What Went Wrong With L.A. Noire?

Monster hunter rise sunbreak steamjackbox steam games L.A. NOIRE game Announcer: “We go to Washington now with national  news from American Century Broadcasting.”  L.A. Noire certainly wasn’t an unsuccessful  game—the reviews were almost universally   fantastic, and it sold quite well (at  least initially, breaking some records   and remaining atop several charts). However,  despite many nominations, it failed to win   any major awards besides two for music; and,  less than six months after the game’s release,   its developer closed its doors. Whenever the  game is raised in conversations now, two typical   responses seem to follow: either its underrated  but flawed; or flawed and disappointing.  My opinion lies more with the former, so  I’m fascinated with the thought process   behind the latter. What is it that players  find so disappointing about this game?   Why has it become so forgotten  despite its high review scores?   And why has it never received  a sequel? I’d like to find out.  Let’s take a look at what  went wrong with L.A. Noire. After spending three years developing the  PlayStation 2 game The Getaway at Sony’s Team   Soho in London, director and writer Brendan  McNamara moved back to his native Sydney,   Australia around early 2003. Within about six  months, he founded a new development studio,   Team Bondi, with some fellow Team Soho developers.  Before long, the studio started development on its   first game for the PlayStation 3, having signed an  exclusive deal with Sony Computer Entertainment.   By July 2005, the game had a name: L.A. Noire. By September 2006, the game was no longer a   PS3-exclusive—and Sony was nowhere to be seen.  Instead, the game was picked up by video game   publisher Rockstar Games—you’ve probably heard  of them. This certainly wasn’t the first time   Rockstar would publish an original game from  a third-party studio—but it would be the last.  In the months and years that followed,  Rockstar would go on to publish several   well-received games; among them: Bully, Manhunt  2, Red Dead Redemption, and, most notably,   Grand Theft Auto IV and its two DLC episodes. GTA  IV and Red Dead Redemption both went on to become   some of the best-reviewed games of all time, and  GTA IV in particular broke several sales records.   So, naturally, players and  journalists had one major expectation:  This is basically going to be  a new Grand Theft Auto game.  Despite some initial comparisons by the  developers, both Rockstar and Team Bondi—as   well as several previews of the game—tried to shut  them down, clarifying that L.A. Noire would be   its own thing, nothing like Rockstar’s popular  crime series. But the damage was already done.   Most third-person action-adventure games  that feature driving around a large map   will be compared to Grand Theft Auto by  default, but simply Rockstar’s involvement   was enough to keep these comparisons  at the front of everyone’s minds.   Even to this day, there are many players who are  unaware that the game wasn’t developed by Rockstar   and are probably confused when they find out that  it doesn’t play like GTA or Red Dead Redemption.  That’s the thing: once you actually play the  game, you find out that it’s really nothing like   Rockstar’s previous games. There’s no stealing  money or racking up a significant wanted level   with cops on your tail. You can’t pull out a gun  unless it’s within a sequence dictated by the   game, and, even then, you can’t shoot at anyone  besides the target without failing the mission.   It’s even difficult to run down  pedestrians, who are able to jump   out of harm’s way nine times out of ten. This is a slow, mostly linear game with a   strong focus on story and characters. The  game’s main mechanics involve sitting down   and talking to people and rummaging around  locations looking through useless junk.   This is not Grand Theft Auto, and  several people were disappointed by that.  But they shouldn’t have been. Not  if they knew who developed the game. The last game that Brendan McNamara worked on  before moving back to Australia and founding   Team Bondi was a PlayStation 2 game called  The Getaway. Now, if you’ve never played it,   The Getaway was quite an unconventional  game. The developers sought an immersive   and cinematic experience, having been  inspired by popular British gangster films.   In order to achieve this immersion, several  open world video game tropes were ignored.  Most importantly, there’s nothing on the screen.  There’s no mini-map—to find your destination,   you’ll need to follow whichever path your vehicle  indicators direct you. There’s no health bar—if   you want to know if you’re running low on health,  your character will move slowly and bleed.   And instead of collecting painkillers or first aid  kits or simply sleeping to restore your health,   just find a wall, lean against it, and wait for  all your bullet holes to seal themselves, I guess.  Despite all these unique gameplay features,  however, comparisons to Grand Theft Auto   were inevitable—and rather logical, considering  that Vice City had released less than two months   earlier. It’s an interesting comparison to make,  however—Grand Theft Auto had only gone 3D in 2001   with GTA III, about halfway through The Getaway’s  two-year development, so it certainly doesn’t   appear to have been a knock-off—but that didn’t  stop players and journalists from saying it.  Once you actually play the game, though,  the differences become clear. There’s still   shooting and driving and crime, even with its own  wanted level feature. Radio: “All units, vehicle   driving dangerously.” And, of course,  the camera angles are pretty similar,   but the similarities don’t go too much deeper  than that. The Getaway isn’t an open world,   free-roaming sandbox with a wide variety of  missions, side missions, and collectibles—it’s   a linear, character-driven narrative  game with a clear beginning and an end.   It’s not Grand Theft Auto,  nor is it really trying to be. Had players familiarised themselves with  the history of the developers, then,   they mightn’t have been so surprised by L.A.  Noire—it’s a linear, character-driven narrative   game with a clear beginning and an end. It’s  not Grand Theft Auto, nor is it trying to be.   It still has side missions to complete and  collectibles to find, but you either have to   actively stop in the middle of a case or select  an option in the main menu to do so. They feel as   though they exist more to appeal to the mainstream  audience or completionists than anything else—at   the end of the day, the game is about the story. If some Rockstar fans had known that,   perhaps they wouldn’t have bought the game—or,  at least, gone in with different expectations.  Does this mean Rockstar shouldn’t have published  the game? Of course not; it sold quite well, and   simply Rockstar’s name on the product was enough  to spark interest in its concept—not to mention   that, at the time, Rockstar was looking for these  unique and engaging experiences, to test the   different avenues that the video game medium could  explore. But simply the company’s involvement and   the inevitable subsequent comparisons, I suspect,  is one of the reasons that some players came to be   confused and disappointed by the game. But it wasn’t the only reason… For some of the final cases in the game, the  player no longer controls Cole Phelps—instead,   they’re placed in the shoes of Jack Kelso. Now, if there’s one thing that watching   some livestreams and videos of people  playing through the game has taught me,   it’s that a lot of people don’t understand who  Jack Kelso is or why they’re playing as him.   Some people straight up have no idea who he is,  and some think that he’s good friends with Phelps.  But, of course, if they’d paid  closer attention to the narrative,   they’d know who he is, and they’d know that  he’s certainly not good friends with Phelps.   They were candidates together at Camp Elliott,  where they developed an intense rivalry,   and they eventually fought together in  Okinawa, where they rivalry only intensified.   The only reason you’re playing as Kelso is because  Phelps can no longer investigate his case in an   official police capacity, but doesn’t want to ask  Kelso directly because their rivalry is so strong.  Therein lies perhaps one of L.A. Noire’s biggest  flaws in the eyes of a casual player: it demands   your attention. You can certainly still understand  most individual cases as their own episodes, but   to understand the overall narrative of the game  and its characters, you need to pay attention.   The game expects you to care about Phelps, Kelso,  the Marines, and the Suburban Redevelopment Fund.  If you weren’t paying too much attention, as  clearly some players and commenters weren’t,   you might think that Phelps’s affair comes  out of nowhere—but it most certainly doesn’t,   having been subtly teased as far back  as Traffic, and almost completely   given away several times during Homicide. This one is partly on the game for not emphasising   it, but you might be completely unaware that you’d  actually met the Black Dahlia killer Garrett Mason   in the past—twice, depending on your actions in  a previous case. And, without that recognition,   you’ll have to catch the almost-throwaway line in  the Homicide finale to connect the dots—Garrett   Mason: “D’you remember me, Detective? Cole  Phelps: “The temp bartender.”—because, of course,   at least half of his known victims had been at  bars he temped at the night they were killed.  And, of course, if you weren’t paying  attention throughout the flashbacks and   even some newspapers, you might be unaware  of who Ira Hogeboom actually is, and his   connection to both Phelps and Doctor Fontaine. The game expects you to care about these stories   and characters. But is that a bad thing? Not  really. By the time Phelps starts his affair,   you’re already around at least 12 hours into  the game; by the time you play as Kelso,   15 hours; and by the time you discover that  Hogeboom is behind the fires, you’re about   twenty minutes away from the end credits. It’s fair enough for a game to expect you   to care about its characters after 12 hours.  Whether or not you actually care is entirely   up to you—and not caring is perfectly valid  too—but similarly it’s not invalid for the   game to assume that you do care. But, judging  from most of the comments I’ve read about it,   the complaints spawn less from people not  caring, but more from them not understanding.  If the game had been throwing random characters  and stories at you out of nowhere in its   opening hour and expecting you to connect the  dots, then that is valid to complain about.   But, after 12 hours of playing, if you haven’t  been paying attention, then surely that’s on you,   not the game. And it’s not like it makes these  concepts difficult to understand—the Suburban   Redevelopment Fund can get a little complicated  with its many characters and concepts, but the   gist of it is simple enough to grasp—and the  rest of the stories are pretty straightforward.   You just need to recognise names and faces. In this way, I’m reminded again of The Getaway.   In that game’s very first gameplay sequence,  you’re placed in a car with absolutely no   instructions on your screen. You need to work  out the first steps yourself: chase that car.   At some points, it may end up getting away from  you and you’ll want to know where it’s gone.   Grand Theft Auto players might look to the  bottom left of the screen for a mini-map,   or perhaps in the pause menu for a missed  mission briefing—but they won’t find   anything. Attentive players, however, will  notice the car’s indicator keeps blinking.   And, once they turn in the direction  that it’s blinking, it will likely stop,   indicating that they’re on the correct street.  That’s the game’s navigation system, and,   unless they use an external guide or something of  the sort, the player has worked it out themselves.  Now that’s a gameplay example rather than a  narrative one, but the concept still applies—these   developers want you to pay close attention  to their games if you want the experience to   be beneficial to you. Of course, that’s not  exactly the wisest way to get more players   to buy and appreciate your game, but it’s a  commendable way to present your art, nonetheless. One of the most significant and important  mechanics in L.A. Noire is the interrogation   feature, introduced in the final tutorial case.  As part of this, you have a set list of questions   to ask to your person of interest—usually a  suspect or witness. Upon hearing their answer,   you have three options of response. In the  game’s original PS3, Xbox 360, and PC releases,   these options were: “Truth”, when you believe  they’re telling the truth; “Doubt”, when you think   they might be lying or withholding information but  have no evidence to prove it; and “Lie”, when you   believe they’re lying, upon which you’ll need to  select a piece of evidence to prove your claims.  It didn’t take players long to realise, however,  that something was up with Phelps whenever you   selected “Doubt”. He seemed to take their answer  far too personally. Cole Phelps: “You blew a man   out of his socks over an empty grudge, you son of  a bitch. Do you think I have sympathy for you?!”  This outlined a problem that several players had  about the interrogation system: it didn’t seem to   make sense. See, during development, these options  were originally presented as “Coax”, “Force”,   and “Lie”—meaning it wasn’t necessarily about  believing someone or doubting them, it was more   about persuading them to reveal information or  forcing them to. Changing this—while still keeping   Phelps’s responses the same—was seen as misleading  by some, and confusing by others. All they wanted   to do was doubt their answer, and suddenly Phelps  is screaming at them and threatening to put   them in jail. It’s an understandable confusion. The 2017 re-release on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One   (as well as the VR version) changed the  three options to “Good Cop”, “Bad Cop”,   and “Accuse”—definitely a step in the right  direction, especially for the middle choice,   but some still felt that it lacked the  nuance required for Phelps’s response.  Phelps’s anger issues aside, some players still  don’t seem to understand how these options should   be used. Perhaps they weren’t paying too much  attention during on the on-screen prompts during   your first investigation, or not listening to  Dunn when he explains them to you beforehand—or   maybe the game doesn’t make it clear enough—but  they’re actually fairly simple to understand.  If you think they’re telling the truth—or, in  other words, their expression doesn’t change   too much—then select “Truth” or “Good Cop”.  If you think they’re not telling the truth—or   looking away from you too  much—then check your evidence:   if you have something that clearly disproves  what they’re saying, select “Lie” or “Accuse”;   if not, select “Doubt” or “Bad Cop”. This logic  starts to falter as you progress through the game,   with more subtle performances and nuanced  answers, but it generally holds up. And if   you don’t understand that this is how it  works, the entire interrogation mechanic   might be a complete miss for you. I saw some  commenters admitting that, at one point,   they completely gave up and just started  selecting randomly to see what Phelps would say.  Because, of course, your choices  don’t really have consequences.   Selecting the wrong answer never really changes  anything. At worst, you might miss a bit of   evidence (which oftentimes can be found using a  different method later, but sometimes not at all),   or you might get a scolding from the captain  instead of a smile, and a low star rating at   the end of the case. But there’s no demotions, and  no being forced to do street crimes before getting   your next case (despite, on at least one occasion,  being told to do this exact thing by your captain,   only to receive your next case moments later). Perhaps this should have been a system that   was implemented—if you fail a case, you have to  complete a certain number of street crimes before   being asked to return to the office for your next  assignment. I mean, the street crimes are already   a feature in the game, so the implementation  isn’t totally bizarre. But, then again, perhaps   it would have disrupted the progression of the  main narrative, especially in the Homicide desk.  I know that some players wanted more choices  when it comes to evidence as well—and selecting   who to charge in a certain case. There are only  two cases in the game where you can choose who   to charge, but in both of these there is  a correct answer and an incorrect one—and   yet, in both cases, charging the ‘wrong’ suspect  will only get you a reprimand and low stars.  There are arguments to be made about the game’s  lack of choices, and whether or not adding more   options here would have improved the game. But, at  the end of the day, L.A. Noire is a linear story.   This is the story that the developers were trying  to tell, and if they felt that the addition of   player choices could be detrimental to their  storytelling, then who am I to say differently.  But this isn’t the only area in which the  game’s linearity was pulled into question. Perhaps this is due again to Rockstar’s  involvement, or perhaps the game’s marketing   made it seem that way, but L.A. Noire is  often believed to be a fully open world game.   But that’s only partly true. In some ways,  it is—it has a large world, full of detail   and intricately-crafted buildings, vehicles, and  characters. There are a few activities to complete   and collectibles to find. And, ultimately,  you can explore the world at any time. But,   once you’re within the main story, you cannot do  any of this while not pursuing an active case.  If you want to roam around the map looking for  film reels, fine, but don’t forget that the   coroner is waiting for you at the crime scene  with an already-decomposing body. If you want   to complete the army base obstacle course and  get the extra suit, go for it, but after that,   make sure you head over to William Shelton’s  residence to speak to him before he leaves town.   Once you’re done, of course—take your time. Because, of course, the only way to freely   roam the world while not in an active case  is by choosing “The Streets of L.A.” in   the missions list—and, at that point,  it’s basically a separate game type.  Perhaps granting this ability to explore the  world during a case is somewhat detrimental,   potentially drawing focus away from the main  narrative during a possibly intense case.   But, then again, if the player decides to drive  away from a case and collect police badges,   then is the developer really to blame?  You control the buttons you press—if you   want to focus on the story, the game  is actively encouraging you to do so.  That’s the thing: the game always feels focused on  the story. You always have a destination, and one   quick look at your notebook will remind you that  you’re still in the middle of an investigation.  To complain about, say, the NPCs repeating  the same lines over and over again—NPC:   “That’s that cop!” NPC: “Isn’t he the  cop who won a medal…?” NPC: “Isn’t that   the cop who caught the guy who was pretending  to be dead?”—is valid. But complaining about   a lack of activities to complete around  the world feels a bit less valid to me.  This isn’t Red Dead Redemption 2,  with its vast open world littered   with quirky and interesting characters to talk  to, help, or kill. Nor is it Grand Theft Auto,   with near-limitless opportunities to cause  as much chaos as you please. In L.A. Noire,   the open world is a bonus, not the focus. Making it a linear game without the ability   to drive between destinations could ruin  the immersion and lessen the pacing;   on the other hand, making it a fully open world  game with side characters to meet, errands to run,   and towers to climb would have the same effect,  drawing away from the immersion and the pacing.  To make the open world explorable—but not  mandatorily—then, feels like the perfect   balance. It helps to make Los Angeles feel large,  real, and alive, but not to the point where it’s   detrimental to the narrative or distracting to the  player. Because—and I feel like I’ve said this a   dozen times already—the focus here was clearly on  the story, and Team Bondi found an entertaining   and enjoyable way to do this. While still fitting  somewhat within the familiar Rockstar formula,   too, so it wouldn’t scare the fans off. Speaking of which, I feel as though the   addition of the street crimes in the game was  also a way to appeal to the casual gamer. There   are some gunfights and combat sequences in the  game, but they’re few and far between—especially   until the final act—so the street crimes act  as a way to include more of these sequences.  That being said, I know a lot of people  thought that they went too far with the   number of gunfights. More than half of the street  crimes—including all but two from Traffic—feature   shootouts. I believe only one actually  involves investigation, and none require   interrogation. They’re mostly gunfights,  fistfights, car chases, and foot chases.  Personally, considering the fact that these are  optional and I usually avoid them during my main   playthrough, I don’t really mind that much. But  it’s certainly a fair argument, and I definitely   wouldn’t have complained if we’d been given  more chances to investigate and interrogate   outside of the main story. Several street crimes  feature returning characters from the main game,   so to see even more—or to have these few recurring  characters expanded even more—would have been a   nice addition, and an effective justification  for completing all of the street crimes.  Despite the potential disappointment  of this side content, though,   it still doesn’t detract from  my ultimate opinion of the game. Notice the lack of the word “flawless”.  For something to be “flawless”,   it needs to be completely devoid of flaws  and faults, and while I don’t think it’s ever   possible to use the word “objectively”  to describe the quality of something,   I think there’s a large enough consensus to  agree that there are some flaws in L.A. Noire.   And I can agree with that—the lack of consequences  can sometimes pull you out of the immersion,   the NPCs often feel like set dressing  rather than part of a living world,   and the body animations frequently don’t  match up with the heads since they were   recorded separately, to name a few. But my usage of the word “perfect”   is in spite of these flaws. It’s not that  I’m unable to recognise and acknowledge them,   just that I ultimately find them so insignificant  that they’re unable to damage my own experience   of the game. They simply can’t shake the  feeling that L.A. Noire is perfect to me.  I’ve been putting some thought recently into the  games that I enjoy replaying every year or two—or,   at least, the ones that I think about replaying  before realising that I don’t have the time.   (Or the ones I think about playing before  just replaying Red Dead Redemption 2 again.)   There are a few—mostly for their narrative and  characters, or their art style and aesthetic;   sometimes I mostly just want to watch  a scene again and decide to replay   the entire game so I can view it in context. While recently replaying L.A. Noire, though,   I discovered that it may actually be the  quintessential game to fit those criteria.   It’s not necessarily the game I enjoy the most,   it doesn’t necessarily have my favourite  characters, and it’s far from the prettiest   game I’ve ever played. But there’s  something so comforting about it.  I know, that’s a weird thing to say about  a game like this—one with an entire chapter   based around naked, mutilated bodies, and with an  overall narrative thread of political corruption.   The story itself is typically  quite far from comforting.  Maybe it’s the mission structure—knowing  that, once I solve the Black Dahlia,   I’ll get promoted to Vice, and then once Cole  cheats on his wife, I’ll get demoted to Arson,   and then this is the part where I play as  Kelso… Perhaps it’s simply the knowledge of   where the narrative will go, and the absence  of any type of choice—not only in the cases,   but the cases themselves, which will always play  in the predetermined order, unlike the missions in   Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption games. Maybe it’s even the fact that I’ve played this   game so many times that I  know most of the answers,   at least in the first half, so I don’t feel  pressure to work too hard or stress myself out.  More than any of this, though,  I just think it’s the world.  I know I said that it’s not really a proper open  world game—and, really, I don’t think it is—but   I could spend hours simply existing in that  world. There’s next to nothing to do besides   a handful of street crimes and a few dozen  collectibles—I just want to drive around.  This is where I think L.A. Noire actually is a  Rockstar game—or, at least, what I find that it   has in common with most Rockstar games. Put me  in a nice car, at night, with the radio playing,   and I could drive around Los Angeles for  hours. There are very few other games that   can replicate a similar feeling, and pretty  much all of them are by Rockstar. I don’t   need dialogue or objectives—I just want to exist  in that world. I find a strange comfort in that.  That’s not to say that I don’t love L.A.  Noire’s dialogue and objectives, though.   I find the narrative so clever and well-written,  throwing enough twists at you to keep you engaged.   The characters are almost always fleshed out,  and every single performance shines, bar none.   The music is gorgeous and engaging, sometimes  haunting, and the three credits song have been   stuck in my head for at least eight years. So, what went wrong with L.A. Noire?   Depending on who you are and what you  expected, any number of things—from   the inevitable comparisons to Rockstar, to  the attention-demanding narrative, the lack   of player choice and consequence, Phelps’s anger  issues, and the large but mostly empty open world.  But at the end of the day, to me,  nothing went wrong with L.A. Noire. steam sale history Support Real Pixels on Patreon — Check out YouTube Membership — Twitch — Twitter — L.A. Noire certainly wasn’t an unsuccessful game, but whenever the game is raised in conversations now, two typical responses seem to follow: either its underrated but flawed; or flawed and disappointing. My opinion lies more with the former, so I’m fascinated with the thought process behind the latter. So let’s take a look at what went wrong with L.A. Noire. 00:00 - Introduction 01:07 - Go Away Rockstar 06:49 - To Be Fair, You Have to Have a Very High IQ to Understand L.A. Noire 11:03 - Phelps Needs Anger Management 15:14 - City of Angels, But Where Have They Gone? 19:20 - Why L.A. Noire is Perfect to Me 23:05 - Credits #LANoire #RockstarGames benton steam cream god of war ragnarok steam steam lessons for elementary gzdoom steam deck can i add pirated dlc to steam games