L.A. Noire Preview

Red Dead Redemption meets L.A. Confidential.

The sun shines high in the sky, illuminating the golden grass of the Los Angeles hills. A quiet breeze rustles the leaves as it passes through the trees in a small park. In a tiny clearing off the main road, a solitary figure lay still and lifeless. At a closer glance, the outline of a woman is made out. Her back to the ground, legs straight out, and her arms pleasantly at her side. Amid this peaceful scene, true horror begins to darken the bright day. The woman’s face stares straight ahead, eyes pointed at the heavens but unable to see anything. Dried blood trails out one side of her mouth and pools on the ground beside her. The other side of her head is a mess, bashed in at the forehead with bruises surrounding the wound. More bruises travel the length of her arms. Upon the torso of her naked body, the word “F**K” is scribbled crudely in lipstick.

[image1]Oh, by the way guys, this is a video game! Yeah. Right? This isn’t some serial killer movie or the primetime cop drama. This is Rockstar’s latest innovative offering. The folks who are famous for the immersive world of Grand Theft Auto and whose last game transported you to the grittiness and cold-blooded ways of The Old West have seemingly done it again. This time you are transported to Los Angeles in the year 1947 for some dark storytelling. This is L.A. Noire.

Much seems to be drawn from other stories with a similar setting. Think Chinatown, or more recently, L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia. Players will follow the story of one Cole Phelps, former decorated war hero in the Pacific who has turned to law enforcement as a way of righting wrongs in the world and, it has been suggested, redemption for his own past mistakes.

You will begin the game as a uniformed copper and as you solve cases, Phelps will work his way up through the ranks of the L.A.P.D., eventually making it to homicide detective where you will be exposed to gruesome scenes like the one described in the intro paragraph. You will have all of 1947 Los Angeles to search through and solve these cases. All in all, it will be about eight sq. miles and take about 30 minutes to drive from one end of town to the other. Faithfully recreated are landmarks like Union Station and the iconic Sears building, as well as others to complete the old skyline.

[image2]Adding to the authentic historic atmosphere are the references to the famous “Black Dahlia” case of 1946 and the “Lipstick Murders” of the same time with murders that seem identical. It is up to Phelps to figure out if these murders are linked, a copycat, or just someone trying to throw you off of his trail. I am hoping this incarnation of the famous case will be more entertaining than the movie of a couple years back, which sucked… except for the parts with Scarlett Johansson.

The process of investigating crimes is what will make this game one of a kind. At the crime scene, anything can be investigated. In the preview that the press attended, Phelps was able to look over the dead body to find clues as to the time and cause of death. As the surrounding area is searched, there will be many objects to investigate, from lighters and purses that give you clues to the possible suspects’ locations, to bits of paper and bottles that have no bearing on the case whatsoever.

All of these clues, locations, and suspects are kept in a notebook, which also serves as a menu for the player to keep track of during an investigation. Certain clues will be scratched off when they have served their usefulness. With all the possibilities that will be thrown at you, this will be indispensable in guiding you through the game.

When interrogating suspects, a menu will pop up after every answer they give. You have the choice of either accepting their story as truth, doubt, or if they are bullshitting you lying. Team Bondi is using a new mo-cap technology developed by DepthAnalysis called MotionScan, which is a state-of-the-art way of capturing facial expressions. Every actor involved in L.A. Noire has been scanned, and that includes 400 other people besides the main cast. That being said, the suspect’s facial expressions will be key in figuring out whether or not they are keeping anything from you. When telling the truth, their eyes will meet yours and their face will remain still. When holding back, the eyes get shifty and the mouth will quiver. The more they lie, the more obvious it will become as they bite their lip and dart their eyes from left to right.

[image3]The facial expressions are not just for investigations. It makes L.A. Noire simply beautiful. When informing a neighbor of someone’s untimely death, her face drops, the mouth clenches, and her eyes droops as she bursts into tears. The same goes for Cole Phelps, who is played by Aaron Staton of MadMen fame, when he looks at reporters in disgust or snarls in anger. This is the best facial expression animation I have ever seen in a video game, hands down.

While there is plenty of investigation and searching for clues, this is not just a better-looking version of the old Sherlock Holmes laser disc mysteries. There will be gunfights and brawling, but the emphasis of the game will be on crime-solving, leaving the sidearm as an option of last resort for the detectives (because that is what L.A.P.D. is famous for, using guns as a last resort…).

With over 20 cases to solve, and each one taking about an hour to complete, there is a whole earth day of gameplay in L.A. Noire. With as pretty as it looks and all the options that will keep you sidetracked, you may spend much more time than that. L.A. Noire will be released on May 17th and we will definitely keep you updated on any news from now until then.