L.A. Noire is a neo-noir detective action-adventure video game developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games. It was released in May 2011 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, in November 2011 for Microsoft Windows, and in November 2017 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Set within Los Angeles in 1947, the game follows the story of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detective Cole Phelps, who solves a range of cases across five divisions, but soon finds his personal life falling into a turmoil when he becomes involved in a particular case that ties into his past as a member of the US Marine Corps during World War II; the storyline also briefly follows Jack Kelso, a former member of Phelps' unit in the war. Players must investigate crime scenes for clues, follow up leads, and interrogate suspects; the player's success at these activities will impact how much of each case's story is revealed.
The open-world design lets players freely roam Los Angeles's open landscape, and its world is navigated on foot or by vehicle. The story is centred on the case sequences, and many missions involve shooting and driving gameplay. It is played through a third-person perspective. L.A. Noire also contains elements found in action-adventure games, such as side missions and a branching storyline. The game uses licensed music provided by an in-game radio, and features an original score.
The development of L.A. Noire began in 2004, shortly after the founding of Team Bondi, and was shared between the multiple Rockstar studios around the world. The game was delayed numerous times through its seven-year development, which included a change of publisher and platforms. The working hours and managerial style of the studio was met with public complaints from staff members, and Team Bondi closed shortly after the game's initial release. The development team found influence from the plot and aesthetic elements of film noir—stylistic films made popular in the 1940s and 1950s that share similar visual styles and themes, including crime and moral ambiguity—along with drawing inspiration from real-life crimes of the time for its in-game cases.
The game is notable for being the first to use the newly developed MotionScan technology developed by Depth Analysis. MotionScan uses 32 surrounding cameras to capture actors' facial expressions from every angle. The technology is central to the game's interrogation mechanic, as the player is required to use the suspects' reactions to questioning to judge whether or not they are lying. Over twenty hours of voice work was recorded for the game.
Extensively marketed, L.A. Noire was the first video game to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, and received widespread critical acclaim for its advances in storytelling, presentation, and facial animation technology. It had been reported to ship over[b] five million copies worldwide. L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, a subset of the game's cases for virtual reality supported through the HTC Vive, was released on 15 December 2017.
L.A. Noire is an action-adventure neo-noir crime game played from a third-person perspective. The player completes cases—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story. The game also features a mode which allows the player to freely roam the open world and engage in optional activities. The world features multiple landmarks, which are all based on real monuments from 1940s Los Angeles.
The game takes place in the city of Los Angeles, in the year 1947, with the player assuming the role of Los Angeles Police Department officer, and later detective, Cole Phelps. The game starts with Phelps as a uniformed patrolman, and follows his career as he advances through the police department bureaus (desks) of Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Each desk gives the player a new partner who will help Phelps in his investigation of a number of cases based on a specific type of crime. The game assigns the player with cases that they must solve. After each case, the player receives a rating of 1–5 stars depending on their performance in both interrogations and searching for clues. In some cases, when searching an area for clues to the crime, the player can also find newspapers. Besides reading the story, the newspapers give access to a short cinematic that either covers a part of the game's overarching plot or a flashback to Phelps's war memories. Near the end of the final desk, the player assumes control of private investigator Jack Kelso, who becomes the player character for most of the remaining cases; although different in appearance and personality, his controls are identical to Phelps.
The game blends investigative elements with fast-paced action sequences, including chases, combat, interrogations and gunfights. The player character uses melee attacks and firearms to fight enemies, and may run, jump or use vehicles to navigate the world. In combat, auto-aim and a cover system can be used as assistance against enemies. Should player characters take damage, the character's health will gradually regenerate. Weapons can only be used in appropriate circumstances, such as during firefights. When driving vehicles, the player has the option to skip directly to the destination by nominating their partner as the driver. The player can also ask the partner for directions. In addition to storyline cases, the player may engage in optional side investigations, known as Street Crimes, that are not related to the case that they are working on. Some street crimes will feature characters from previous cases.
Suspects and witnesses in a case can be interrogated for information. When the interviewee responds, the player is given the option to either believe them, doubt them, or accuse them of lying.[c] If the player accuses them of lying, they must submit evidence to prove it. When interrogating two suspects at the police station, the player may decide whom to charge with the crime; charging the wrong suspect affects the player's end rating. The player is presented with the option to skip past an action sequence and continue through the narrative if they fail it three times. There is also a free roam mode called "The Streets of L.A.", which is unlocked after each crime desk is completed, except for the Patrol desk. In this mode, the player and his partner are allowed to freely roam the city of Los Angeles. The player can replay Street Crimes, find Golden Film Reels, discover Landmarks, collect Hidden Vehicles, find Badges or just cruise around and listen to the radio.
Following the end of World War II, Cole Phelps (Aaron Staton), a decorated United States Marine Corps veteran, returns to Los Angeles and works as a patrol officer of the LAPD. In 1947, after successfully solving a major murder case and being promoted to detective, Phelps earns a reputation over the next six months for solving difficult cases for both the Traffic and Homicide divisions; he most notably concludes the Black Dahlia case.
Upon being promoted into the Vice division, he becomes involved in the investigation into military surplus morphine syrettes being sold on the street, stolen from the ship that had brought home his former Marine unit. He learns that several members of his former unit had stolen and distributed the morphine, only for them to be assassinated on the orders of Mickey Cohen (Patrick Fischler), who controlled the city's drug trade. During this time, Phelps falls for German lounge singer Elsa Lichtmann (Erika Heynatz) and has an affair with her.
Roy Earle (Adam J. Harrington), Phelps's partner in Vice and a corrupt cop, helps several prominent figures in the city draw attention away from a major prostitution scandal by exposing Phelps's adultery before he is able to draw a confession from Courtney Sheldon (Chad Todhunter), a member of Phelps's former unit, over his involvement with the stolen morphine. In exchange, Earle is given a place in a syndicate known as the Suburban Redevelopment Fund (SRF)—a program founded under the pretense of providing affordable housing for returning veterans. Phelps's marriage ends, he becomes disgraced in the LAPD, and he is demoted to the Arson desk, where he is tasked with investigating a number of suspicious house fires. Despite noting a strong connection between them and a housing development that the SRF operates, Phelps is warned off by Earle from pursuing the syndicate and its founder, tycoon developer Leland Monroe (John Noble). Seeking help, Phelps prompts an old comrade, Jack Kelso (Gil McKinney), now an investigator for the California Fire & Life Insurance Company, to look into the matter.
Kelso discovers that the development is using unsuitable building materials and that his boss Curtis Benson (Jim Abele), a member of the SRF, is insuring them despite this fact. Following a shootout at Monroe's mansion, Kelso learns that the syndicate used a patient of prominent psychiatrist Harlan Fontaine (Peter Blomquist), a member of the SRF, to burn down the homes of those who would not agree to sell their property to the fund; eventually, his patient accidentally killed four people in one such fire and became irreversibly traumatised. Confronting Fontaine at his clinic, the patient murders Fontaine and kidnaps Elsa.
Investigating Fontaine's clinic, Phelps discovers that the syndicate was a front to defraud the US Federal Government: Monroe would acquire land with money invested by the syndicate and build surreptitiously cheap houses on them to increase their value, knowing the government would later purchase the plots through eminent domain to make space for a new freeway. Phelps also discovers that Sheldon, overcome with guilt, had provided Fontaine with the stolen morphine under the pretense that Fontaine would legally provide the morphine to medical facilities with the profits being reinvested into the SRF; Sheldon was later murdered by Fontaine after gaining knowledge of Kelso's investigation into the SRF. Kelso realises that Fontaine's patient was Ira Hogeboom (J. Marvin Campbell), a former flamethrower operator from his and Phelps' unit who became severely traumatised after unintentionally burning out a cave of civilians on Phelps's orders. Phelps and Kelso pursue Hogeboom and Elsa into the Los Angeles River Tunnels. The pair rescue Elsa, and Kelso executes the incapacitated Hogeboom to end his suffering. As the water rises within the tunnels following intense rainfall, the group attempts to escape, but Phelps is unable to reach the exit and drowns.
A funeral is held for Phelps. As Earle delivers a eulogy for Phelps, Elsa leaves in disgust. Herschel Biggs (Keith Szarabajka), Phelps's Arson partner, tells Kelso that while Kelso and Phelps were never friends, they were not enemies either. In a closing epilogue flashback, Kelso is revealed to have known about the stolen morphine but refused to be involved in its distribution, knowing the trouble it would cause.
Team Bondi began to develop L.A. Noire following their founding in 2004. Initially due to be published by Sony Computer Entertainment, the publishing rights were later handed over to Rockstar Games in September 2006. Though Team Bondi oversaw development, the work was shared between Team Bondi and multiple Rockstar studios around the world. Unlike other games by Rockstar, which run on their proprietary Rockstar Advanced Game Engine, L.A. Noire uses a custom engine, which includes a combination of facial motion capture and animation software. that was developed around the PlayStation 3's unique Cell Synergistic Processing Units (SPUs). The game is notable for being the first to use MotionScan, developed by Team Bondi sister company Depth Analysis. MotionScan functions by recording actors with 32 surrounding cameras to capture facial expressions from every angle, resulting in a highly realistic recreation of a human face. The technology is central to the game's interrogation mechanic, as players are required to use the suspects's reactions to questioning to judge whether or not they are lying. Analyst estimations place the game's combined development and marketing budget at more than US$50 million, which would make it one of the most expensive video games ever made.[d]
The game is set in 1947 Los Angeles, and the open world was modelled accordingly. To model the city, the developers used aerial photographs taken by photographer Robert Spence. The team also used the photographs to create traffic patterns and public transport routes, as well as the location and condition of buildings. While striving to recreate an accurate model of 1947 Los Angeles, the team also took some artistic licence, such as including the appearance of the film set for D. W. Griffith's Intolerance; the set had actually been dismantled in 1919. In addition to recreating the city as it was in 1947, all of the in-game cases that the developers worked upon were each inspired in some part by the actual real-life crimes that the city's media reported on during that year. Each of the game's cases features at least a few of the real-life elements that were reported in newspaper articles of that time, with one example of a case that developers found inspiration for being the "Red Lipstick Murder". The case, part of the game's Homicide Desk, is based upon the facts and elements that were mentioned in articles about the real-life, unsolved murder of Jeanne French, a woman who was found dead in exactly the same conditions as the victim of the in-game case is found in, including the M.O. used on the victim, the state the body was left in, the lipstick message found on the body, and the initial suspect being the victim's husband, yet the in-game case differs from this in that it is closed by the main protagonist and not becoming a cold case towards the end of its investigation.
After a secretive audition process, Aaron Staton and Gil McKinney were selected to portray protagonists Cole Phelps and Jack Kelso, respectively. Their performances were mostly recorded using motion capture technology.
In October 2003, Team Bondi announced their first project, for "a next-generation Sony platform". In 2004, McNamara said that the project was wholly funded by Sony Computer Entertainment America. The title of the game was not revealed until 2005, when they announced that L.A. Noire was to be released exclusively to the PlayStation 3. In September 2006, it was announced that Rockstar Games would be handling the publishing of the game. The debut trailer was released in November 2010, followed by a behind-the-scenes development video the next month. The game missed its original projected "fiscal 2008" release date, pushed back to September 2010 to allow for further polishing. This was later pushed to the first half of 2011, and then narrowed down to March 2011. Later, the final release date of 17 May 2011 was confirmed for North America, and 20 May 2011 for Australia and Europe. To spur pre-order game sales, Rockstar collaborated with several retail outlets to provide pre-order bonuses.
A re-release of the game was announced on 7 September 2017 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with Virtuos handling the port. This enhanced version features finer texture details, upgraded weather effects, and new camera angles; the Switch version also features gyroscopic controls with the Joy-Con. All versions were released on 14 November 2017. Rockstar Games also announced L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, a subset of seven of the game's cases for virtual reality support through the HTC Vive. Developed by Videogames Deluxe, a new studio founded by McNamara, the game was released on 15 December 2017. Support for Oculus Rift devices was added in March 2018.
L.A. Noire features an original score. The game's score accompanies the gameplay, alerting players at specific times. Like other games published by Rockstar, L.A. Noire also contains licensed music tracks provided by an in-game radio. Over thirty songs, from artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, feature in the game. To work on the score, the team engaged Andrew Hale and Simon Hale, as well as Woody Jackson, who had previously collaborated with the team on Red Dead Redemption (2010). Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the score was inspired by orchestral scores from 1940s films. In addition to the original score and licensed tracks, the game also features original vocal recordings in order to create an authentic sound to suit the musical identity of the period. When The Real Tuesday Weld were commissioned to compose the original compositions, they sought vocals that could "evoke the period", ultimately falling upon Claudia Brücken. Three vocal tracks were produced: "(I Always Kill) The Things I Love", "Guilty", and "Torched Song". The game's score won the award for Best Original Score at the 2012 BAFTA Video Games Awards.
Several standalone cases, collectibles and challenges for the game were released as downloadable content in the months following its release. "The Naked City", released on 31 May 2011, is a standalone Vice case that follows the murder of a model. It is based on Jules Dassin's 1948 film of the same name. "A Slip of the Tongue", released on 31 May 2011, is a Traffic case that focuses on a grand theft auto. "Nicholson Electroplating", released on 21 June 2011, is an Arson case based on the 1947 explosion of the O'Connor Electro-Plating company. "Reefer Madness", released on 12 July 2011, is a Vice case that leads the detectives to further conspiracies about illegal reefer operations. "The Consul's Car", released on 26 July 2011, is a Traffic case that follows a grand theft auto; initially released exclusively for North American PlayStation 3 versions, "The Consul's Car" was later made purchasable in Europe, and eventually included in The Complete Edition. All in-game items initially available as pre-order content were also made available as downloadable content on 31 May 2011: two suits, the Broderick and the Sharpshooter; two guns, the Nickel Plated Pistol and the Chicago Piano Gun; and the Badge Pursuit Challenge, challenging players to collect badges placed around the game world.
On 28 September 2011, Rockstar announced the PC version of the game, subtitled The Complete Edition, which was released on 8 November 2011 in North America and 11 November 2011 in Australia and Europe. It contained all downloadable content from the original versions. Enhancements include keyboard remapping and gamepad functionality, increased fidelity, graphical enhancements, and stereoscopic 3D support. The Complete Edition was made available for consoles shortly afterwards.
L.A. Noire received "generally favorable" reviews from critics, according to review aggregator Metacritic. L.A. Noire has been widely praised for its advances in storytelling and facial animation technology.
The first review was published by UK newspaper The Guardian, which awarded L.A. Noire a perfect score, praising its similarity to film. GameZone also compared the game to older movies and felt that its attention to detail set it apart from other games. PlayStation: The Official Magazine compared L.A. Noire to an AMC television series that slowly builds and gets viewers hooked.
Edge praised the facial technology, and pointed out that while there are no other major aspects of the game that had not been done better elsewhere, the fact that Team Bondi had brought together such a wide range of game genres in such a stylish, atmospheric, and cohesive manner was an achievement that few developers had managed. GameSpot's Carolyn Petit praised the game's investigation system and overall style, while GamesMaster concluded that L.A. Noire is the most mature Rockstar open-world game.
Official Xbox Magazine said that the game was the closest thing the Xbox 360 had to Heavy Rain, but noted that it was "flawed". IGN also thought L.A. Noire resembled Heavy Rain, albeit a poorer version. They did feel that the game "almost succeeds" at creating a new structure for video games. Joystiq stated that "L.A. Noire may not always be 'fun' in the traditional sense, but it's also unsatisfied with being 'merely fun', and the result of that aspiration is something that no one who cares about video games should miss."
Despite the overall positive reception, some reviewers thought that the game had too many redundancies in the cases and left too little control to the player, leading to the game being boring at times. Although 1UP gave it a perfect score, they also warned that the extended-cut scenes in the game could make some players feel they lost control of the action. GameTrailers concluded that the game's repetition dragged down, but that it was still an overall positive experience that focused more on the characters than other games.
Responding to criticism that accused the characters' bodies of being lifeless, despite the game's use of motion capture, Brendan McNamara, the game's director and writer, defended the game in an interview with Eurogamer. McNamara felt that people were responding to the realism in the faces and it made the bodies look lifeless by comparison because of the lack of animation on characters' clothing. In the same interview McNamara also noted that Phelps responds aggressively to certain prompts because the game was originally written as "coax, force, and lie". When the game came out, it was changed to "truth, doubt, or lie" which made Phelps commonly take awkward stances from what the player expected.
At the 2012 BAFTA Video Game Awards, L.A. Noire won the award for Best Original Score, the game was also nominated in seven other categories. The Nintendo Switch and VR versions were nominated for Best Remake/Remaster in IGN's Best of 2017 Awards, and for the Tappan Zee Bridge Award for Best Remake at the New York Game Awards 2018, while the VR version itself was nominated for "Best VR Audio" at the 16th Annual Game Audio Network Guild Awards.
On the day of the game's U.S. release, shares in Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games' parent company, closed up 7.75% on the day; a three-year high for the company. The rise was attributed to the positive reviews that L.A. Noire had been receiving. In the last available figures from February 2012, the game had shipped almost 5 million copies.
L.A. Noire went straight to top of the UK games chart and became the fastest-selling new intellectual property in the UK (a record it held until the 2014 release of Watch Dogs). It stayed top of the UK game chart for three weeks. In Australia, video game stores in major cities reported that the game was going out of stock after a week. L.A. Noire was released in Japan on 7 July and sold a combined 71,057 units on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The PlayStation 3 version topped the chart, with 58,436 units sold, and the Xbox 360 version moved 12,621 units.
On 22 May 2011, McNamara said that a sequel to L.A. Noire would take less than the five years it took to develop the first as the technology already exists. He also stated that they were considering using the MotionScan technology for full body performances rather than only faces. The same week, in an investor conference call, Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick said that L.A. Noire was "a very successful release" and that they "have every reason to believe that L.A. Noire is another strong franchise for this company". He reiterated that they "do see L.A. Noire as a powerful new franchise".
During an investor call in November 2011, Zelnick re-iterated the importance of the game to Take-Two, stating that the game "has become an important franchise for the company." He announced that the game was Take-Two's "most successful new release" in the past fiscal year and has become a key property in its portfolio. Also in November 2011, it was announced that McNamara's next game would be titled Whore of the Orient, described as "one of the great untold stories of the 20th century". It was to be developed by KMM Interactive Entertainment, a studio set up by Kennedy Miller Mitchell after acquiring most Team Bondi assets in August 2011, but was confirmed to be cancelled in June 2016.
On 13 February 2012, Rockstar Games answered numerous fan questions about their games, including a question regarding the future of the L.A. Noire franchise. Rockstar said that they are "considering what the future may hold for L.A. Noire as a series", adding that they "don't always rush to make sequels". They also announced that no further DLC or additional content would be developed for the current edition. In March 2013, Karl Slatoff, chief operating officer of Take-Two Interactive, revealed that the company has an "extensive pipeline of unannounced titles in development" and mentioned that the L.A. Noire franchise was important to the company.
- Additional work by Rockstar North, Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar San Diego, and Rockstar New England; ported to Microsoft Windows by Rockstar Leeds.
- Accurate figures for sales to the public are rare. Most publishers only release "shipped" or "sold-in" figures, which reflect the amount of stock moved to stores for sale and are not the same as sales to the general public.
- These options are presented as "Truth", "Doubt", and "Lie" in the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows versions. They were changed to "Good Cop", "Bad Cop" and "Accuse" in the Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions to "more accurately reflect Phelps' behaviour when a player selects each choice". The commands were originally written as coax, force, and lie.
- BBC News reporter Kev Geoghegan estimated that the development budget for the game exceeded US$50 million.
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With the exception of its facial capture, there's no single aspect of Team Bondi’s title that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, but few developers have brought such a diffuse set of genres together so atmospherically, stylishly or cohesively.
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I might think the guy's innocent, but except on rare occasions, I'm just going through the motions and have no control over the end result.
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Gamers who had soured on more "cinematic" games like Heavy Rain or Metal Gear Solid 4 may get a little annoyed at the film-inspired cut-scenes in L.A. Noire. While most of the cinematics last only a minute or so, there're a lot of them. It eventually becomes more like watching an interactive movie, with the game only demanding that I hop in the car and drive to the next location in order to trigger another cut-scene
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