Repetitive, linear, with limited player interactivity. The MotionScan technology saves an otherwise average game.
The only thing innovative is the facial expression technology, which adds such a huge dimension to an adventure role-playing game. Unfortunately, L.A. Noire is neither of those; it sits rather uncomfortably somewhere between watching an episode of Law & Order and playing an old Don Bluth game.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD! MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!
At first, you feel an intrinsic part of the game as you guide your protagonist, Cole Phelps, about the place armed only with a flash light, a pistol, and a bunch of good intentions. Until you realise that all you're really doing is moving him around until the controller buzzes to signify that you're near a clue (which most of the time are otherwise indistinguishable from things that aren't clues). Then you dutifully try to make him face the right direction and press the A button to see what you've found. Half of the time you've found nothing; a dirty bottle or, in a few instances, vegetables on the sink. Yes. Vegetables. It buzzes you to look at a carrot, only to have Phelps declare that not everything here is a clue. Thanks for the help.
You get used to randomly wandering about a crime scene waiting for the buzz, instinctively tapping A, and then playing the "roll the thumbstick around until the lettering on the shoe is aligned enough for Phelps to comment on it even though it's quite obvious to begin with" game. But in an effort to give the player some sense of interaction, we're forced to twizzle until (again) we get that reassuring rumble from the controller to tell us that we've found something.
There are several action sequences that you get to control Phelps in: driving, fist-fighting, chasing, and shooting. Let's break these down one by one.
Driving. Most of the cars not only look the same but drive the same, with the exception of a few fast cars and trucks. The fast cars go fast and feel a little lighter on the road. The trucks go slower and have poor turning circles. Apart from that, everyone might as well be driving the same car instead of the game having 95 supposedly unique vehicles.
Fist-fighting. Tap X, dodge. Tap A, punch. Rinse and repeat.
Chasing. Exactly what it sounds like. You'll meet many perps who would rather take their chances hot-footing it than let you question them. You'll chase them. Up drain pipes. Up ladders. Down ladders. Down drain pipes. Around corners. Over fences. Generally, you run a little slower than they do so unless you get extremely creative, you simply end up running behind them for the mandatory period of time (between 30-60 seconds) until they give up, take a hostage, or decide to stop and fight. Car chases are similar: chase, try to take them out early, or just keep up until they crash and give up.
Shooting. Yes, there is a cover system. No, the shooting isn't very challenging, fun, or entertaining. Or maybe I'm just used to modern games having far better shooter mechanics.
That accounts for most of the game. No, wait, I lie. There's also the tight-rope walking. I won't mention where or when this occurs, but you will end up suddenly learning how to balance and walk. Why? Why does this random game play element get thrown in at the point that it does? And why do I suddenly end up in "climatic" scenes where all I'm really required to do is run while things either blow up or fall down… run (sometimes in a single direction) until the next cinematic declares Phelps safe?! What possible point is there to such tacky, trivial game play except as a reminder that the player still has some kind of place in the game and isn't simply a viewer.
"What about the facial expressions and the interrogations?!" I hear you. I hear you. They're innovative and enjoyable, but ultimately not very hard. If the suspect is giving you the dodgy eye, you accuse them. If you have evidence to the contrary, you accuse them. If they look you in the eye and say something that sounds reasonable, then 99.9% of the time… they're telling the truth.
For someone who doesn't play a lot of games, L.A. Noire will probably seem fantastic, but as an old, grumpy gamer who expects a little bit more, there wasn't really a whole lot for me to get excited about. Remove the fancy new MotionScan technology and you're stuck with what would otherwise pass for a $20 puzzle game beside the likes of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened.