Long before the television our demo for L.A. Noire was being shown on was powered up, our Rockstar guides made a point of giving us a taste of what we were going to see. We were handed a large black display folder containing photos that helped act as the inspiration paint for the L.A. Noire canvas. Inside the book were dozens of photos. Some innocuously set the tone of the era, showcasing fashion, music, and city vistas, while a chunk were made up of uncensored, and at times quite confronting, real-world crime scene photos. Of particular interest was one forensics photo and several newspaper clippings relating to the now iconic Black Dahlia murder that saw the body of Elizabeth Short completely bifurcated before being left in a public park. It is Aussie developer Team Bondi's use of these nonfiction crimes as cases that represents the meat in the L.A. Noire sandwich.
For an additional look at the game and the events of the demo, check out our preview of L.A. Noire here. This particular look zooms in on some of the more interesting aspects of the technology being used to power the game and some of the fresh twists being made with established gameplay tropes.
The game takes place during the late 1940s and puts you in the beat-walking leather shoes of recently returned decorated war veteran Cole Phelps, a man who joins the Los Angeles Police Department after conducting a soul search on his homecoming from the Pacific conflict. The period the game is set during marks a historical crossroads: a point when the glitz and glamour of the then burgeoning Hollywood scene seduced those looking to make it big in the movies, and a moral low point in time, marred by escalating rates of crime.
Our demo began by thrusting us into a precinct briefing session. Our captain explained that a car with a celebrity at the wheel had driven off a cliff near the station and collided with a billboard. Since we were working in the traffic division, we were asked to investigate. This wasn't the beginning of the game, and it was explained that as you progress through your career on the force, missions will become available in different departments. Desks act as quest hubs and partner you with new sidekicks, each with its own distinct personalities. Though we didn't see it in action ourselves, we were told that as Phelps rises through the ranks of the LAPD, his exposure to the quickly unravelling seediness of the L.A. underbelly will test him as he attempts to follow the guide of his own moral compass.
Driving to the scene gave us a chance to take in the look and feel of the La La Land of old, complete with period-authentic vehicles and signage. This was a hands-off demo, but even from the passenger seat it was clear these won't handle like your modern automobiles. Expect a bit of heft and comparatively sluggish steering as you navigate the city streets.
Cruising up to the cordoned-off area we exited our car to chat with one of the patrol officers keeping the prying eyes of the press hounds at bay. It was here that we were given our first proper look at the game's biggest technical feature--MotionScan. Rather than rig and animate a character that mouths along with a separately recorded dialogue track, L.A. Noire has each actor playing a character act out their part for the game inside a specially designed room fitted with multiple cameras. The setup captures their skin and facial movements in real time, and the performances are married with animated bodies. Ironically, though it appears completely natural, the result is initially a little eerie in a game; everything appears in sync as people speak and act. Eyes shift, lips quiver, and all of these demeanour subtleties are used to drive the game’s crime-solving mechanics. Gameplay rewards "deduction over dexterity," and you will need to spot those who aren't forthcoming with information--or are attempting to lead you down a dud path--in order to solve the cases.
Our witness passed on valuable leads about potential suspects and about the other occupant of the car during the crash: a young upcoming actress named Jessica. As we spoke with different interviewees, the same names continued to pop up multiple times and put them firmly on our suspects list. The breadcrumbs led us to a movie prop company where we found the owner was trading in drugs, facilitating underage sex, and selling secretly recorded tapes as blackmail.
At your disposal are three dialogue options for each conversation: believe/coax, doubt/force, and disbelieve/accuse. Accusing a suspect by matching a flaw in their testimony to a piece of proof is enough to get them to roll over, giving up important leads. Despite showing right guesses as being "correct" onscreen, our guides pointed out that regardless of how poorly you may read characters, you should still be able to crack the case, though it may be in a more roundabout way rather than through the path of least resistance.
Luckily, despite being a detective game and taking some obvious cues from the adventure genre, the game doesn't have an elaborate inventory system to wrestle with. Evidence makes itself known with subtle audio trills and controller vibrations as you search environments. Rather than pulling up a giant, unwieldy grid containing all the items you've located--such as drugs at a crime scene--your notepad becomes your most valuable tool. Inside it automatically tracks people of interest (including a sketch of their face), key locations, and catalogued evidence which can be used at a moment’s notice alongside a preset line of questioning.
Following leads, tailing bad guys, and interrogating suspects is all in a day's work for Phelps and gave us a glimpse at the gameplay variety L.A. Noire will offer. Random world events like crimes in progress provide you with the opportunity to stop what you're doing and lend a hand to your fellow boys in blue. Our demo culminated in a movie-set chase sequence, a rooftop shoot-out, and a stop-and-think morality moment. While we have been deliberately vague about the content we saw during our first look at the game, we've done so because this game relies so heavily on the way each player will perceive and act on information from sources.
Narrative is one of the game's key strengths, and from our brief demonstration, we're eager to try out alternative paths for the choices we made and exploring the city further. L.A. Noire is easily the highest-profile title ever to come out of an Australian studio, so keep an eye out for more information on GameSpot AU as it approaches its 2011 release.