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L.A. Noire: A leap forward in storytelling?

Murder and mystery in 1940s Los Angeles

This isn't just a hit and run. There's more to this case; Phelps can smell it. The victim was run over by a car outside a dive bar called Ray's and died on impact. But a life insurance policy - recently signed - hints at a darker motive behind the crime.

Phelps and his partner Bekowsky get a partial license for the suspect's car from a witness outside, but need more clues. They move inside Ray's and question Dudley Lynch, the bartender.

Dudley is hiding something. And we don't know this because the game flashed up a message saying 'Dudley is hiding something' - we know it by looking at his face. L.A. Noire uses groundbreaking MotionScan technology to animate its characters.

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Emotion is conveyed not by animated eyebrows and mouths, but by capturing - and digitally recreating - every movement and nuance of the actor's face. It's genuinely incredible to watch; like video, almost.

DIRTY WORK
The bartender doesn't seem too concerned about the body. Stranger still, he knew him. When you're questioning someone, you select what you're going to say using Phelps' police notebook.

As you're doing this, you can hit triangle or Y to look up from the page and directly at the person you're interrogating. And thanks to MotionScan, you can often tell if they're lying, just by studying their body language and expression. It's that subtle.

Dudley shifts on his feet nervously as we pursue our next line of questioning. When Phelps asks him if he knew the suspect, he glances away. He's trying his best to appear nonplussed and his answers are terse and defensive, but the eyes just gave the game away.

Nice move, smart guy. We figure out that Dudley has been sleeping with the victim's wife, making him a prime suspect. When you get an answer, you choose how Phelps reacts to it. The face buttons correspond to a reaction.

You can choose to believe them, gently press them, or just all-out accuse them of lying. Knowing how to read the tells and determining the personality of your subject is important.

Push them too far or be too trusting and you could miss out on an important clue. You'll never fail to solve a case, though. Losing a clue just means you have to progress through it another, more complicated, way. The game will always offer an alternative way of doing so.

THE ANGELS
Every crime scene is packed with things to inspect. As you look for clues, soft, moody jazz music plays, and when Phelps finds something of note, a piano tinkles softly. It oozes class, and the musical score is lush and cinematic.

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If you thought Mafia 2 captured the feeling of '40s America well, this outclasses it in every respect. The reason L.A. Noire is exciting is that it makes you really feel like a detective. The more you play, the better you'll get at sniffing out liars and finding clues.

You can pick up items in the world and study them in your hands by rotating the analogue stick. When you're inspecting a body you can lift up the arms, look inside the pockets and roll them over. It's a superbly immersive experience.

But there's a lot more to the game than just detecting. Phelps will have to tackle other problems, including his own personal demons. He's far from being a clean-cut boy in blue; Rockstar say he's wracked with inner conflict, which should give him some depth past his occupation.

This, combined with MotionScan and a stunningly detailed and authentic setting make L.A. Noire feel surprisingly mature and intelligent. The cast of real TV actors - a lot of whom you'll recognise if you watch a lot of US drama - adds more realism and trademark Rockstar class to the whole thing.

We question how much freedom there actually is when you're solving crimes, but the staggering attention to detail and involving storytelling mean it won't matter. L.A. Noire will draw you into its dark, deadly vision of post-war Hollywood, where behind every twitch of the eye and nervous glance lies a sinister secret.

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