2011 Retrospective: L.A. Noire - September 3rd 2011

Our 2011 Retrospective continues with ambitious crime thriller, L.A. Noire. This was released following numerous delays and plenty of behind the scenes controversy at developer Team Bondi.

As Detective Cole Phelps, you're tasked with rising through the ranks of the L.A.P.D by solving crimes pertaining to different specialist investigative areas. Homicide and Traffic offer the most enjoyable cases, whilst Arson lacks intrigue and Vice is pretty boring overall. You're partnered with many different characters throughout the game, and they will often mention your previous efforts (both good and bad). There's also some not so subtle references to famous real world stories, such as the Black Dahlia, which is a nice touch. And despite some of the by the numbers cases that fail to excite, it's always hugely satisfying when you manage to outfox a suspect with a contradictory slice of collected evidence.

John Noble (Walter Bishop in Fringe) rounds out a fantastic cast.

The graphics are pretty spectacular, especially for a (sort of) open world game. Team Bondi's jazzy and painstakingly authentic recreation of Los Angeles is a sight to behold. Their attention to detail is unprecedented, even if the frame rate doesn't always hold up under scrutiny. Characters are brought to life by a broad range of recognisable Hollywood actors, and there's a pleasing variety to the blues heavy soundtrack that keeps you feeling undeniably post war.

However, this is a game of frustrating contradictions. Even though there's numerous people to interview and locations to visit per case, there's not much wiggle room within the narrative. You're left with an inescapable feeling that you're being led down a very narrow path. And for every amazing facial expression that defeats the uncanny valley, there's a stiff animation or strange design choice that rips you right out of the experience. For instance, the controls are easily L.A. Noire's greatest weakness. Having the run and shoot inputs mapped to the same trigger feels very awkward, and with cover set to R1, you never quite get comfortable with the combat side of the game. Thankfully, fire fights represent only a small portion of the overall single player campaign.

He's folding his arms. He must be guilty.

So, it's fair to say that L.A. Noire is an uneven experience. The developers have made great strides with their custom built facial capture technology. Environments are gorgeous and there's plenty of content to get through (plus DLC). But with cases that range from engrossing to predictable and dull, it can feel like a bit of a grind at times. If you can look past some clunky game design, there's some fun to be had here. But not as much as we'd like.

Jon Titmuss



Investigation and interrogation are enjoyable and rewarding, but the combat needs work and the cases are deceptively linear.


Some formidable acting talent and a cracking soundtrack secure top marks.


It might stutter every now and then, but the graphics are stylish and detailed.


There is nothing else besides the single player campaign, and some cases are far better than others.


Final Score:

L.A. Noire is an interesting, but ultimately flawed experiment.


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