L.A. Noire Preview

L.A. Noire

Maturity is a familiar word in the videogame industry. Its root, mature, has its own rating level in the ESRB. Most "maturity" found in games showcases sex, graphic violence, and explicit language. In many of these situations these things aren’t just present, but prominent; specifically designed to be edgy, gritty, and show the more physical aspect of the word. But there’s a whole other definition for truly mature content: the side of emotional and psychological maturity. This deeper and more thought-provoking version has been common in film, literature, and other forms of entertainment for decades, but hasn’t always been very prominent in video games.

The same can be said for the expression of maturity in many of the titles from Rockstar Games. While Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption were great, they tended to focus on more shallow "maturity" while the deeper, more mental type had to wait for its moments. Things change with time, though, and L.A. Noire seems ready to be the game for Rockstar that puts emotional maturity at the forefront.

The moment that made this abundantly clear during the screening of "The Lipstick Murder" homicide case I witnessed was when protagonist Cole Phelps arrives at the scene of the crime. Once he has entered the cordoned-off area, the camera pans to a shot of the grass. The camera slowly pans to show a pair of lifeless feet, followed by a pair of lifeless legs, and then a naked crotch and pair of breasts before focusing on the face of the unfortunate victim. Frozen and pale, the side of her skull bashed in, lipstick and blood garnish her abdomen and leave behind the eerie message and (fake) calling card of the murderer. Taking this all in, a single thought enters my mind: Video games are evolving.

It’s not the same kind of nudity that you normally see in games. You aren’t watching a stripper flaunt her assets for the hero or lowly denizens populating the game world. It isn’t coming in a passionate love scene. You are viewing the horrible humiliation and saddening last moment of a woman’s life, the sick and twisted lengths that some people will go to in order to rid a "problem" or make a statement. Most important of all, it emphasizes the terrible reality that comes with being a detective, 1947 or today.

The emphasis on this version of maturity is just one way that the people at Rockstar, with the help of the developers over at Team Bondi, are trying to redefine themselves as game makers. L.A. Noire is looking to be a title that does that not only with the focus change regarding maturity, but the level of emphasis on story as well. With side missions and other elements found in open-world games that can distract from the narrative taking a serious back seat, the game is a totally different Rockstar experience.

L.A. Noire

First and foremost is the fact that Los Angeles is much more a setting than it is a playground. It may be an eight-square-mile re-creation of the city from the 1940s, but there really won’t be much to do when not on a case. Players will have times where they can drive around and investigate minor cases surrounding minor characters in the story, but that’s about it. The lack of secondary content encourages players to head straight to the station, look at your case list, and move on from there. It’s very reminiscent of Mafia II‘s handling of Empire Bay, which we here at GamerNode felt was a refreshing approach toward the genre.

The story itself is taking a much slower, more methodical pace in order to reflect the reality of detective work. Players will sit in on case briefings, investigate crime scenes, look for clues in suspects’ homes or other locations, question witnesses or those with knowledge of the victim and/or suspect, and interrogate the suspects themselves. It won’t be all crazy gunfights and explosions, though they will be present when Phelps is left with absolutely no other alternative. However, it all puts the game into the realm of realism that makes you feel like you’re seeing what being an investigative law enforcement officer during the that era must have really been like. Especially since all of these cases were inspired by real-life crimes.

There are even some nuances that emphasise the increased focus on narrative development. When investigating locations, music will play to add ambiance. Once all the clues have been found, though, the music will stop, letting the player know that it is time to move on with the case. When a clue is nearby, a piano will chime in with a few notes to inform the player. Visually, Team Bondi and Rockstar took the extra effort to include its MotionScan technology to not just the main characters, but every single model in the game. Over 400 actors have lent their talents to facial capturing, so every character you interact with will give that realistic emotion further immersing players in the experience. Every eye shift, every muscle twitch, every forehead furl is captured in such a lifelike manner that it’s uncanny. It lends itself beautifully to the nature of L.A. Noire‘s interrogation gameplay and makes the performances that much more believable.

Those who think the emphasis on narrative will whittle down gameplay options shouldn’t get too discouraged. Crime scene investigations will allow players to analyze the corpses of victims by rotating limbs and heads to try to find any clues as to how these poor souls met their untimely end. The same can be done for objects scattered throughout the scenes. Clues can also be found by solving puzzles, which vary from shifting levels of a globe-shaped lighter like a Rubik’s cube to shading a notepad in pencil to find the imprints of a note from a page that had been previously torn out.

It’s clear that Rockstar is making a big transition with L.A. Noire, but it seems to be coming along smoothly. The strong focus on narrative looks to allow for a much deeper, well-rounded story. Immersion has been pushed into the limelight thanks to MotionScan and a much more realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a detective. It also seems to have perfected the shift from a common superficial "maturity" to a deeper, psychological one. Rockstar’s work with Team Bondi has pulled on emotional strings and provoked thought that I don’t often experience when playing games. If the rest of it turns out like the little bit of what was shown in "The Red Lipstick Murder," expect L.A. Noire to make an absolute killing this May.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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