I've been following this website like a lost puppy for almost two years now and it's an odd coincidence that I happened to finish L.A. Noire last weekend and noticed this disappointment post up. I made a comment and mid way through, I started to notice that it was running kind of long in the tooth and sort of absent-mindedly pressed the submit button. After asking a few cursory questions in the chat feature, I discovered that Destructoid had a blogging capabilities. I decided that my full opinion would be explained better in this format. And throwing this up here for good measure.
Like I said in my comment, I disagree with this article. It is by no means a perfect game. And some of those issues are addressed in the original essay. But overall, I found it to be an incredibly unique experience, unlike anything else I've ever played. And Rockstar has a knack for creating interesting characters as of late. I've played Red Dead Redemption, Bully, GTA4 and it's DLC bits as well as L.A. Noire and the main protagonists in each may not always be immediately likeable, but they'll always be immediately memorable.
Speaking of characters, let's talk about Cole Phelps. The one thing I want to bring up that struck me as a weird statement was that 'Cole Phelps is a Prick' bit. I can kind of see where people can say that but I think a better way of saying it is that Cole is just intense about his job. You remarked early on that the context of Cole is always him at work and the story twist with his eventual marriage problems is pretty weak. I do agree, that part could have been handled better by adding a scene or two of Cole off duty, I think the intended purpose was that Cole doesn't really have a social life outside of his job.
He goes to work, stays at work, spends a small amount of time in the Blue Room Jazz Club and goes home and goes to sleep. He never partakes in any drinks at the job (that we see) and he is almost always strictly business. I would argue that the reason why this story twist happened in the first place is because he had an estranged relationship with his family already. He came back from the war with alot of personal baggage in the form of two VERY serious mistakes that he cannot fix. Cole's by-the-book morals were likely to tear him apart because of this. As a result, he wanted to do something, anything to make it better. Hence him joining the law enforcement of L.A.
He's in Law Enforcement because he figures that's his sole shot at redemption. It's the underlying fuel to his entire character. He will do everything to the absolute letter to get it done to the best of his ability. His fall from grace isn't so much the actual relationship with Elsa, further cutscenes show that he apparently has no real shame about what he did, but rather his demotion pretty much prevented him from pursuing leads that would allow him to take on the Suburban Redevelopment Fund, which in turn prevents him from his mental salvation. He may have failed to stop what happened in the war, but here, in Los Angeles, he has a chance to make the world a better place, one busted criminal at a time.
This though, isn't immediately evident about him without playing the game the whole way through like I have. But the thing that sort initially sparked my interest about Cole was the fact that we have this morally upright guy that is a decorated war hero, but he doesn't want to talk about his past at all. What is he hiding from me (the player) that he doesn't want to talk about? Cole acts about how I hope the very best Police Officers do. What does he have to hide?
The clever thing about this game is that his partners not only help to flesh out Cole's morals but they also provide you with an effective foil to both Cole himself and the series of cases they are present for. The last three in particular, Rusty, Roy and Biggs all are the clearest signs of this. Rusty's a very lazy cop. He's been in Homicide for so long it's formulaic. While not always the case, Rusty would rather just charge the spouse of the dead person and be done with it. Cole fights him on this because Cole believes that you should treat each case independently one another and you can't things for granted. The entire final case of the Homicide part proves just that. If not for Cole, several innocent (although not totally morally correct) people would have went to jail. Rusty would not only have jailed these people, but went out for a drink afterwards and forget all about it.
Roy is an entirely different animal all together. He's not just crooked, he's smart enough to not get caught with it and clever enough to turn everything into his advantage. He has his hands in nearly everything. Considering the main plot of the game, I would not at all be surprised to learn that Roy went out of his way to be made Cole's partner to just shut him down eventually. At first, Cole doesn't know what to do with him. While Roy is a good policeman when it comes to getting the job done, the way he goes about it doesn't sit right with him. Cole chooses to do next to nothing about it. But as the game goes on, Cole starts reacting to him, eventually violently. He openly speaks out against him and even has an incredibly heated argument with him. As a person experiencing this story, Roy is every single trait of a bad cop (especially during this time period) and you are going to hate him for it.
Biggs is a pretty alright guy, most things considered. He makes up the part of the game at the very end and he's resigned to his position. He works in arson, an assignment he accepts because he knows he's a bit past his prime and a recluse. The introduction to this character is basically him telling Cole that he isn't up for trying to get to know him: He works alone. Because of his demotion, Cole has even more reason than before to investigate the Suburban Redevelopment Fund. As a result, he is chomping at the bit to find out more about it. Biggs eventually does get swept up in Cole's theories and has no real reason not to, they're all making far too much sense. In the end, Biggs comes to a mutual understanding with Cole and helps him with his endeavors, something that eventually costs Cole his life.
In my opinion, Cole is easily one of the best, nuanced characters you can make in a game like this. He both fills in the role as a player trying to do their best to earn high ranks and ask the right questions and as a character on his own personal vendetta to repent for his past sins.
While the game's characterization and story are top notch, I do agree that there are some gameplay elements that could have been handled a bit better.
The investigations, for the most part, are perfectly fine. You arrive on the scene, investigate clues strewn about the crime scene and interrogate witnesses. One thing that I think would have really helped mitigate some early player frustration is better explaining the Truth/Lie/Doubt system. I don't know about you, but I absolutely hate that noise you get when you answer something wrong. There's an innate twinge that goes off in the back of my brain that wants to just restart the case so I can try it again. But the problem here lies in telling the difference between a Doubt and a Lie, something that took me a good deal of time to figure out. You press the Lie button when you can provide evidence contrary to the witness' statement. You press the Doubt button if you can't but know the person isn't telling the truth. Shedding the light on that would have alleviated some frustration in getting alot of wrong answers early on.
I don't really understand why you feel that taking away the inability to lose removes some enjoyment of the game. I honestly feel that this game is much better off for taking that off the table. Because the other way around leads to some highly unenjoyable moments. A game similar in tone to this, is the Phoenix Wright series. Heck, I have one of the characters as an avatar. In the original game, the single most frustrating part of the game was failure. Because if you did, you had to pretty much restart at the last save point, which were not very generously spaced. It was annoying and unnecessary, but at least the cases in that game were somewhat short in comparison and my only real penalty was a few minutes of pressing the A button. With the much more time intensive L.A. Noire, this would have been a death knell. I think that if the game had a failure status for investigations, alot less people would have completed it as a result.
I think the cases overall are fairly well paced, but I can see why some people say that the early bits of Arson are pretty slow. The fever pitch established by Vice is certainly missed. But the lull is intentional. It gives the player time to access this new situation they are in and gives Cole some real motivation to see his story arc through to the end. The newspaper and flash back bits help stem the tide of discontent a little bit, because this is about the point where the most morally damaging bits of Cole's story come to light.
The Driving and the Gunplay are pretty basic and completely skippable. I wouldn't if I were you, because they help break up the longer investigation bits and are exciting. I think they are appropriately fleshed out for how long these segments last for. If this were the crux of the game, I'd agree with you that they should be more nuanced. But when you generally spend a minute or two at each activity, all that making them more complex would do is cause frustration when the game eventually demands that you learn functions that you are given little time to experience. Plus if all this truly bothers you, you can skip it.
This is of course, your opinion. I'm sorry that the game isn't what you were quite looking for and I hope that if they tweak the next one in the future (provided there is another one) so that the game can find a wider audience. I thoroughly enjoyed the game to it's fullest. It's easily one of the best games I've ever played and I plan on going through all the DLC content, which is something I rarely do. After being an avid reader of Destructoid for almost two years, I finally decided to join it so I could post this. I wholeheartedly recommend the game for anyone who's looking for some great characterization and story elements mixed into some one of a kind gameplay.