When I received the invitation to preview Rockstar’s upcoming game LA Noire, I was ecstatic. Having watched the trailer and the special feature on motion capture from the internet, I’ve been looking forward to seeing more about the game.
This is an account of my observation on a hands-off demo preview of LA Noire.
The demo focuses on the case file “The Fallen Idol”, a case from Traffic desk. There are numerous desks that you can be assigned to and each desk will have a partner assigned to you in the investigation.
In L.A. Noire, the player plays as Cole Phelps (acted and motion-captured by Aaron Staton from Mad Men) who signs on with the police force and ends up taking on cases for investigation. For every case file, a briefing by the captain ensues and a partner will work with you.
The next scene zooms to the crime scene and the protagonist walks to the first suspect. As he gets close, a cinematic sequence is played and is followed by a list of questions that you can ask. By the way, these questions appear pencilled in a police handbook which you can refer to. You get a two page view – on the left showing some statistics and a portrait sketch of the suspect, and on the right a list of questions to be asked. You can move your pencil-holding right hand to select the question in any order and asked questions are immediate greyed and strikethrough with the pencil.
Investigation of cases is the core of LA Noire and the highlight is in the highly detailed motion capture of the characters’ faces. For every question asked, the character will give you an answer and while the exchange of words plays a part in telling you whether the interviewee is being upfront or holding back, it is by observing their facial expressions and gestures that will give away more about his/her stance towards you. In the demo, I noticed characters looking away from me, biting their lower lip, putting on a fake smile, smirking, crying, appeared shocked, pretended to be brave and many more. Spotting the correct signs is important because right after their reply, you have a chance to respond through one of three actions, promptly displayed on the top left hand corner of the screen. You can choose to ‘Believe/Coax’, ‘Doubt/Force’ or ‘Disbelieve/Accuse’ and your choice will trigger their further response. It’s also nice to see that as you pause to think about which response to go for, the character is in your full view, enabling you to further spot for more tell-tale signs from his/her body language. I was wondering whether the character will lash back at me if I waited too long to react, but since this was a hands off demo, I did not get to try that out.
Not all treatment process works for all interviewees. For example, it may work to respond firmly against one character but in the case for another character, going for a softer approach may go an extra mile.
True to human behaviour, most people will deny a claim until they are cornered, so where the opportunity arises to challenge his/her response with evidence, Cole Phelps will flip another page of his police notebook, and this is where you get to raise discovered items to quash his/her statement. The choice is not clear-cut though, and if you have a long list of evidence, it may be tougher to decide which one to present.
At the end of the interview gameplay session, you will see an indicator flashed on screen summarising how well you did. A perfect score would mean that you have uncovered all the clues you can get, and if you had pressed on wrongly, it could mean that some information was not obtained and you may end up with less lead to work with.
The other core gameplay that was revealed in the demo is the investigation work. At appropriate moments of the game, there will be a chance for you to search an area for clues. The way the game tells you is quite subtle. Once you hear a familiar slow jazz music, that’s the cue to look around. As you come close to an object of interest, you will hear a slightly faint two-chords chime. Pick up the object and the camera will pan at your wrist holding the evidence. Here, you can move the thumbstick up, down, left or right to manipulate the focus of the object. Your wrist will twist towards the direction of thumbstick and when you locate the sweet spot of the object you’re holding, the controller will rumble. These features give a personal experience to the player, making every discovery satisfying.
As you form clues and details from interviewing suspects and victims, some of them points to a landmark or building which you have yet to discover. It is only when you end up at the location and notice how the details come together that you realise you’re in the right path. Until then, it could continue to ring at the back of your mind as you conduct your investigation. That seems like a real mind-boggling nudge faced by a detective. I used to be in a local police force, so I know how it feels.
The demo also showed me other aspects of LA Noire. Just like what you’ve probably seen in noir films, you (as a detective) will have access to private phone booths located at designated spots. These private phone booths link you back to headquarters where you can call for directions or intelligence. There are opportunities to drive from one location to another and you can choose to let your partner take the wheel if you feel like it. I thought it was pretty neat that if you were to sound your siren while driving, the automobiles ahead would swerve to the side to make way for you.
There are also moments wherein the character is engaged in fisticuffs and shootouts. This variety of events is just what you would expect in typical classic noir films. However, as it was getting interesting, the demo came to an end, leaving me curious for more. I can’t wait to go back in time and take on these cases myself.
LA Noire is slated for release in Spring 2011. I’m looking forward to further announcements and reveals, which I believe, in true Rockstar culture, would take place when the time is right. Coincidentally, it looks like we can expect a second official trailer come Monday, 24 January.