L.A. Noire First Look

Rockstar and Team Bondi are traveling back to the 1940s with this game's setting, but one key feature is decidedly more futuristic.

When you spend enough time watching an actor in movies or TV, you begin to pick up on subtle and telltale facial expressions--the nervous tics, the knowing grins--that are so nuanced you really only associate such looks with that actor and that actor alone. Video games aren't supposed to let you do that. Our little hobby is one that's been able to stick realistic faces onto static character models for some time now, but it has struggled mightily with showing them talk and express emotions in a way that really reflects the actors providing the voices. But apparently nobody told Rockstar that because the publisher's upcoming 1940's detective-thriller L.A. Noire uses some ambitious new image-capture technology that puts a stark focus on those sort of subtle, nuanced facial expressions to not only drive the game's story, but also the gameplay itself.

Aaron Staton plays lead character Cole Phelps. Expressions like this one should be familiar to fans of his work.

At the heart of L.A. Noire's story is protagonist and LAPD detective Cole Phelps, played by Aaron Staton. There's a good chance you'll recognize Staton from his work as account executive Ken Cosgrove on Mad Men. Like other actors in the game, Staton's dialogue performance was captured using a technology called motion scanning. It's a technique that surrounds the actor with dozens of cameras from all angles, turning those myriad shots into a composite 3D model of the character's head. Long story short, the result is a cast of characters whose faces look and move with startling similarity to their real-life counterparts. For example, diehard fans of Mad Men are likely familiar with Staton's facial expressions--things like his pursed lips and furrowed brow in moments of intense thought. Those are nuances that you'll see on the polygonal face of Cole Phelps (see the above screenshot), and it's an altogether strange sensation when you make the connection between subtleties you've picked up while watching Mad Men and a character you're seeing carry on a conversation in a video game.

Rockstar and developer Team Bondi have carried out this task--which, one imagines, must be a painfully time-consuming and expensive one--because L.A. Noire is much more of a cerebral detective game than the sandbox action fare for which the publisher is so well known. Playing as Cole, a decorated GI who has just returned home from the Pacific theatre of World War II, you'll work your way up the ranks of the LAPD one case at a time. L.A. Noire's idea of detective work places a heavy emphasis on gathering evidence and talking to suspects, witnesses, and anyone who might help you unravel the mystery at hand. Conversations with persons of interest have you navigating the murky waters of potential lies and half-truths, so it's critical that you're able to tell the difference between a genuine smile and a coy smirk when someone is giving his or her side of the story. When you combine that with a web of clues and evidence that you can refer back to in your handy notebook, you've got an idea of how the almost adventure game-like detective work functions.

To put all of this into context, Rockstar showed us one of the game's cases as played from start to (near) completion. The case began with a call to check out a traffic accident. A Chevy Styleline had veered off the road and gone crashing from an escarpment (don't be afraid to look that one up--we certainly had to). At the wheel of the car was a fairly well-known Hollywood starlet joined by an aspiring actress in the passenger seat. Examining the crashed car revealed a number of strange items that might later serve as potential clues: suspiciously torn women's underpants, a note to the aspiring actress from her parents calling for her return home, and a shrunken head clearly intended for use as a movie prop (the latter of which prompted a chuckleworthy "Alas, poor Yorick!" joke from Phelps). All of these bits of clues and evidence were then jotted down in Phelps' notebook.

According to Rockstar, the game takes place in a "street-for-street" remake of 1940s Los Angeles.

After examining the wrecked vehicle, Phelps took the opportunity to chat with the well-known actress, June, who was sitting in the back of an ambulance. L.A. Noire uses a conversation mechanic that lets you decide how to respond to people's statements with multiple degrees of acceptance and empathy. You have three options for each response: believe/coax, doubt/force, and disbelieve/accuse. Knowing which of these responses to pursue is where the game's facial animations really play a critical role. After asking June whether any foul play occurred before the accident, Phelps was told that she simply lost control of the wheel--an unspectacular, everyday car accident. But the response carried an undeniable level of smugness, as did the grin on June's face afterward. This led the Rockstar reps guiding the demo to conclude that she was covering up something potentially sinister, so they accused her of lying. Any time Phelps makes such a bold claim, he has to provide relevant evidence, so in this case, Phelps brought up the torn underpants inside the car to suggest that June was hiding some sort of potentially devious conduct that led to the accident. But that's the point at which she clammed up and demanded to see her lawyer.

Phelps and his partner then hopped in a car to drive over to the hospital and question Jessica, the aspiring actress in the passenger seat who apparently suffered far worse injuries than June. This is the point in the demo at which L.A. Noire began to flash more obvious similarities to Rockstar's previous games, those open-world action games in the Grand Theft Auto mold. The game is set in what Rockstar calls a "street-for-street re-creation" of 1940's Los Angeles. Going from one scene to another, you're in full control of how you drive there, though some points in the story place a stronger sense of urgency on your travels than others. And while the game isn't as crammed with side missions and hidden entertainment as GTA or Red Dead Redemption, there are occasional opportunities to take a break from the case at hand. In one example, while driving, you might hear a call come in over the police radio to lend a quick hand with a shoot-out or a speeding vehicle.

Questioning suspects is a big part of L.A. Noire. Just ask this guy. Literally. You can literally ask him things.

Back on the case, Phelps arrived at the hospital to chat with Jessica. We won't spoil how to best go about prying the truth out of her, but it's clear that there are numerous ways to approach the situation rather than one "right" path toward concrete answers. But suffice it to say, the conversation with Jessica set Phelps on a far more dangerous mission than the initial traffic accident might have suggested--one filled with sexual foul play on the part of some shady Hollywood figures that seemed to confirm Phelps' initial suspicions. The remainder of the case had Phelps tailing a suspect and eavesdropping on the suspect's phone conversation, getting into a fistfight upon entering a fresh crime scene, and fleeing from goons in a high-octane car chase that left several smashed and overturned vehicles in his wake. And it all culminated in a big foot chase and shoot-out through an epic movie set, showing that the developers at Team Bondi aren't afraid to throw some straightforward third-person action into the mix to change up the pacing. Unfortunately, this was a strictly hands-off demo, so we don't know how any of it actually feels to play, but the combat looked like a solid complement to the more cerebral detective work from earlier in the demo.

L.A. Noire flashed a lot of promise with this first look. It's a game that's trying a lot of new things in the way it conveys facial expressions and then asks you to jump headfirst into understanding what they all mean. But it's also a game that seems to remember that sometimes, people just like to smash cars and shoot bad guys. Hopefully, L.A. Noire strikes the right balance between those elements. We're eager to see more leading up to the game's 2011 release date.

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Discussion

291 comments
im-a-roustabout
im-a-roustabout

@Doomrul I know I am replying to an old post, but in your response to facial expressions effecting game play, it's kind of the whole point why Rockstar and TeamBondi are using the technology in the first place. Since you have an "interrogation wheel" you have to read convictions in the person's voice, as well as facial expressions to determine if they are lying are hiding something etc. Reading somebody is half of detective work so it was important for them to fully capture everything so diligently.

Doomrul
Doomrul

Facial expressions effecting the game play ? Sounds like a bit of an Over Kill , but you never know RockStar did pretty amazing games in past , lets wait and see.

vladfromhell
vladfromhell

wiil play online?? i hope so!! if dont sounds like mafia 2...hummmm???

SplinterSchaan
SplinterSchaan

ummmmmmm......wait a minute.....new tech???? Im sorry but did these guys not play or see the making of Heavy Rain?????? didnt think so. But of cource im going to get this game....it looks awesome.

CaptainAhab13
CaptainAhab13

I'm very, very excited with this. A film-noir thriller published by Rockstar? Wow, yet another game I'm going to literally *have* to purchase.

shadyelf
shadyelf

"I'll pass on this one. If I wanted to be a cop I'd join the police department...not play some gay cop game. What R* really should focus on is a new Grand Theft Auto game set in LA or Miami....not some lame cop game. Playing as the criminal is always more fun and imagine Gta with the Rdr engine and zombies....it would be epic." First, R* isn't developing this, just publishing. You'll get your new GTA, after Agent that is. Second, how many open world GTA-style games are there where you play as a criminal? I'm glad we're seeing the other side for once.

Vrybrd
Vrybrd

Sounds interesting enough, but i am not sure if it's better then just watching a good thriller.. Anyway it seems to me that for Rockstar it's more about playing with and trying out this new motion capture technology, then actually making a great game.. But that's just me. For what it's worth, Experimenting with new technology and gameplay doesn't bother me, if it lays the groundwork for some awesome urban crime sandbox in.. in SPACE!

imkain
imkain

I think this game has some serious potential, and the fact they are using perhaps the coolest (and most advanced) motion capture technology (not only for the actors' body, but their face as well) will be something the video game industry can use for 1st/3rd person games from this point forward. Leave it to Rockstar to revolutionize the gaming genre and to enhance the open-world gaming genre by introducing a nice change from the GTA series. It'll be cool to see how much of your brain you will need to use to solve the crimes. I will admit that using your brain to play a game is better IMO than just plain shoot em up games. We'll see when the game is released in May, but I believe that Rockstar is going in the right direction with their gaming company. Good for Rockstar.

aaronfhff123
aaronfhff123

I'll pass on this one. If I wanted to be a cop I'd join the police department...not play some gay cop game. What R* really should focus on is a new Grand Theft Auto game set in LA or Miami....not some lame cop game. Playing as the criminal is always more fun and imagine Gta with the Rdr engine and zombies....it would be epic.

SbT16
SbT16

@xxgunsxx how is that more realistic stuff? why would you want to watch video game characters have sex? or whatever? Anyway looks like a really good game and im excited to see how this new technology affects the gaming world as well as the game its self which seems to have a lot to it

samaxpayne
samaxpayne

AMAZING cant wait any longer too

MrScoobJr
MrScoobJr

i hope they dont take the investigations to the point where its gonna be boring.

yohansetiawan
yohansetiawan

wow new technology arrived in this game... can't wait anymore hahahaha.... but I hope there is no serious bug that makes costumer disappointed like previous game from rockstar.....

RECONJON
RECONJON

I'm so damn excited about this game! I had been wondering how the could possibly top Read Ded Redemption, but it looks like they may have pulled it off!

XxgunsxX
XxgunsxX

hop they add more simulation addons like have sex or tune up your car or robe ppl dont know more realistic stuff maybe more option on avatar

Keitha313
Keitha313

@raw153 if thats the case you probably can't wait to watch that movie then.

jokerman_28
jokerman_28

i'm really liking this right now. can't wait

Falcon084
Falcon084

This will be better than I originally thought and I originaly thought it looked really cool 8)

raw153
raw153

Sounds kind of like Heavy Rain meets GTA. Can't wait to see and hear more about it.

Ghost786
Ghost786

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

DrEvilKoala
DrEvilKoala

Shame that Rockstar's name is all over this game. They're merely the publisher. Anyway, this looks just the same as the bulk of the sandbox games Rockstar has been pushing out, which really turns me off. If this game is more of the same linear missions with überheavy scripting and unrelenting cutscenes, count me out. Rockstar has previously tried to make us believe that we can approach their games like we want, but those statements have usually turned out to be false. I'm guessing the same is going to apply here. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be mistaken, but I don't have much hope for this one.

3116porter
3116porter

here's a amazing fact the actors scripts is at least 70,000 times what a normal movie script would be. cool right??????? just hope that won't make them get lazy on the voice acting that would be quite a shame

sgotskillz
sgotskillz

Finally a decent game coming out of Australia. Bye bye Spyro the Dragon and hello to L.A Noire

toasty1979
toasty1979

I better get in gear and finish off Red Dead!

shums
shums

@Ghost786, id rather they make a remake of san andreas.. now THAT would be awesome

hojo80
hojo80

@Ghost786 and everyone else who spouts out dribble about GTA5, LA Noire isn't made by Rockstar, Team Bondi developed this game and Rockstar is only the publisher. Rockstar isn't even in pre-development for GTA5 yet that development studio (Rockstar North) is working on a new title

Tired_Marine
Tired_Marine

Looking forward to this. I loved L.A confidential, Black Dahlia and the likes. Oh and @ghost75 shut your irrelevant childish mouth about GTA 5.

Ghost786
Ghost786

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Zebal
Zebal

Looks decidedly more clever than your stock sandbox, and probably deeper than the obvious contemporary, Mafia 2. I'm personally looking forward to this, and unless I hear stories of ludicrously retarded plot elements ala Assassin's Creed 2's ending, I can see myself buying it.

nunini
nunini

I think it was like to be very beautiful game, comes too late.

Jeaz
Jeaz

Looks really promising and maybe somewhat of a return of the story-driven and more intellectually demanding adventure games. Shame it's for console only at the moment.

Knucklemouth
Knucklemouth

Oh I can't wait to shoot some .38 snub nosed revolvers, and drive some 1940's era........yawn. I'm not trolling, I love Rockstar games, but this one seems tres tired.

scratchisme
scratchisme

I hope this like Red Dead Redemption in the way that it really pulls out everything good from that era and lets the player explore that world. Now that doesn't mean it needs to a sandbox game, although why would you have all of 1950's L.A. if it wasn't, but I just want to see that time period really shown in an interesting way.

killer_rabbit20
killer_rabbit20

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

zhao9us
zhao9us

the lip-synching and facial expressions in the trailer look absolutely phenomenal for a video game, and if its consistent throughout then this will be a real achievement in terms of video gaming graphics technology

toasty1979
toasty1979

Saw the trailer for this on the last SUAM, the lip sync to the acting looks amazing. love the setting too

motankbox
motankbox

I have been a fan of Rockstar when Gta 3 was out I can't wait until to play this one.

MontyPython4-r
MontyPython4-r

Looks incredible. But, unfortunately for RockStar Games, I don't like overly realistic games; won't buy it. RL shouldn't be mixed with vidya gamez.

MattUK07
MattUK07

Rockstar are also making the PS3 exclusive Agent which im really looking forward to seeing :)

s7evinJR
s7evinJR

I still have to play more red dead redemption lol pretty excited for this game, graphics look great already!