L.A. Noire – Preview

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been over-enamoured by any Rockstar titles.  The Grand Theft Auto series did absolutely nothing for me and Bully, while it looked considerably different from most other games out there, just didn’t grab me by the balls and scream “play me, play me” like it perhaps should have.  The closest I’ve ever got to really enjoying a Rockstar game was when Red Dead Redemption was released and offered a little something different from the norm… a chance to play the part of the stereotypical lawless man on a quest for salvation but in the wild west environment.  My time with Red Dead Redemption was fun, but that fun was short lived as there was never that chance to exercise my brain beyond reaching a destination and either killing or retrieving something.

The first time I saw L.A. Noire being trailed, however, my interest was piqued.  It wasn’t necessarily anything to do with it being set in the post-war and post-prohibition era or the fact that it clearly leaned towards the film noir style of the 1940s detective movies… for me, it was the technology freak and graphic whore in me that immediately sat up and took notice when I first saw the incredible facial expressions and uber realistic characterisation.  Now that the game had my attention, there was the distinct possibility that the story or the gameplay would fall flat and leave me wanting more than was on offer, as with so many other titles in recent years, so I resigned myself to the thought of it being just another Rockstar game and leave me cold when it ultimately came to playing the game.

It wasn’t the case.  I have to address the aforementioned facial expressions though, as they play an incredibly important role in the game and are so much more than just impressive aesthetics.  The MotionScan technology used for the character facial expressions involves 32 video cameras simultaneously recording every single micro-expression as the actors deliver their lines, allowing for even the slightest nuances to be reflected on screen in such a way as you temporarily forget that you’re watching a video game character.  These expressions also serve to deliver clues when your character, Detective Cole Phelps, interrogates suspects and potential witnesses in order to pull information from them to progress the case in hand.

When faced with going down a particular line of questioning, you have to decide whether the person is telling the truth, showing a degree of doubt, or outright lying, and this is done by assessing their reactions and how their responses are delivered.  Without the MotionScan technology, this particular aspect of the game would fall flat on its face, and it’s this very feature that made L.A. Noire stand out as much as it did, for me anyway.  In other games, the dialogue tree would be presented and you would undoubtedly work your way through whichever options were available to you in the hopes that one or more would uncover a little more information to help you on your travels, but with L.A. Noire it’s almost the opposite… push a witness in the wrong direction by suggesting that they doubt their own words and they’ll clam up.  Tell them that you believe they’re lying and you have to immediately provide proof to back up your accusation, otherwise you lose all co-operation from them, but if you allow them to get away with lying and don’t call them on it then your investigation will take the wrong direction and push you further from the truth.  Everything you discover through investigating crime scenes and following specific lines of questioning is recorded in the government issue little black book that you’d find in any Columbo or Kojak episode, and acts as your standard questing journal, allowing you to reference and call up anything that you’ve stored previously.

Crime scenes, as you’d expect, yield a whole host of potential clues and it’s up to you to decide whether or not something has any relevance to the case.  Your partner, Detective Rusty Galloway, who is typically unhappy at being partnered with a rookie as per the unwritten law of any detective story, is there for more than just sarcastic retorts so if you find yourself at the point where you’re not sure what to do next, a glance towards your partner will often provide a hint towards your next move. Your partner also has the option of driving the car around, so if you don’t feel like navigating the streets of Los Angeles and would rather sit back and enjoy the ride, you can listen to the two detectives discussing the case notes as he drives to your next destination.

In order to further Phelps’ career in the LAPD to the rank of homicide detective, you must solve a series of crimes using clues and interrogation techniques, although the clues may sometimes prove to be red herrings while other more relevant and/or groundbreaking clues may appear less obvious.  With no on-screen health indicator, we rely on the amount of saturation to determine Phelps’ health, with full colour denoting full health and black and white meaning that he’s about to go to the big precinct in the sky unless you’re able to avoid any further damage long enough for his health to replenish.

As you’d expect from a 1940s post-prohibition crime game designed by Rockstar, it’s not just about driving around accusing people of wrong doings whilst writing up evidence bags.  There are times when it’ll be necessary to draw your weapon and get down and dirty with a good old fashioned gun fight or race after fleeing suspects in a fast paced car chase but, even with all this excitement going on, it’s impossible to lose sight of the game’s main premise – to use your powers of observation and deduction to get to the bottom of the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice. With enough puzzle solving to keep the point and click fans keen and the odd gun fight or car chase to rope in the action lovers, Rockstar’s L.A. Noire looks to have successfully bridged genres without shoe-horning anything in and, if the final game is anywhere near as good as today’s preview, it looks like it’ll leave a chalky line around other 2011 releases.

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  1. Edward Edward says:

    I’ve gone from 0 to excited for this now.
    I was previously only in it for the technology, but now you’ve explained more about what actually happens in the game I’m actually looking forward to this :D

  2. Ben Ben says:

    Regardless of how the game turns out in terms of playing, the contribution this looks like bringing technology wise is staggering. They’ve seemingly found a way to move the bar on Uncanny Valley and will likely have major knock on effects within not just games, but industry like cinema.

    Bold game for Rockstar but lets not forget Team Bondi either, a hugely successful game developed within Australian shores could do wonders for the industry down under, here’s hoping.

  3. Adam Adam says:

    The game really does look incredible. Every time Rockstar put out a game, I say the same thing to myself:

    “Oh great, something else I’m supposed to get excited about”

    And then the games release gets closer and they start telling you what they’ve actually been up too. I was sold on GTAIV’s cinematic quality they touted in the build up, bought into RDR’s promise of a damned fine Cowboy game and even though I couldn’t care to put myself into another Rockstar Open World of repeated story quests in different clothing, sidequests and a stupid amount of travelling from corner to corner, L.A Noire comes along and just blows my mind.

    The facial tracking is incredible, but that’s just the technical part. How they use it is stunning and the dialogue sounds and feels so authentic that you know this is going to be a very compelling story.

    Much more of this :D

  4. Kat says:

    Interesting read! I’m not as excited about LA Noire as I wish I was. It does sound pretty damn awesome but doubt it’ll be a release date purchase for me. The last two Rockstar games I bought – RDR and GTAIV both sucked me into multiplayer and I barely touched the campaigns. This does sound a little different though and coupled with it being set in almost the same era as Boardwalk Empire which I’m enjoying tons on telly means I may warm to it yet.

  5. Lee says:

    I honestly don’t think rockstar could make a bad game if they tried and I always knew this would be good but just how you would play it bothered me. Tthey could of played it safe (stupid) and gone down the kind of almost quick time event “press x to find a clue” style of play but I’m so glad they didn’t. Things need to be picked up, moved around and fiddled with. It would be completely possible to pick something up and not find the clue off it. This game will make you think and be completely different for everybody who plays it.

    Can’t wait for this game.

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    You know me… I’m such a tech freak and graphic whore, so when you see what they’ve done with L.A. Noire it’s just incredible. The realism, the fact that the characters genuinely look like they’re THINKING things over in their head, the genuine reactions… holy shit it’s unbelievable. This truly is groundbreaking stuff, and I hope other developers start to make good use of the tech as I imagine an Elder Scrolls game with the tracking would be insane. Hell yeah.

    I’m really excited about this, not just because of the tech but the whole investigation side of it too.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    As soon as I saw this at PAX, I was sold on it, wheras previously I was pretty lukewarm about the whole thing. The expressions and technology behind it were impressive, but it is the detective style gameplay that was the real draw for me.

    I agree with Lee that there was always a danger of it being simple button presses for this and that, and Rockstar just offering up a pretty ‘on rails’ game, however, this seems much more and I am truly looking forward to getting stuck in. I can see a lot of Rockstar fans hating the new direction in that it isn’t just dicking around with cars and guns in a sandbox, but the more cerebral game approach is very appealing. Great preview!

  8. [...] LA Noire is due to be released within the UK and the rest of Europe tomorrow (20th May), you can read our preview here. [...]

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