L.A. Noire Homicide Desk Hands-On PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 01, 2011
The last time we saw LAPD officer Cole Phelps, protagonist in Rockstar Games and Team Bondi's much anticipated detective simulator L.A. Noire, Phelps was working the traffic desk, investigating, what, at first, appeared to be a simple car accident, but eventually turned into a sordid tale of blackmail, sexual assault, and murder. Fun stuff. For our latest hands-on look of the game, we met up with Phelps just after he has been promoted to the homicide desk.
The case that we actually had the chance to play was called, "The Silk Stalking Murder," and it opens in a quintessential 40s diner. Phelps and his new partner (each desk includes a new partner), the pudgy veteran lawman, Rusty Galloway, are being briefed by captain Donnelly. He informs the pair that a woman's body has been found, and early indications have the murder bearing a striking resemblance to one of Hollywood's most famous serial murder cases, the Black Dahlia.
As you might know, all of the cases in Noire are based on actual crime reports from 1947 Los Angeles. Of course, that doesn't mean the cases you're investigating are necessarily part of these famous cases For instance, the first murder that Phelps and Galloway investigate has the markings of the Black Dahlia murderer, but it could also be the work of copycats. Figuring out whether the murders are related to the high profile case will be a major component of the homicide desk story arc.
When Phelps and Galloway arrive on the scene--players can choose to drive themselves or have the computer drive them--they have a brief discussion with the coroner, Malcolm Carruthers, who players will come to know quite well since he'll be your primary point of contact whenever a dead body is concerned. This particularly body, that of 21-year-old Antonia Maldonado, lies naked on her back with the message, "Kiss the blood. BD." scrawled in red lipstick all over her body.
While it will be up to players to keep a sharp eye out for potential clues, your partner will also do his best to pitch in too. At one point, we were at a bit of a loss as to where to go next, but a quick look at the standard Rockstar mini-map circle at the bottom left side of the screen showed us that our partner had wandered up to another portion of the alley. When we caught up with Galloway, we noticed a bloody shoe had been tossed in a garbage bin. Looking around revealed a trail of blood that led us to a key tied to a string hanging from a thick pipe. "Think he's trying to lead us somewhere?" Phelps asks aloud. Certainly seems like it. The trail continues on until we find a piece of paper with a series of dots on it that appear to be numbers. We take a nearby fire escape up to the roof of a nearby building, where we find a library card, which gives us an address. And with that, we're off to our next location: the dead woman's apartment.
After scouring Antonia's room for clues--a key piece being divorce papers ready to be served to the woman's husband, Angel--we interrogate the apartment's landlady. She didn't give up much, but she did let us know that Angel and Antonia had been getting into some heated arguments recently, which, considering Antonia has been brutally murdered, is a good thing to know. With a new suspect in the picture, and because we were itching for a fight, we decide to pay Angel a visit.
As we bust into Angel's apartment, we encounter the first combat scenario of the case, a somewhat awkward fist fight in a cramped living room. The fighting looked similar, if a bit more polished, than that found in Grand Theft Auto IV. One of the great touches in the fight was that, at one point, Cole's fedora was knocked off his head. Don't know why, but I got a kick out of that. Once the fight is over, and Angel and his brother have been taken down to the station, we take a look around his apartment, and find three compelling clues: a bloody shirt, presumably belonging to Angel, a matchbook from the El Dorado Bar, and a fruit crate that didn't contain fruit at all, but rather liquor.
Questioning Angel at the station, we find out that Angel had suspected Antonia was having an affair with a man who worked at the very fruit market whose name was on the liquor crate label, and Angel's jealousy had led to some rather nasty fights between him and his wife (i.e. the bloody shirt). At this point, we have just two locations left for us to visit, and we go first to the El Dorado bar.
Once at the bar, we speak to the bartender, who tells us that he remembers Antonia being loudly drunk and talking about serving her husband divorce papers the night of her disappearance. In an effort to keep her safe, the bartender suggested she take a cab home, and told her to use the payphone across the street at the, you guessed it, the fruit market.
At the market, we question the owner, who we soon find out (breaking into locked rooms tends to do that) that the owner has been running a little liquor business for himself. More importantly, though, we find a bloody scalpel and a jewelry box, which we were able to open thanks to the code we found back at the original crime scene. Inside the box, we find Antonia's missing religious charms, which, suspiciously, weren't in her apartment or on her at the crime scene.
The market owner sees us make our discovery, and rather than wait to explain, he takes off in a old truck, and we give chase. Swerving between traffic, with Galloway hanging out of the window, firing shots at the speeding truck, felt very responsive, since the cars aren't quite as heavy as they were in GTAIV, which might not be historically accurate, but it makes chases like this one appreciably less frustrating. Finally, we smash into the suspect's car, just as two other police officers arrive on the scene to take the driver into custody.
Much to my disappointment, the demo ended here. As someone who's been looking forward to L.A. Noire since it was first teased, I couldn't be happier with how the game is shaping up. The presentation, the mechanics, the story, the performances, they're all spot on. May 17 never seemed so far away.