Except for one recent trailer released a week ago, Rockstar Games has been pretty quiet concerning information about its upcoming action-adventure game L.A. Noire. Originally announced as a Playstation 3 exclusive a few years back, Noire has been one of those titles which has had many in the games industry speculating over for some time. Although Rockstar has been incredibly tight-lipped about the game, this past week the silence was broken as PAX East convention goers were able to attend a half-hour presentation on this highly anticipated title. While attendees may have gotten tired of standing in line at Rockstar’s booth for hours on end to see the game in action, the time spent waiting was thoroughly rewarded as L.A. Noire did not fail to impress.
For those who have not been keeping up with the scant information that has been released about the game, L.A. Noire is a police procedural game that takes place in Los Angeles in 1947. Over the course of five cases, players control police detective Cole Phelps as he investigates a variety of murders and shady doings all based on real life crimes. As stated by a Rockstar representative during the half-hour presentation at PAX, Noire is “methodical by design.” While there will be car chases and shootouts, the main focus is on investigating crime scenes and questioning suspects over heavy-hitting action.
Although this may sound a bit on the dry side, L.A. Noire promises to be exciting throughout. Just like in Rockstar’s previous blockbuster hit, Red Dead Redemption, the world of Noire has great personality and fully capitalizes on the time period in which it is set. The game runs on the same Euphoria engine which ran Grand Theft Auto IV and Redemption. The world itself feels incredibly era authentic; characters use period appropriate slang and the game’s soundtrack is a beautiful and fitting jazz ensemble. While Noire may look great in screenshots, seeing it in action really makes a world of difference.
The PAX East presentation given by Rockstar Games focused on the first of the game’s multiple cases and had protagonist Phelps investigating into the brutal murder of a young woman. After a few scenes of exposition, Phelps arrived on the scene with his surly but experienced partner in order to speak with the coroner and comb over the crime scene. As the presenter told the room, players need to be incredibly observant of these scenes and would be wise to find any and all useful evidence.
Once Phelps finished talking to the authorities already present at the crime scene, he then set to inspecting the body. As was shown in the demonstration, players in L.A. Noire discover evidence by walking up to points of interest and then zooming in on the details they wish to examine. In the case of this crime scene, inspecting the right hand of the body allowed the player to rotate it and then finally zoom in to the ring finger which showed an indentation where a wedding band would be. Additional clues were found at the site while inspecting some nearby mud to find a size 8 shoeprint and happening upon a kitschy lighter from a nearby nightclub. All of the potential evidence found at the scene is added to Phelps’ notebook.
Sticking to the concept of Noire as a police procedural game, the Rockstar presenter made a point of explaining how the player’s notebook is the most important thing in their inventory at any point in the adventure. At any point in Noire, any discovered evidence or important details are added to the notebook. Should the player ever be confused or need to consult the information he’s gained so far into a case, the notebook can be accessed in any one of its three sections: people, clues, and locations. Possible suspects, crime scene details, and places of interest can be reviewed whenever the player feels the need.
The discovery of the nightclub lighter progresses the demo to a location called the Bamba Club where Phelps questions the club owner for information regarding the night of the murder. During the course of the conversation, regular breaks take place at points where the player is able to choose Phelps’ actions in the dialogue. Whenever the time comes to question a potential suspect in Noire, the player is able to choose from several options: truth, doubt, or lie. If the testimony a suspect is giving seems to line up with the facts and sounds sincere, the player can choose the “truth” option and Phelps will behave positively. However, should it seem as though the suspect is avoiding a topic or stalling, selecting the “doubt” option causes Phelps to act antagonistically and try to goad the suspect into cooperating. If at any point the evidence directly contradicts a suspect’s alibi, players can choose the “lie” option by selecting the relevant info and thereby shattering the suspect’s false claims.
Phelps will not need to rely solely upon the facts in order to determine if a suspect is being honest or lying. In addition to evidence and clues, the alibi of a potential suspect can also be judged by careful observation of their actions in dialogue. Each character’s face in L.A. Noire is fully motion scanned from their voice actor’s so as to provide a near lifelike appearance. For example, in the case of the club owner, there were several moments in the dialogue where the man in question looked away from Phelps or began stuttering when reacting to certain questions. Even though there was no evidence to imply that the man was lying, the unnatural body language was more than enough to prompt the use of the “doubt” option in conversation. By correctly choosing this dialogue option, the suspect cracked and handed Phelps the license plate number of a suspicious vehicle he saw the night before the murder.
Ultimately, the events in the presentation led Phelps and his partner, who also doubles as a handy hint system, to the home of the victim’s estranged husband. All of the evidence discovered and all the details gathered up to this point culminated in a one-on-one conversation between Phelps and the man. Between the husband’s suspicious behavior and the presence of some packed luggage and a note suggesting a possible death threat, the situation quickly becomes confrontational and the suspect aggressive. After a brief fist fight, Phelps puts the husband in cuffs and has his partner call in the arrest.
From the presentation given at PAX East, L.A. Noire looks to be a very ambitious adventure title and one to keep an eye on. While most games on store shelves these days focus on combat as the big draw, the attention on good investigation skills really could make Rockstar’s highly anticipated title stand out from the crowd. Mash Those Buttons will be sure to have a fully detailed review for L.A. Noire once it releases on May 17.