There is a heightened level of expectation and anticipation with the upcoming Rockstar title, LA Noire. We’ve already discussed the impressive story structure and immersion that we got to witness at PAX East, and the gameplay is truly complimentary to the narrative.
Rockstar showed us one case in the game, the first homicide in the game – “Red Lipstick Murder”. As Cole Phelps, this is your first case as a homicide detective. Upon arrival at the crime scene, you are greeted by one of the beat cops who’s giving you a run-down of the area. This is the first great example of the MotionScan facial mapping technology in the game.
The officer describes the scene, the victim completely nude and covered in writing in red lipstick. The first thing is to examine the body. The mechanic is intuitive as you control Phelps hand to hover over points of interest on the victim. For example, when you hover over the head of the victim and acknowledge to examine that area, Phelps shifts her head to reveal a blunt force trauma wound. You can examine hands, arms, and other points of interest on the victims to look for clues. Once you obtain that information, it’s time to scour the scene.
As you scan the area, you’ll see evidence markers. You can pick up the evidence to examine, and as anything substantial comes up it gets automatically logged into your notebook as crucial evidence. There are some items that have a puzzle built into it, unlocking a lead in your investigation. There will be some evidence not marked so you’ll have to look around to discover more.
Having to scour an area in video games can be a frustrating endeavor, but Rockstar game up with a great solution that will still keep you immersed in the game. Whenever you are in investigative mode, there will be ambient music playing in the background. If the music is playing, this means there is still evidence in the area you have not yet discovered. Once you discover all of the evidence, the music will have subsided and you are free to move onto the next point of interest. If you are having trouble finding key items, there is a faint two-tone piano note that triggers when evidence is in your immediate vicinity.
In this particular case, evidence was discovered that lead us to a restaurant that the victim may have been prior to her murder. At this restaurant we see our first foray into the interrogation mechanic.
You meet the owner of the establishment, who was very cooperative and willing to give information. He knew the victim and seemed genuinely upset about her death. This is an important observation with the interrogation, with thanks to the MotionScan tech. The reason behind using this tech is so you can read the expressions of people when asking questions. After each answer you have the choice to say they are telling the truth, seem doubtful or are outright lying. In this instance the owner seemed to be truthful, and by following that observation he provided crucial information. There is no wrong way to interrogate, the game will not fail if you have the wrong intuition. The penalty, however, is it can prevent you from obtaining important information to solve the case, thus making it harder to solve. If the person of interest is lying, you may have evidence in your notebook to support your theory which will push more information out of the character.
Your notebook is your hub and houses all of the information you discover to keep you organized and to easily reference. It will maintain people and places of interest, list evidence and more. Aside from being a tool in the game, it also upholds the immersion factor by being realistic item a detective would use. Referencing your notebook comes off as a natural action versus having text pop up on screen or having to navigate through a menu system.
There is one optional addition to the interrogation system that can help when you are in a jam. LA Noire will have a tie in with the Rockstar Social Club where you can “ask the community” if they think the person of interest is telling the truth, lying or is doubting their response. The answers are based on votes and not necessarily the correct answer, so there’s a risk in that. Also, as you choose the best path when interrogating, you will receive XP which goes toward your intuition bar. Intuition can be used in two ways, one helps you choose the correct line of action for each question and the other will allow you to undo one response to a question to redo it. For example, if you said the person was lying and their reaction told you otherwise, you can undo your response once and try again.
Another interesting addition to the game is the use of every telephone you see in the game world. Although it seems like a small addition, it’s much appreciated as it strengthens the immersion. The telephone is a useful tool in the game that connects you to the police department to trace license plates, check messages, and more.
There are also smaller additions to the game that are optional to the main storyline. One is the option of “unassigned cases” which has you solve smaller crimes like robberies. Additionally, there are landmarks to visit and badges strewn about the open-world that urge you to explore the expansive environment.
Speaking of the environment, this is Rockstar’s largest to date spanning eight square miles of LA. As an example of it’s size, Rockstar told us that they hopped in a car in the game and drove from one end of the map to the other, and it took 30 minutes. Relative to time, each case will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. With seven cases on each desk, the overall game will last 25 to 30 hours.
LA Noire will feature a balance of action to investigation. Rockstar wants gamers to truly feel like they are in Phelps role and to appreciate the game-changing elements. There will be action sequences such as shootouts and car chases, but there is plenty of action within the investigations and interrogations without throwing fists or pulling out your gun.
The gameplay genuinely focuses on realism to recreate 1940s LA and maintain the immersion they strive to build for the experience. With the ground-breaking facial recognition technology, intuitive gameplay and deep story lines, LA Noire is sure to be a game of the year contender.
LA Noire is set for a May 15th, 2011 release on Xbox 360 and PS3.