Early scepticism suggests that although L.A. Noire sure does look purdy, there’s a big question mark over how it will all be stitched together and whether it will work well. Our current hands-on with Team Bondi’s crime thriller gives us the perfect answer – it does with aplomb.
Above: Cole Phelps checks out some vital evidence. Wait, does that ring mean he's married?
We’re thrust into the shoes of lead man, Cole Phelps – a war veteran turned superstar detective via a series of successful cases that you’ll help him crack during the early stages of L.A. Noire. All is not what it seems with Cole. Although he has a Silver Star for bravery, which he earned during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, there’s a dark cloud following him that he’ll face at some point throughout the game.
For now, we catch up with him as he’s just been promoted to the homicide desk. Rockstar are keen to stress this will be the most gruesome of all the desks you’ll play through in L.A. Noire, vice and traffic being two others. We find out just how gruesome later on, but for now we’re in a diner with Captain Donnelly, being briefed on the Silk Stocking Murder. A young Hispanic girl has been found dead as a dodo in an alleyway and Phelps is tasked with finding out what happened.
Also present at the briefing is Phelps' new partner, the prickly Rusty Galloway. He’s old-school, hates the idea of having a new partner and takes an instant dislike to Cole. The dialogue between the two unfolds as time goes by and evolves into jokey banter as the frosty relationship eventually thaws. It's worth noting that you'll have a different partner on each desk you play through, so the experiences will vary.
Above: Grim, eh? Of course it is. But if this is turning your stomach then L.A. Noire's probably not for you. Wuss
We follow Galloway out of the building and onto the LA streets where their vehicle awaits. It’s all very reminiscent to GTA here as the cars have a similar weightiness to them but can be flung around corners in an arcade fashion – perfect for those high-speed chases. You also have a siren on R3 (RS on 360, we’re playing PS3 here) to make traffic shift over as you're speeding through the streets. We arrive at the crime scene and get out to take a look around.
It’s worth gushing over the MotionScan technology again here. The groundbreaking tech not only makes the characters appear and speak more realistically than any game ever, but it sets the scene perfectly and without it L.A. Noire would lose a lot of its appeal and well realised environments. As a result, it’s far from ‘just’ a cosmetic feature.
Back to the crime scene, and Phelps and Galloway are greeted by the coroner, Malcolm Carruthers. He confirms that the injuries are similar to the Black Dahlia murders – real crimes that are used throughout the L.A. Noire story – and points you in the direction of the body.
Above: Coroner Carruthers will brief you on crime scenes and also provide explanations of the injuries sustained
Not only is this shocking because a) the victim is butt naked b) her neck injuries are flinchingly realistic but there’s also a liberal amount of pubic hair drawn onto the body’s nether regions. Seems strange to mention, but it’s not often you see it games. Anyway, Phelps believes this is the work of one person and stands over the body to look for evidence.
This involves a zoom-in on the victim’s corpse. You control what areas to look and there were four main points of interest on this girl. She has ‘Kiss The Blood’ written on her body in lipstick, which as soon as Cole looks at, becomes a piece of evidence in his notepad that can be referred back to at any time in the game. We continue to look around the body and gently move the almost decapitated head – it makes a squelching sound and we nearly say hello to our lunch again. Eugh. There are marks on her arms and in one hand she has a piece of paper – a clue. Select this hand and you can read what turns out to be part of a library card with half a name on it which is again added to the notepad as evidence.
Combing the area
The crime scenes will vary in size in L.A. Noire. The one we’re looking at in the alleyway stretches from one side to the other and the blood trail even heads up to the roof. Evidence will be scattered all over the place, but fear not, once you’ve gained all pieces of crucial evidence the music changes to let you know you can stop. There are also audio clues when checking items too. As you adjust your view point with the right stick the camera will zoom in a little more, a jingle will be heard and the pad will rumble. The latter feels a little excessive and breaks the whole ‘dectective’ vibe slightly as it feels like you may as well have a neon sign screaming “THAT’S IT, BUDDY!”. But it’s not game-breaking.
Above: Mrs Maldonado's residence. Home to more clues and an old lady we accidentally insult
With all the evidence gathered, and with Phelps deciding that the trail left has been done so on purpose – possibly to throw the cops off the real killer – they head to the victim’s apartment who they identify as Antonia Maldonado. At the residence, Cole and Galloway are greeted by a landlady called Ms. Lapenti. She allows the detectives upstairs to have a look round in Antonia’s room. They find evidence of forced entry through a window and... DUN DUN DUHHHH... divorce papers for her husband, Angel Maldonado.