Two minutes into the demo, one thing was immediately clear, Rockstar isn't content to let their critically acclaimed winning streak fizzle out. Not only is LA Noire a technical achievement, it's poised to offer the most unique, and subtle, gameplay experiences in the studio's celebrated history.
Gone are the days of shooting civilians for fun on the mean streets of a fictional city, the upcoming 1940s detective story drops players into the shoes of one of the studio's most honorable protagonists to date - WWII hero and newly commission detective, Cole Phelps - in the largest, and most true-life, open-world environment Rockstar has ever created, 1940s Los Angeles.
LA Noire is a major departure from the tales of lowlife thugs, betrayal, and organized crime the studio was founded on - removing the open-world "kill civilians" and "bang hookers" meta-game of the Grand Theft Auto series - and replacing it with crime scene investigations and puzzles that involve paying attention to subtle facial micro-expressions (think Dr. Cal Lightman in Lie to Me). That said, fans of the gunplay in prior Rockstar games shouldn't get too concerned either, the developers promise that LA Noire will still feature plenty of action - be it hand to hand fisticuffs, car chases, or shootouts with mafia members.
Over four hundred individual character models appear in the game, brought to life through the incredible magic of the oft-discussed MotionScan tech. However, even more ambitious is the fact that many of the fictional characters are based on real men from the post-World War II LAPD - who, in the game, investigate crimes that are inspired by notorious true-life cases from the time period. Similarly, 1940s Los Angeles has been lovingly recreated from a myriad of historical sources - to provide players with one of the most authentic titles ever developed.
The focus on a less-shady, but significantly more complicated, protagonist shouldn't come as a surprise to any players that made it all the way through last year's Red Dead Redemption - which, despite back-sliding to the sometimes low-brow Rockstar toilet humor from prior titles, offered a powerful character-driven story with a surprisingly thoughtful, not to mention poetic, epilogue.
Though, the studio appears to have learned a few lessons from their celebrated Western title, as players are no longer allowed to do bad things - while playing as a character that, in cut scenes (as well as the greater drama), acts like a perfect gentleman. While the ability to play as an outlaw or a lawman in Red Dead Redemption was an intriguing idea, the choice came across more as a gameplay mechanic - rather than an authentic addition to the incredible sandbox that Rockstar had crafted.
It may comes as a disappointment to some fans of the studio, but Phelps will not be allowed to intentionally mow-down scores of pedestrians - or rob helpless civilians. There's no doubt that it must have been tempting for the studio to let players wreck havoc on the virtual LA streets, but Rockstar's choice to hold-back and stay true to not just the job, but the moral fiber, of their leading-man hints at a studio that isn't just going to be making fun games - but has grown into becoming masterful story-tellers.
It may come as a shock to hear that Rockstar began work on LA Noire back in 2005 but, after seeing the game in action, it's even more of a surprise to imagine how far the often-celebrated studio has come in a single year - once again shattering expectations to deliver a fresh and immersive refinement on the studio's core gameplay experience.
Look for a full LA: Noire impressions report from PAX East, detailing the various story beats, mechanics, and behind-the-scenes specifics, tomorrow here at Game Rant.
LA Noire releases May 15, 2011, for the PS3 and Xbox 360.