Looking over Rockstar’s back catalog, it’s interesting to note how far they’ve come since Grand Theft Auto III first became the poster child for violent video games. Rockstar’s detractors have often argued that the company’s titles lack real substance and are merely threadbare plots stitched together as an excuse to include wanton violence and sexual mischief. If you look hard enough, a bit of brilliance shines through the blood-spattered windshield. With each game they release, Rockstar evolves beyond the simple mindless destruction that first attracted players, and Grand Theft Auto IV’s take on the “American dream” is one of the more complex themes to be explored in the medium. Seeing then how much they’ve matured, we’re excited for the developer’s latest title, a gritty crime drama set not in the modern parody world of Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City, but in the sunny streets of 1940s Los Angeles.
As the name implies, L.A. Noire draws heavily from the film noir stylings of that period: a world of hard-nosed detectives, crooked gangsters and the occasional dame in distress. You’ll play as rookie cop Cole Phelps, a fresh-faced kid just back from the German battlefields of World War II, eager to start his career with the force. The game follows Cole’s career as a police officer rising through the ranks of the department, starting as a simple beat cop and eventually moving to more prestigious departments such as Vice and Arson, discovering the many dark secrets that lurk in the city of angels along the way. Together with your assigned partner you’ll work to solve a variety of cases, employing standard police tactics to help finger the culprit. It’s these elements that make L.A. Noire seem like a realistic take on Capcom’s popular Phoenix Wright formula, though thankfully you play as an actual cop instead of a bumbling lawyer with no concept of jurisdiction. Players will comb crime scenes for crucial clues, question witnesses, confront various suspects and, once all the pieces are in place, nab the perp. The gameplay is perhaps the most exciting part of L.A. Noire, with the focus placed on using your own keen detective skills to crack the case. Don’t think that the game skimps on action, though. L.A. Noire showcases a variety of thrilling sequences, including frantic on-foot chases through back alleys and dramatic gunplay pulled straight from a classic gangster film.
Unlike the open sandbox world of the Grand Theft Auto series, L.A. Noire instead plays out its action in a variety of detailed set pieces. “Detailed” is the key word here, as the team has worked extensively to capture 1940s Los Angeles as it actually was, and the effort shows. The team modeled authentic props and costumes from the era, with many famous Los Angeles landmarks appearing within the game’s world. They’ve even gone as far as to use aerial photos of the city to help make the environments look as authentic as possible. The cases have been inspired by real world crimes from the time, too, thanks to the help of newspaper articles the developers dug up from the Los Angeles public library.
But perhaps the most notable aspect of L.A. Noire is the incredibly detailed character models, which were implemented using an exciting new type of motion capture technology. A large array of cameras recorded the actor’s faces as they delivered their lines, and the captured images were pieced together into an actual 3D model. It’s important to note that the technology wasn’t used simply because it looks cool–it acts as a crucial element of the game. Standard character models lack the detail offered by L.A. Noire’s technology, with this game’s characters clearly displaying the facial expressiveness of the actors. These verbal clues will be one of your greatest assets in solving each case, whether studying someone’s facial movements for a sign of dishonesty or knowing when you need to back off from your questioning to keep someone talking. It’s all a matter of reading the emotions of the people you converse with, using the clues in their faces to press certain subjects and maybe even revealing a key piece of evidence in the hope of obtaining additional information.
L.A. Noire looks to be a frantic blend of puzzle-solving and logical thinking with good old fashioned gunplay thrown in. From what we’ve seen, it’s definitely one of our most anticipated games of the year. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long: L.A. Noire drops for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on May 17. Get those preorders in now!