Take a good hard look at the image below. While it's not the most exciting screenshot you'll see in your lifetime, it sure as hell gets us all giddy with anticipation. Y'see we've seen L.A. Noire running and those scarily realistic mugs you can see below play out with such expertly defined facial expressions and lip-synching that everything before it pales in comparison.
Strong words, sure, but the detail within the characters plays a far bigger role in Rockstar's detective 'em up than we could ever have hoped for. We could wax lyrical about the face-mapping technology, MotionScan, but let's tell you what L.A. Noire is about first.
Above: Detective Cole Phelps (left) and his partner Stefan Bekowsky. You get a new buddy as you progress
For starters, L.A. Noire isn't a free-roaming game in the traditional GTA style. It's a far more focused game featuring the story of Cole Phelps (played by Mad Men's Ken Cosgrove, Aaron Staton) and his rise from beat cop to famed gumshoe. Don't worry, there's still a wonderful recreation of 40s Los Angeles to explore at your leisure but developer, Team Bondi, have structured the proceedings so you're more or less aware of what to do next. Apparently, there'll be random events to solve that come through dispatch radio but the focus is on set crimes.
On the case
Rather than burst onto a crime scene and unleash fury with a variety of machine guns, L.A. Noire is more methodical. You roll up to the location and carefully comb around for clues and question witnesses to ultimately find out who did the evil deed. The mission we're walked through concerns a Hollywood actress, June Ballard and a 15 year old girl named Jessica Hamilton who've been drugged and driven off a cliff. Ouch.
Above: Spin items with the right stick until you hit the sweet-spot (read: rumble) to uncover potential evidence
It all starts in a police precinct with Phelps and Bekowsky being assigned to a case that brilliantly is just across the street. Outside you can see the painstaking detail that Team Bondi have gone too to create a classic LA LA Land. It all looks beautiful and small touches, like a group of passers-by who stop to gather and point at the crime scene, really add to the atmosphere.
There's a car that's crashed into the backside of a giant billboard. Sadly, for the occupants of the vehicle, it's over a cliff and there's blood everywhere. The cordoned off area is buzzing with police presence, each one uniquely portrayed by a different actor with different lines of dialogue. Phelps and Bekowsky speak with a beat cop who informs them that both Jessica and June survived the crash - June is dazed in the back of an ambulance and Jessica is in hospital. They head down to the crime scene to look for clues.
Thankfully, the evidence has already been gathered and lie neatly on the boot of the smashed vehicle. You can pick each one up to check it for clues - some will yield helpful tips, others will be red herrings. Here there's a small shrunken head ornament and disturbingly, a pair of knickers that have been ripped in half. This marks another unique twist for L.A. Noire, the stories can be dark like the night. This one in particular involves the potential drugging and rape of a 15 year old girl.
Above: You'll often find reporters and photographers at the scene of the crime
After checking in and around the car Phelps and his buddy head up the cliffside to question June Ballard. As the interrogation begins, the dialogue is noticeably fluid between the characters and because it's all in-game visuals being used it never feels like a jolt into 'game' mode. June is being cagey and slightly flirty with Detective Phelps, but he quickly rebuffs any come-ons.
If you've seen Lie To Me or ever had a compulsive liar of a friend then you'll be familiar with looking for facial characteristics that mean they're talking BS, it's the same in L.A. Noire. Tiny nuances in expressions lead you to select one of four options while interrogating - Believe/Coax, Doubt/Force, Disbelieve/Accuse or produce evidence. One false move could see you end a line of questioning and therefore make your case harder to solve.
For example, June Ballard gets the short shrift from Phelps because she's an older lady who's seemingly a bit of a bitch. Jessica Hamilton on the other hand is advised to be handled with kid's gloves as she's a minor and been through a rough time. It all feels organic to your life as detective and rewards your sleuthing skills.
From a letter found in the car, it's clear that Jessica is a runaway and is living with her auntie, who just so happens to be June Ballard. Turns out Mrs Ballard took her niece to a casting where they were both drugged and Jessica was sexually assaulted. Gritty, eh?
Above: All the vehicles are fully licensed and you can even get your buddy to drive if you can't be bothered