L.A. Noire, the collaboration between Team Bondi and Rockstar Games, is almost ready. One of the most anticipated games of 2011 was shown last week when Rockstar opened its doors in London, and we got one step closer to answering whether the long wait has crafted another Rockstar classic.
L.A. Noire takes place in Los Angeles at the end of 1940's. Cole Phelps has returned home from World War II and accepts a job in the local police department. The demo offered no reference to Phelps' war experiences, but I would assume they'll rear their head in the game proper. In time the ambitious Phelps advances in his career (reflected over the course of the game by range of investigations he heads).
The structure of the game is quite different compared to what we usually expect from a Rockstar game. While this virtual L.A is large and open and there's the option to create some GTA-inspired mayhem, Noire is not your traditional sandbox title; it's a very story-driven experience, meaning the game's flow fires as true as an arrow from start to finish.
Don't expect that arrow's flight to be straight and narrow though. Given the time frame and the prevalence of crime families during the era, we imagine the story's going to have Rockstar's usual cinematic flair for all sorts of twists and turns as characters both on both sides of the law have their own angle on every situation.
The story is divided into cases, and progress is made by solving them. There's a wealthy range of cases to dig into, involving the likes of traffic, homicide and arson, leading to a lot of variation between the game's opening and ending depending on what cases you take up, and the completion time for each case varies. Mess up any however, and there's the option to replay them.
Gameplay is more slow-burn than you'd imagine, but pitched perfectly for what essentially is a police procedural. For instance, needing to investigate a crime scene to gain clues in order to move your case forward. in these instances there's the slight reminder of the point and click adventures of the past, as you meticulously sweep the area for clues. Eager not to let players linger too long and possibly get stuck, Bondi has included a couple of clues - the music swells when you come close to a point of interest, and the controller vibrates slightly.
Clues gained, you head out into the city, and you can continue your lead on those clues in any order. Noire's got its own version of GTA's taxis and Red Dead's Stagecoaches - letting you hand the driving over to your AI partner as you soak in the sights of L.A.
And it wouldn't be a police story with some interrogation. Again, it less of a slip into button-mashing beating and more skewed towards mind games. You can choose to believe, doubt or accuse your suspect of lying. Take the third option though and you'll need to provide evidence to back up your claims.
For this reason it's important to fully investigate a crime scene and make a well-considered theory as to what happened based on the facts you have. There'll be clues in your suspect's body language and facial expression as well - so reading them and second-guessing their responses is also vital.
The reason you can do this at all is thanks to the technological advancement that is MotionScan, which is used to recreate an actor's facial movement. Everything is recorded in such a great detail that it's almost disturbing as it is amazing. For this reason it really pays off to study people's faces - plus correctly solving the cases will earn you experience points.
Controls have always been an issue with Rockstar's game, tilted towards realistic movement, and same applies to L.A. Noire. Controlling Cole Phelps is surprisingly stiff and slow. However, given that the gameplay is slow and story-driven, the controls weren't an issue during my time with the demo.
Visuals? Well, what do you expect from a Rockstar game? Everything looks great, and coupled with the audio, the city felt as alive as other cities we've visited in the company's portfolio. There's no radio channels for L.A Noire, but it does boast an original score.
L.A. Noire is very different from what we usually expect a Rockstar game to be. Being slow-paced compared to the flash and bang of other titles actually works in its favour, giving it a distinct flavouring that could interest adventure fans, and for those looking for something different in a time when everyone wants to play fast paced shooters.
L.A. Noire has all the tools to be something new and different. On May 20th we can finally see whether or not it all comes together as a seamless experience.