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L.A Noire: Hollywood come in, your time is up

The best movie you've never played

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It's a smart, early indication to the player of just how much you're going to have to have your wits about you to progress through L.A Noire. Whether stomping around the back-lot of a plywood-heavy movie props outlet or turning over the flush apartment of a showbiz exec, each telephone, framed photo or envelope may offer a lead; each witness an explanation.

The process of drawing this information from NPCs is L.A Noire's key mechanic - and the arena in which its incredible facial technology is best showcased. Each interrogation or interview is stuffed with responses that reflect the personality of their bearer.

So, as an accomplished if tacky actress, June Ballard's flirtatious, cunning testimony is not to be trusted from the start.

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She's the first witness we talk to - aside from a coroner - and we have in our grasp two clues from the scene, both found in June's handbag: Jessica's forebodingly vandalised underwear and a heartfelt letter from her mother to her aunt, explaining how her daughter is a runaway with "stars in her eyes".

We can call on this evidence any time we feel June may be fibbing by delving into our trusty black notebook. We can also coax, doubt or outright disbelive what she's saying - denoted by a button apiece.

This system works a charm and, should you play your cards right, plonks plenty of new tip-offs and locations into your notebook as they spill from your witness's lips.

Our encounter with June is the first time we hear Mark Bishop's name - and it's not in a flattering or affectionate light. It becomes clear that Bishop has gone back on a promise to give her a starring role in one of his pictures. We also hear details of June's influential mobster boyfriend, Guy McAffey. Two leads in - our paper trail has begun.

From here, we drive across town with Bekowsky to chat to Jessica. In a clever touch we're sure will be repeated throughout, we're given some advice by our partner beforehand: "Go easy on her."

In our gaming haste, this gentle reminder that we're about to verbally test a potential rape victim stop us in our tracks. L.A Noire wants us to respect each witness as a complicated persona - as a human being. And it rewards us with some of the most thrillingly lifelike interaction we've ever seen on console.

The facial-scanning technology used by Noire developer Team Bondi saw the Australian studio bin the traditional 'balls on face' approach, and instead capture expressions and movement via a digital reading system dubbed MotionScan. The effect is nothing short of breathtaking.

We enter Jessica's room shortly after being handed a medical report that confirms she's been both intoxicated and abused. Police analysis of her underwear shows remnants of semen. It's a sad, tender situation - and one that deserves kid gloves.

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During our softly-spoken conversation, the fragile girl - sat up in bed, shivering - tries to play down her ordeal. Obviously frightened of the consequences, she tells her first lie, denying any brutality has taken place. She's unaware of the evidence in our back pocket.

The next five seconds are some of the most amazing we've ever spent in the company of a video game. We don't react - we just pause, unsure of what to say and unwilling to crush the spirit of the damaged, vulnerable victim in front of us.

Jessica's head stoops slightly, and her pupils begin to - imperceptibly at first - rotate down towards the hospital ward floor. Her shoulders seem to shrug inward by perhaps half an inch, as her eyebrows are drawn instinctively closer in a subtle frown. She obviously feels uncomfortable. Her deceit is clear.

"The doctor told me what happened," Cole says, gently. "We know you're lying Jessica."

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