Right now, you probably fall into one of two camps: you're either completely sick and tired of hearing about Rockstar's upcoming L.A. Noire, or else you cant wait until it comes out and you absorb all of the information about it like a sponge. I fall into the second category, especially because of a point that a Rockstar spokesperson explained after our demo session at this year's PAX East: "Games like this are important because they are different. We can't just keep making the same games over and over. That's not what drives our industry forward."
Yes, that's a bit of an ironic statement coming from the company that is widely expected to announce Grand Theft Auto V any day now, but his point is well appreicated. Everything here at PAX is either an MMO or an FPS. It's only with the smaller, downloadable titles that things are getting inventive. L.A. Noire definitely isn't a small game, but it does represent a gamble, and something refreshingly different from Rockstar.
Recently, we brought you a preview of "The Silk Stocking Murder" with our Homicide Desk hands-on preview. At PAX, we received a behind closed doors demo of an entirely new homicide desk case, "The Red Lipstick Murder." As you launch these from the menu screen, which by the way is extremely beautiful in stark black and white, showing Detective Phelps investigating a crime scene in an alley, the title "THE RED LIPSTICK MURDER" comes up on screen, looking like a hard-boiled detective flick right out of the 1940s.
The scene opens with a brief vignette, showing a woman being dragged from a car and bludgeoned brutally (presumably to death), and that scene fades into the morning briefing at the police station. Phelps has just recently joined the homicide desk at this point, after a 25 year veteran has retired from the force, and he's partnered with grizzled and pudgy Rusty Galloway, who likes to run his mouth off at inopportune moments.
Phelps and Galloway are assigned to the murder of a woman who "bears all the signs of the werewolf" according to your captain. That's a reference to the Black Dahlia murders that actually took place in 1947, the local wags took to referring to the murders occasionally as the "werewolf," which is what you'll hear people referencing throughout the game. It's not clear if these murders are related to the Black Dahlia, but it does seem like you'll find that out over the course of the game.
You and Galloway are assigned to this murder, which has taken place on the outskirts of Los Angeles at a local lover's lane. According to the patrolman on beat, this area is often used by teenagers and the local riffraff, but nothing like this has ever happened there. As you approach you corpse inside a roped-off crime scene, you see what he means. The victim has been beaten to a pulp, with a traumatic head wound and multiple markings put all over her body in red lipstick and left stripped nude in the middle of the park. Eerie.
Phelps has a brief conversation with the coroner, after which point he can investigate different body parts if he so desires, and/or examine the crime scene for clues. Officers have already marked some of the evidence, but that doesn't mean that Phelps can't find additional clues by poking around on his own. Often, you'll find things via a cursory investigation, and you're aided by the investigation soundtrack that sounds a two-note piano chord whenever you're near something you can pick up and examine.
Phelps finds a few things around the crime scene that he notes in his ever-present (and frankly awesome) notebook, culminating in a strange little brass globe that has to be manipulated like a puzzle, and when it pops open, there's a clue inside pointing you towards a bar in Los Angeles, which then becomes your next destination.
It's there that you'll begin interrogating suspects, using the techniques you’ve learned to decide if you want your tact to be accusing them of lying outright, doubting them, or accepting what they're saying. Every line of questioning opens up new routes and clues, and if you're lucky enough to have at least a single intuition point or more under your belt, you can use those points to eliminate incorrect responses. Through interrogations, you'll determine if people are a Person Of Interest or not, and this is all kept track of in your notebook.
Phelps and Galloway visit the bar and are able to find out who the victim was, and, through further interrogations, you gain more information, dial up Research and Information for things like license plates and addresses, and slowly your investigation will start to branch out. You'll discover new people, new locations, and you'll have to decide which way you want to proceed. Our own investigation took us to the apartment of the victim's husband, as he had recently moved out. He doesn't take kindly to being questioned (or Galloway's presence), and fisticuffs erupt.
That's where the game shifts into action, and you have to prove yourself as a pugilist to continue. But besides the occasional punch fights and gun battles, L.A. Noire is a smart, slow, methodical thriller. This isn't a fast-action FPS, but rather a near-literal translation of L.A. Confidential into an actual video game experience, with a lot more scope added to it. Seeing Los Angeles from the late 1940's turned into a living, breathing world is amazing, and Rockstar motion-scanned over 400 extras to populate the world with people who help complete that illusion.
I've left a lot of detail out here, as I don't want to spoil this game and the excitement of investigation for anyone. It's enough to hear or read about this game, but to see where it truly shines, you really need to experience it for yourself. Thankfully, we'll all be able to do that when the game hits PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 May 17.