About two months after my last hands-off session (aka: sit-and-watch) with L.A. Noire, I finally had an opportunity to experience the game on my own. L.A. Noire is set for release on Xbox360 and PS3 in about five week’s time and I’ve been exposed to the PS3 version so far, including the build for this demo.
This time, I’m told that I will be experiencing a homicide case from the beginning to the end, entitled “The Red Lipstick Murder”.
As usual, the case starts with a briefing at the precinct headquarters by the chief, who gave a quick introduction of the case. This is also when you are introduced to your partner. You can tell immediately about his stance, thanks to the great display of facial expressions and body language. It is not known whether this will affect the conduct of your investigation but I reckon that it will spark a conflict in views and opinions that would make an impact somewhere down the line.
I’m told that this is a pretty-straightforward crime scene, which I reckon may be one of the early levels of the game for players to familiarise themselves with the proceedings of investigation work. Before the controller is handed to me, the demonstrator offered to drive me to the spot, which allowed me a passenger’s preview of the driving gameplay.
Radar and cues
If you know Rockstar games, you should have tasted Grand Theft AutoIV, hence driving around in L.A. Noire will be second nature for you. One advantage now is playing as Cole Phelps, who’s on the right side of the law, allows you to request cars ahead of you to slow down or move to the side by activating your siren. While you may not need this during high speed chases, it’s a nice addition of reality to reflect the culture during that era. Also, while in a vehicle, you can open up your pocket book and decide which location to head to, and selecting one adds a marker to the map. Understandably, there is no Global Positioning System (GPS) to lead you the way. Instead, there is an arrow on the radar that points to the general direction and as you get closer (or if you’re lost), you can press the ‘Square’ button on the PS Controller (or ‘X’ on the Xbox360 controller) to trigger a verbal pointer from your partner. He will say something like “Make a right at the next junction”, so you have to keep your eyes on the road.
L.A. Noire features a nice blend of cinematic and gameplay, with no momentum-breaking loading screen. There is no hassle of driving to a spot, parking by the kerb, getting out of the vehicle and walking to a marker – just to trigger a cutscene. As soon as you reach the vicinity, a cinematic plays at the next second. Granted, it is still a loading screen in disguise, but it is one that is seamless, enjoyable to watch and may contain valuable visual clues.
As soon as the game returns the control to me, I’m standing at a brutal crime scene, one that resembles the infamous and still unsolved Black Dahlia crime. After the brief cinematic mentioned earlier, I now have free reign to my first hands-on of the game’s investigation-gameplay. As documented in my last article, there will be a short jazz tune to signify the commencement of investigation. As you approach an area with a clue, a loud chime will play. If you had interacted with the clue before, a soft chime plays to indicate so. In this straightforward case, most of the clues are easy to spot but there are caveats. Firstly, locating an item does not always mean the end of discovery. Most items require a study for further clues. Secondly, not all clues are useful.
In the case of “The Red Lipstick Murder”, the crime scene was an alley, so there was quite a stretch of a corridor to explore. I started first with the body – pressing a button zooms the camera to just a few inches away of the subject, giving Cole Phelps and [you] a comfortable distance to examine and search for clues.
As my character observed the upper torso of a naked murdered woman, I had to decide on the next course of action. The left thumb-stick moves my character’s probing hand and pressing the ‘X’ button makes the probing hand inspect a particular limb. Slowly moving the right thumb-stick allowed me to twist and scan the different angles of the object. Once I hit the right spot, the controller will release a soft rumble and you need to steady the thumb-stick until the clue is retrieved. All the information you conjure is immediately pencilled into your pocket book together with a sketch. This is useful because if you ever have to take a break from the game, the pocket book is always a good start to refresh your memory before you resume with the investigation.
Not all interact-able items can be sighted from far. When I walked over to a dumpster, I thought I saw two objects of interest conspicuously hidden, but there was another piece of clue from the top heap of a pile of trash. So if you were rushing through your game, you may end up missing something.
It turned out that the corridor was not the only area to comb. Apart from the dumpster, a trail of blood and some decayed pipes, I was also led to a long climb up a wall ladder to a roof, unveiling more intriguing and critical findings.
Your partner is also useful during this process. If you feel lost, look to him for the general direction or item to check out. Thankfully, he will not be standing motionless like a mannequin. Rockstar had taken the effort to ensure that your partner is equipped with appropriate animation and behaves just like any investigator would. Be warned that while taking his cue right from the beginning may mean that you complete the task faster, doing so [in my opinion] robs all personal satisfaction of discovering the findings yourself.
A jigsaw of clues
In order not to spoil the game for you, I’m going to describe the turn of events that followed without revealing too much.
Our investigation led us to the deceased’s landlord, who pointed the blame to the deceased’s husband who had just been served with the divorce papers. We (Cole Phelps played by me) also had a hunch that she was not being fully frank with us about something, so an appropriate investigation response (between ‘Doubt’, ‘Lie’ and ‘Agree’) led us to the whereabouts of the husband. Through ransacking the deceased’s room, we also discovered another location ‘X’ that might turn up some useful information.
My instinct was to go locate the husband first, and it led further to some related discoveries within his premises. We met with some resistance that resulted in fisticuffs. Fortunately for me, the enemies were not too skilled in brawling. There was also an optional task of interviewing an additional eye-witness which, while it did not pull up any leads, it served as a rebuttal to one of the husband’s claims, which in turn led to new information.
We returned to the vehicle and just as I was decided between ‘X’ and ‘Y’, we received an urgent call to return to HQ to inspect a new correspondence sent by the killer, something that resembled the real-life Black Dahlia murder. We also interviewed the husband who, upon being rebutted, turned up information about a new person. It did not make sense though, so we decided to resume with our investigation.
We finally drove up to location ‘X’, and after another interview process with a certain individual, a location ‘Y’ was brought up. It was then we realised that there were mild references to location ‘Y’ at the earlier stopovers but it just was not lighting up bright enough for us to take notice.
So, with more arrows pointing to location ‘Y’, we knew we had to check it out. I wanted to try something other than driving so we decided to run to the marked waypoint. Fortunately, it was not too far away. The absence of a trail may be disorienting at first but with a blinking waypoint on the radar, it was manageable. This is compensated with the fact that you do not have to locate a specific waypoint to trigger the next scene (like in GTA games). Simply turn up within a reasonable distance and the cinematic will run at the next second.
As soon as we reached location ‘Y’, we approached an ‘attendant’ (not his real designation) of the place for some questions. Enjoying L.A. Noire on a 42” high-definition screen allowed me to see through this lies and we managed to get him to cough out more information, leading us to location ‘Z’ in which a number of incriminating evidence were uncovered, giving the ‘attendant’ an invitation to a ride back to the station with us. However, before we could get to him, he was already making a run for the carpark into a getaway vehicle.
This gave us an opportunity to experience a vehicle chase segment. As we drove closer to the suspect, I was told to give my partner more room to shoot, so instead of cutting in on the right of the getaway vehicle, I swerved in to the left, giving my partner a better view. This allowed him to shoot the tires and slowed the vehicle down. The suspect ends up being cornered and he gave in to the arrest.
Rank and intuition
A final cinematic in relation to the case is played followed by a tabulation of my scores and ranking. Actions such as discovering landmarks, achieving a successful interrogation and uncovering clues lead to rewards. As the Rank bar grows, new outfits are unlocked, some with gameplay benefits; as well as Intuition Points.
Intuition Points helps to overcome difficult levels and I reckon there will be moments where you stare at the screen trying to make out the interviewee’s position based on his or her body language and facial expressions. Intuition Points can be expended for benefits such as removing one wrong response during Interrogation. Don’t worry; you won’t be able to exploit this privilege more than once, which means some judgment call by you will still need to be made.
The Big Picture
As I stepped back, I started to think about alternative routes to solving the case. Naturally, if I screwed up the interview with the landlord, I would not have learnt about location ‘Y’, but what if I chose to ignore location ‘X’ and headed for ‘Y’ instead? Will I have enough intelligence and evidence to discover ‘Z’? This gives a reason to replay the whole case, apart from attempting to discover all clues and getting all the interview responses and rebuttal correct and earn the achievements and trophies along the way.
What happened in one case may have bearings on another or a few more. For example, while Cole Phelps forms an opinion from all the homicide cases, his partner subscribed to a different theory. One thing for sure, the Sherlock Holmes in you must piece them all together eventually.
This is my account of the ninety-minute exposure I had with the game. When the game releases on 20 May (TWO WEEKS FROM NOW!) in Singapore, I will be spending multiple hours poring over the cases, evidence and scenarios.
Have you pre-ordered yours?