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L.A. Noire Preview

Today I had the opportunity to sit in on a thirty minute private demo of Rockstar’s most anticipated title, the facial-motion-tech-heavy L.A. Noire.  Sampling a vertical slice of the game, the demo was a narrated walkthrough by a couple Rockstar devs, of one particular murder case, of which there will be several in the final game.  And all I can say at this point is it is damn impressive.

Not since the facial motion capture in Heavenly Sword have I been so impressed with the visual fidelity of the characters’ faces and facial expressions.  And that tech is a far cry from the stuff used in Noire.  In Rockstar’s latest, a degree of subtlety is rendered to screen in the characters’ faces that has never quite been seen before.

The tech wraps quintessentially around the theme of the game: a late 1940’s detective murder mystery, or collection of murders and mysteries, from the vantage of Cole Phelps, a freshly returned war veteran.  The player controls Phelps in a traditional Rockstar sandbox world, exploring for clues around a gruesome murder scene and investigating leads.

This last part, a core feature of the game, involves an interrogative mini-game of sorts where the player chooses what topics of conversations to pursue–largely drawn from what clues the player has found.  This is a one-on-one conversation between the player, as Phelps, and whatever NPC is being interrogated; after listening and carefully watching the NPC’s response, the player can then decide whether to trust, doubt, or accuse them of lying.

Accusation of a lie necessitates evidence, which the player can then present before a squirming suspect.  The NPC will react correspondingly to whether the player’s actions were the correct ones, either opening up new veins of conversation and leads or shutting an NPC up for good.

Shockingly, the whole system together worked wonderfully, with only an unexpected fist-fight toward the end of the demo feeling a little more rock’em-sock’em than detective thriller.  For purposes of brevity, the demo didn’t deviate from the main quest line with the most important pieces of evidence found, but the developers illustrated there are a great many opportunities to find much more evidence, and even a red herring or two.

After the demo, I for one am officially sold on the game.  Many of my concerns were alleviated seeing an uninterrupted vertical slice of gameplay.  The game is still a ways off from escaping the the uncanny valley, but L.A.Noire represents the next big innovation in NPC interaction since Bioware’s own advancements with Mass Effect 2Heavenly Sword‘s facial mo-cap, and Heavy Rain‘s interactive movie-styled narrative.

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