@NeowinGaming: Revisiting L.A. Noire - still the best facial animations

This is a bi-weekly feature in which we revisit games that influenced the future of gaming and established their position as a classic, so that we still reminisce them years after their original release. Head over to Neowin's Gamers' Hangout to share your own memories of classic games and you might get featured next time!

Two weeks ago, we revisited Valve's iconic Half-Life franchise, which was well-known for its fluid gaming mechanics, intriguing characters, and a fascinating story. This week, however, with Rockstar Games recently announcing that 2011's L.A. Noire will soon be making its way to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and VR platforms, it only seems fitting that we revisit the title.

L.A. Noire was developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games in 2011. Development on the title began in 2004, with a huge amount of money spent on creating and marketing the game for the next seven years. Many analysts peg it as one of the most expensive video games ever made.

L.A. Noire is set in 1947 Los Angeles, with the player taking control of an incorruptible war veteran, Cole Phelps, who joins the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Throughout the story of the game, players would be tasked with solving nearly 30 cases in various departments of the LAPD, such as patrol, traffic, homicide, vice, and arson.

So why did this seemingly simple and linear game take such a long time to be developed and require huge sums of funding?

Image via Game Informer

This is where it gets interesting: L.A. Noire utilized Depth Analysis' MotionScan technology, in which 32 surrounding cameras were used to record the facial expressions and animations of every actor portraying an in-game character. This was integral to the title's interrogation mechanic, in which players had to question witnesses and suspects, and determine if they were telling the truth or lying.

This motion-capture technology offered exceedingly realistic animations that were so ahead of their time, that games released even six years later can't compete with them. Even now, developers mostly rely on cinematic cutscenes to portray the more intense facial expressions of characters, the likes of which L.A. Noire successfully accomplished dynamically during gameplay back in 2011. If you're still not convinced about how good the animations in L.A. Noire were, take a look at the MotionScan in action below:

Although L.A. Noire is mainly remembered for its impressive use of motion capture technology, it doesn't mean that the game performed poorly in other aspects. The title drew inspiration from numerous real-life cases from books and movies such as The Naked City and The Black Dahlia. It offered a harrowing look at what actually goes on at a crime scene, the sadistic mindsets of serial killers, the motivations of common criminals, and external forces which hold pressurize authorities into working for their benefit, rather than that of the public.

Although the storyline feels fairly linear at first, as you play through the game, you realize that everything is connected. Backstories can be explored by reading newspapers, which further fleshes out the current story, allowing you to connect the dots before everything is revealed outright. You could fail in some cases, depending on the level of your detective skills, and although it didn't impact the overarching storyline, it was still interesting to see that the game allowed for some deviation.

Image via Gamepur

L.A. Noire featured a dark and film noir visual style, which fitted in well with the overall tone of the game - it could also be played in black and white. The aesthetics and gameplay borrowed from popular works of fiction such as L.A. Confidential, The Untouchables, and Chinatown.

Furthermore, L.A. Noire featured a star-studded cast, the likes of Aaron Staton, Michael McGrady, Adam J. Harrington, Andy Umberger, Patrick Fischler, Erika Heynatz, John Noble, Kurt Fuller, and Steve Rankin. Many of these would be working together on AMC's hit TV series Mad Men.

Perhaps the one area where the title faltered a bit was that although it featured a free-play mode where you could roam around in Los Angeles, aside from the occasional side-missions, there was basically nothing to do. Being an upright member of the police force, you couldn't even take out your firearm - let alone point it at somebody - and no in-game character would ever bother to take action against you if you drove your car around recklessly. Some PC gamers also bemoan the 30fps lock, but that can be surpassed with mods.

Image via VideoGamer.com

However, the positive aspects of L.A. Noire far outweigh this minor negative, making the title an absolute hit. It received rave reviews from critics and gamers alike, and won numerous awards. It sold over five million copies by the time the developer stopped supplying figures for it in 2012. Although fans have been clamoring for a sequel for the past six years, no concrete news has emerged on that front yet, likely because the title would take extremely long to develop with MotionScan technology and would be very expensive to make.

That said, there's no reason why you shouldn't jump into the original game right now. The title feels graphically superior to almost all current games, and coupled with a 24+ hour storyline (depending upon your play style), you'll find yourself absorbed into the intriguing game for quite some time. L.A. Noire is also slated to launch on November 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, HTC Vive, and Nintendo Switch.

Have you played L.A. Noire? What do you think of the title? How does its facial animations stand up to current games? Is it still worth playing? Let us know in the comments section below!


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