LA Noire: An eyes-on preview of Rockstar's detective-thriller

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



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  • kor2disturbed - November 30, 2010 10:47 a.m.

    I couldn't keep myself from giggling from excitement while reading this. I really hope it lives up to expectation!
  • fallenink - November 22, 2010 8:46 a.m.

    "For starters, L.A. Noire isn't a free-roaming game in the traditional GTA style." Anyone Else See The Problem Here?
  • nathanieladams - November 20, 2010 9:24 p.m.

    it looks really bad i wont be lokin forward to it
  • GangsterJew92 - November 20, 2010 8:47 a.m.

    I REALLY want to play this game. I'm in the same boat as flabslapper, I love 40s and 50s stuff. I'm also glad to see this is the first game of that era to license more than just the music.
  • ackbarsoup - November 19, 2010 10:59 p.m.

    With this writeup and the new trailer, this has escalated into one of my most anticipated games! All the interrogation and detective work sounds great, and the facial work is crazy good!! (though I'd have to see more of it to say it's better than Enslaved's facial features) Hopefully they're able to meld the detective work into the action sequences and not make it janky. But Rockstar tends to work hard bringing out quality titles, so I'm sure this one will be no different. Here's to getting more info soon!
  • GamesRadar_NathanIrvine - November 19, 2010 10:06 a.m.

    @wkdtkd There will be musical clues and a close-up camera angle to confirm the evidence too. Though these are still being tweaked by the developers.
  • Shadowsedge117 - November 19, 2010 6:37 a.m.

    From what AI've read so far, this game will be a cross between Heavy Rain, Mafia II, and GTA IV. I'm really excited about this game. This was actually one of the reasons why I bought a PS3 to begin with. Now I just have to wait and see which console I should get this for.
  • lobsterhunt - November 19, 2010 6:17 a.m.

    this is now a launch day purchase instead of a launch week/month purchase.
  • DanteofFlorence - November 19, 2010 5:27 a.m.

    this sounds very intriguing; i will have to check this out.
  • TrixR4Kidz - November 19, 2010 4:46 a.m.

    Feels like a free roaming 3D Phoenix Wright game, which spells awesome!
  • ElAmmoBandito - November 18, 2010 9:45 p.m.

    Knowing Rockstar they'll never disappoint me
  • GayforGilbert - November 18, 2010 9:10 p.m.

    I'm now looking forward to this game, more than ever.
  • Rhymenocerous - November 18, 2010 8:16 p.m.

    Hmmm...Could very well be one of the best games ever made.
  • Letter11 - November 18, 2010 7:23 p.m.

    This looks so amazing and I'll get it regardless but I hope they don't go with auto targeting again. But gunplay is clearly not the focus here so I guess it won't hurt.
  • hybr1dgamerx - November 18, 2010 7:12 p.m.

    reminds me of playing phoenix wright or hotel dusk on my ds,haven't seen a game like thit on consoles besides heavy rain,very promising title
  • Felixthecat - November 18, 2010 6:28 p.m.

    I get butterflies in my stomach every time I think about L.A. Noire.
  • wkdtkd - November 18, 2010 5:30 p.m.

    Maybe a stupid question but...if the sweet spot is identified by a rumble, then what happens if you're using an old sixaxis without duelshock? How is the sweetspot detected then? :/ This game looks amazing tho!
  • flabslapper - November 18, 2010 5:19 p.m.

    I really really really REALLY want to play this game, I don't get too excited about a lot of games anymore (the last one being Fallout 3), but I love 1920s - 1940s stuff (one of the main reasons I was excited about Fallout 3), so I can't wait for this, especially because it seems to me from the trailer that they paid a lot of attention to the sound quality, it sounds like a movie from that time period and that makes me all warm inside my pants.

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