Cole was already doing this without my input. There were also obnoxious barks from my partner - in the first tutorial, I was investigating a crime scene and my partner wanted to leave and told me three or four times in a row to “Wake up, Cole!” while I was looking for and finally found the last clue.

After searching the crime scene, the next game mechanic to learn was driving. This was terrible and I hated it. Grand Theft Auto-style driving mechanics have no business in a game like this. Driving the way I do in GTA or Saints Row would have immediately broken the illusion, but driving carefully and legally was tedious and frustrating. I found out online afterward that you can make your partner drive, but the game itself did not tell me this. After the car trip came melee fighting, a gun battle, and an on-foot chase followed by melee fighting. None of these were as immediately problematic as the driving, but they were definitely not the game I signed up for.

Next was a case that started with crimescene investigation. Then my partner told me to talk to a guy in the crowd but didn’t say which one, and then when I went into a store to talk to a witness, he stopped me to tell me to talk to the witness. Talking to her finally triggered the game’s first interrogation. I asked what she saw and she gave me a plausible-ish story that seemed a bit unlikely given what I knew. I had three options - accept it as truth, doubt it, or accuse the witness of lying. The game had made it clear to me that I shouldn’t accuse the witness of lying without proof, and none of my gathered evidence directly contradicted her story so far, so I chose Doubt. Cole immediately accused the witness of lying. She refused to talk to me any further and the game’s UI made it clear I had blown the chance to get any evidence from this witness.

I restarted the case (there was not, unfortunately, a way to just restart the interview), sat through the unskippable scene introducing it, re-gathered evidence, talked to the guy in the crowd again, entered the store again, got stopped again, and sat through my partner telling me to interview the witness again. I finally got back to the witness and this time I selected Truth. Cole asked for confirmation of her claim, and then immediately accused the witness of lying. She refused to talk to me any further and the game’s UI made it clear I had blown the chance to get any evidence from this witness.

I quit. I uninstalled the game, and since this did not uninstall Social Club, uninstalled that as well.

I Stopped Playing When: I played for an hour, suffering through mediocre gameplay and confused storytelling to reach the first interrogation whereupon I was berated and punished for doing what I thought the game wanted me to do.

Docprof's Rating:

One Star: Not for me. While there might be someone out there who'd enjoy this game, I was actively repulsed by it or just found nothing to latch on to.

You can get it or learn more here.