What exactly is L.A. Noire? With buzz steadily building, hardcore and casual interest escalating and release day pigeon-stepping its way into view, Rockstar’s latest nevertheless remains something of a tantalising mystery at this point. A lot of (much deserved) hoo-ha has recently been made about the game’s frankly incredible new ‘Motionscan’ technology (which if you haven’t seen, you can learn more about here) but as jaw-dropping as these new techniques undoubtedly are, a few journalists have been quick to point out that great cutscenes do not make a great videogame make.
Only those aren’t cutscenes. Despite being one of the most perpetually popular genres in film and television for as long as both mediums have existed, detective videogames haven’t been in vogue since the heyday of the point-and-click genre in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This is primarily because until now, an accurate representation of the detective process hasn’t really been technically feasible, and making judgement calls based on the performances of motion-captured actors always had more to do with harnessing your own gut reactions, taking cues from crude or OTT facial animation, or basing your decisions purely on the context of the dialogue.
But because L.A. Noire‘s ‘MotionScan’ tech captures the each actor’s performance with astonishing clarity, you instantly feel as if you’re conversing with actual people. During one sequence that we saw being played, a middle-aged, pompous, burnt-out Hollywood screen actress was being questioned by the game’s main character, about an attempted murder which she, and her young friend, fell victim of. Her personality is instantly intriguing. Are you going to accept her wry flirtiness as an inevitable trait of character, or is she using it as a tool to deceive you? Is she hiding something, or has a life spent acting merely turned her into a naturally evasive storyteller?
How you deal with each exchange is entirely up to you, and deciding whether to be forceful, inquisitive or relaxed with this lady will completely determine what information she chooses to divulge. Between conversations, the perspective fluidly shifts to a familiar third-person one, and at each of the game’s crime scenes you are free to traverse the environment in order to sniff out clues. Lead protagonist Cole Phelps discovers something deeply suspicious at the heart of this particular crime scene and we continue to question the actress, as there may be more to this than simply a failed murder attempt.
This particular clue insinuates that some thoroughly sleazy foul play has taken place, and now that we are aware that this character is being casually deceptive with us, we aggressively raise the subject of the clue, and blind-side her into revealing more than she had initially planned; drawing our attention to an entirely new character, whom we now need to track down so that we can grill him too. Finding each case’s most relevant clues, and bringing them up in subsequent conversations at the right time, is an integral part of L.A. Noire‘s core gameplay.
Although the rest of the game consists of Rockstar’s trademark, effortlessly slick cover-based gunplay, the action is uncommonly bracing because of how wrapped up in the storytelling you become. L.A. Noire‘s vivid recreation of 1947 Los Angeles is looking immaculate, many (if not all) of its cases are torn straight from the newspapers of the period, and it doesn’t appear to shy away from any subject at all; it’s unmistakably adult, and unmistakably Rockstar. The action-game framework may lead some to suspect that they know what they’re going to get, but trust us; you’ve never seen anything like this before.
Watch the L.A. Noire trailer here: