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PAX East 2011: L.A. Noire - updated hands-off

Let’s just hope the mainstream media doesn’t latch on to L.A. Noire with the same kind of misplaced rage they reserve for Rockstar’s other baby, because the imagery I witnessed in the first minute wasn’t just disturbing as hell, it’s damn sure something I’ve never seen done before.

Above: My intuition tells me there's been a murder

A woman’s corpse, stripped naked with fresh wounds still bleeding, lies on the ground as Homicide Detective, Cole Phelps approaches to gather evidence. It’s already a grisly scene, but then the camera pans up over the nude body… full bush. Horrifyingly, authentically grown and unkempt to meet the 1940’s era. That’s Rockstar for ya – always forging new, full-frontal ground!

Above: Our hero Cole Phelps, played Mad Men's Aaron statement

Okay, that’s me being juvenile (not sensational!) and that’s something I’ve gotta get out of my system, because L.A. Noire is, without a doubt, a serious game for grownups. And no, I don’t mean that in the same way idiot watchdog groups throw it around. This time the “Mature” label is finally the furthest thing from a that figurative M branding the ESRB slaps on things just to shelter feeble children from chainsaw kills and poop jokes. You’ve got to slow down a little to fully appreciate LAN… there you go, sip it like fine wine.

Above: Unsuspecting objects yield major clues

L.A. Noire is a much slower, much more methodical take on the crime caper, and above all, it’s not fucking around about being a real “Detective Game.” No bullshit, Rockstar’s pedigree for engrossing story and characters, combined with L.A. Noire’s unprecedented ambition and tech from Team Bondi, will make it the first of its kind.

Above: Certain pieces of evidence are puzzles in and of themselves

Apparently, I got an extended, follow up glimpse at what Nathan Irvine wrote about two weeks ago, so I apologize for any over overlap. Similarly, I’m guessing most of you have already heard about the impressive tech behind the hyper-realistic faces in the game. Details like 400 mocapped actors, or 32 HD cameras pointed at Ken Cosgrove’s face to leave neither nook nor cranny of his expressions unrepresented on screen? Me too, but it still blew me the holy fuck away to see it on screen, and more importantly, those faces are being utilized to create an interactive experience unlike anything you’ve played before.

I recommend watching the trailer above, so you can get a better sense of what I’m talking about, because I’m written from the PAX showfloor and you guys are busy. Those eerily accurate faces you’ve witnessed in the trailers are hardly just for show, plus the enhanced believability they lend to the sordid tale set in 1947 is just the tip of the fedora-wearing iceberg. Facial expressions are a crucial part of L.A.Noire’s gameplay.

Starting at the bottom: The game literally unfolds on a case-by-case basis and success while promote you to new departments

Assuming you’ve seen a police procedural, you know that the evidence and clues you collect at crime scenes needs to be corroborated by human testimony in order to make a case. Now, imagine the branching dialog of Mass Effect mixed with the master interrogation sequences in the Phoenix Wright games. But whereas Commander Shepard is forced to listen to a lot of banter and backstory, in L.A. Noire you’re the one asking the questions - and don’t ever you forget it, mister!

Above: *sob* pattycake...

The people you grill need nothing from you, but you’re going to bleed everything from them, by damn! After all, you’ve logged obtained evidence in your notebook, and if someone’s testimony isn’t gelling with the details you already know, or even feel, to be correct you can either cast some intimidating doubt, or even call “OBJECTION!” outright (or at least the WWII-era equivalent: “Wise guy, huh? Well, I say yar a bum!”)

No glowing objects of interest here. Ask any flatofoot, taking a hard look at the facial expressions of witness and suspects under questioning is oldest form of lie detection. Did a question you just asked lead to darting eyes or a nervous twitch? Call bullshit. The motion capture in the faces is astounding and offer compelling indicators of how you should approach further questioning. Unlike, well, pretty much any game ever, you can note subtle nervousness, desperation, smugness, and my personal favorite, The 1940’s Squint! “Why I outta…”)

On the flipside, interrogation subjects react differently to you depending on how hard you lean on them. Playing as Cole, you get to choose what’s Truth, Lie, or Doubt dynamically using the face buttons. We interpreted that one witness was telling the truth, treated him with kid gloves, and thus he was more forthcoming with useful information. Should Cole have treated him callously or guilty, he’d be less responsive or cooperative, then forcing the player to go elsewhere to find the information they could’ve gotten just by playing it cool. The better you are at interrogations, the quicker you’ll solve cases.

The audience in the press room collectively picked the “wrong” course of action with one integration subject, and guess what, he exploded with anger and attacked the cops. Dukes, they went up! Faster music kicked in, and Cole was bobbing, weaving and grabbing like a Queensbury palooka.

But it didn’t have to go down that way, although other times however, physical confrontation will be… let’s say “less avoidable.” Hey, that’s why Cole Phelps has gun. And although we didn’t get to see him use it, but we did learn that he will never be able to point it at innocent civilians. Awww, time to find another scapegoat, Fox News.

Update: This article's headline originally read "hands-on," but our hands weren't on it. That blunder was caused by a mix-up in the author's cerebral cortex (Wernicke's area, specifically), and has been corrected.

Mar 12, 2010