L.A. Noire’s development history has been long and difficult for both Team Bondi and Rockstar. Countless years in development (Rockstar has had the IP since 2006 alone) and rumours of a budget of at least $20 million has made this 1940s gangster thriller one high profile risk.
But today Rockstar is finally ready to show off the fruits of its labour, and where I was sitting it definitely seemed like those years had not been wasted.
Set in Los Angeles shortly after the Second World War, players assume the role of returning war veteran Cole Phelps who, alongside his fellow GIs coming home from intense conflict, has discovered that the glitz and glamour of the post-war economic boom holds no comfort for them. While some soldiers descended into a life of seedy crime and violence, Phelps managed to re-assimilate into society and join the ranks of the LAPD.
Life in the force begins for Phelps as a beat cop. I didn’t see what this entailed, but clearly this will serve as an introduction to L.A. Noire
’s many gameplay mechanics. As you complete your ‘training’, Phelps gets handed assignments that assume the form of office desks in the game. Progressing through these self-contained missions will allow you to rise through the ranks and sit at new desks that in turn begin to unravel a large overarching storyline.
I was shown a segment of the very first case Phelps undertakes, titled 'The Fallen Idol' and found on the Traffic desk. With each assignment, you get a different partner who will offer suggestions every now and then to help you drive the investigation forward.
Today’s partner, Stefan Bekowsky, ran Phelps through the preliminary details of the case - an attempted murder, staged when a car with two passengers inside mysteriously drove off a nearby cliff overlooking heavy traffic.
En route to the crime scene, Phelps learns that the car managed to hit a billboard and crash without causing further civilian casualties. The driver - a popular actress in cahoots with the mafia, June Ballard - and the passenger, a young teenage girl named Jessica Hamilton, survived, with Jessica sent to hospital.
Ballard claims they were both drugged, and all of this information is saved into your pocket notebook. This book can be referenced at any time to learn more about suspects, evidence and a summary of the current situation. There’s even a menu that contains every line of dialogue said so you don’t miss a thing.
After consulting the coroner for more information (as you’d expect, he suspects foul play), Phelps checks the car boot (erm, trunk) for some clues. Whenever you’re near a scene riddled with evidence, you’ll hear some jazzy, noir-esque music playing lightly in the background.
As various objects are discovered - torn underwear, a shrunken head on the gas pedal and a letter from Jessica’s mother that suggests the teen is a runaway - the sound direction changes to the plinky-plonk of piano keys to signify you’re onto something.
One of the main gameplay mechanics of L.A. Noire
was then demonstrated as Phelps interviews Ballard, sitting in the back of an ambulance with apparent concussion.
Referencing your notebook to ask various questions about the incident, interviews will have you trying to determine the validity of the recipient’s answer by looking at their body language and mannerisms. You can then choose to believe them (or gently coax a more specific answer), doubt them and try to force an admission or completely disbelieve them and provide evidence to accuse them of lying.