Hands On: L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is symbolic of a new era at Rockstar Games. On last-generation consoles, they were best known for the mindless violence and great soundtracks of the Grand Theft Auto games. So far on the current set of systems however, they’ve released a serious sports game, a surprisingly dark and realistic entry in their flagship GTA series and a solid and inventive western game.


Their lineup for the next few years is just as varied and adventurous: in May the company will release L.A. Noire, a detective saga developed in collaboration with Team Bondi; followed by a new twist on an old series in Max Payne 3 and later Agent, a PS3 exclusive espionage thriller set in the Cold War. As much as that’s exciting from a player’s perspective, it’s clear from spending time at Rockstar that it’s even more so for them, always thinking about what’s coming next – pushing the bar creatively, narratively, and technically.

[boxout]A bit of a recap for those who haven’t been keeping up with L.A. Noire: you play as Cole Phelps (played and voiced by Mad Men’s Aaron Staton – more on that in a bit) and the game starts as his career does, as a beat cop.

From there, a combination of a string of successful cases and the LAPD’s need for a pretty face lead you up through a number of other ‘desks’ – departments in the force. From the corruption of vice, the destruction of arson, and the horrific corpses of homicide, the game is both varied and most definitely adult in content.

I grew up playing the GTA games on PS2 but mindless violence, this is not: the vast majority of the cases in the game are based on real-life events (although with names changed out of respect, and details altered so that you can’t fly through the game with Wikipedia as a guide) and a number of them are really quite dark and disturbing.

Of course, if you’ve only heard the smallest bit about L.A. Noire, it’s likely to have been about the game’s unique and revolutionary motion capture system. As much as it is a big bullet-point feature, much has already been made of the system, and Rockstar are keen that the focus now return to the game itself. Having said that, it is worth at least a small mention here, as it makes all of the named actors in the game’s performances all the more believable. MotionScan captures two performances: firstly, the motion capture with the skin-tight suits and brightly-coloured balls that you’ve likely seen in countless game development diaries but then on top of this, a state-of-the-art facial capture rig.

Made up of a whole bunch of HD cameras, it captures an actor’s performance from every angle, which is then combined with the body capture to create a realistic performance in-game. It’s a massive step-up from the sort of capture used with GTAIV and Read Dead Redemption but Rockstar are quick to note that it won’t just be used for everything else from here on out – it’s Team Bondi’s tech, not theirs, and whereas it’s crucial to the core gameplay in L.A. Noire, it wouldn’t be worth it for something like Max Payne 3, where the technology won’t be making an appearance. But, as I said, this isn’t a preview of MotionScan, it’s a preview of L.A. Noire itself.

[drop2]Red Dead Redemption has been very often referred to as “GTA in the Wild West”, for better or worse. L.A. Noire, however, is definitely not “GTA in the 1940s”. You’re not out to be the top mobster, or for revenge for the death of a family friend, you’re simply an army veteran starting a career as a cop.

Equally, you won’t be wandering around the streets heading to a mission-starting trigger. Instead, in that respect at least, L.A. Noire is a lot more linear than you might expect from a Rockstar game. From the main menu that presents itself when you boot up the game you can either jump into wherever you’ve got up to in the game’s main story, go into the individual desks in detail to select a particular mission or any other option that opens up at the end of each desk.

It’s also worth making a note here about the extra missions that have popped-up as pre-order rewards: whilst they will slot into a particular desk, depending on the case, they won’t leave a gaping hole in the plot or anything if you don’t have them – they are very much stand-alone chapters. And if you do feel the need for more game but haven’t pre-ordered, Rockstar have confirmed all of the rewards will later be available on both console’s storefronts.

Aside from a quick jump into an earlier mission (“The Red Lipstick Murder”) as a chance to get to grips with the controls and the like, the main bulk of my time with the game was spent with a case about halfway through the homicide desk titled “The Silk Stocking Murder”. Not long promoted from the traffic desk, Phelps is currently partnered up with Rusty Galloway – your typical old-school detective – and investigating a series of gruesome murders that seem to be the work of the Black Dahlia, a real-life serial killer from the period.

In “The Silk Stocking Murder”, a young girl is found naked and mutilated in an alleyway, with “Kiss the Blood” written in blood on her body, signed off by “B.D.” Whilst Cole thinks it is indeed the work of the Dahlia, and the coroner agrees that the body matches that killer’s modus operandi, Galloway is convinced that a copycat killer is using “B.D.” as a cover.

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  1. May wanna check your release date… :-P

    • You beat me to it, it is right at the end of the Article though.

  2. Looks epic. Can not wait.

    • hope its not as long winded as Heavy Rain

      • Never thought I’d see the day people were complaining about a game being too long.

      • hope its very long.

      • That’s what she said.

  3. So who has their facts wrong, TSA or Rockstar?
    The Black Dahlia was the nickname of Elizabeth Short, the victim who was found cut in half.
    Forgivable if it’s Josh’s mistake, no bother.
    But if Rockstar are calling the killer The Black Dahlia, that’s a pretty glaring oversight.
    Still cannot wait for this though.

    • isn’t the killer commonly referred to as “The Black Dahlia Killer” though? I’m sure I saw Discovery Network programs about the mystery years ago that talked about the Black Dahlia as the killer, not just the victim.

      • In my time with the game, Rockstar referred to the murders that tie together the homicide desk as “The Black Dahlia Killer”, but it also appears in-game as “Black Dahlia” or “B.D.” as on the corpse found in The Silk Stocking Murder.

        Also, quick note, whilst it’s a collaboration with Rockstar, it’s Team Bondi developing, not Rockstar themselves.

      • Perhaps now it has become the ‘Black Dahlia’ case/incident/whatever, but my understanding is that the press dubbed her The Black Dahlia.
        So without the intervening 60 years to obscure the original origin of the name, I would have thought that it would be strange for either the real killer or a copycat to be identifying themselves as The Black Dahlia.
        I expect if you had mentioned the name in the latter part of the 1940s, people would have associated it with the victim, rather than the case or the killer.
        Obviously the full context of ‘B.D.’ in the game is not yet known so it may just be obfuscation.
        Either way, I have not found myself invested so much in a game’s plot since Heavy Rain (hopefully there will not be so many holes in Noire’s…).

  4. A really good preview, I can’t wait for this game to come out. But I suppose I’ll have to!

  5. Good amount of info there but dare i ask was this the Ps3 or 360 version you had access to,if both how were the comparisons?

    • I played the the PS3 version the entire time. I was told by the Rockstar rep I was with that the game is identical across both consoles.

      I didn’t want to talk too much in the hands-on about the technical side of things because by now the build I played must be about two months old, but there were no noticeable issues with pop-in, graphics, or anything like that.

      • Great stuff thank you Josh.
        Gotta admit as an old school DMA fan i’m more than a little envious of your trip to the studio,hope you bagged some freebies:).

      • Sadly not, but it was enough to be there. I totally nerded out.

  6. Can. Not. Wait.

  7. This is looking fantastic, though I’m not sure I like how much help you get. I would prefer it to be like Heavy Rain, in that if you fuck up your investigation, you don’t find the killer at the end. As each episode is only short it wouldn’t be dooming your whole game if you missed something important at the beginning, just that small episode.

    • I’m with DrNate86 on this one. It would be awesome to finding clues and listening carefully to the characters. That will pull me in than any games.

    • Agreed, the level of help and tips that seems to have encountered is a little worrying, I’m really not keen on the way that most games this generation seem determined to hold your hand and ensure you have every chance to recover from a mistake. The game becomes less and less about skill and more about simply interacting with a movie-esque experience.

    • I shall be avoiding all help/hints, maybe there will be a option to turn it off.

    • You can turn off things like the rumble and noise at crime scenes, and of course you can still miss a clue when it reappears again. For example, in The Silk Stocking Murder, there’s a bar that opens up as a location if you ask the right question during an interrogation or by finding a particular piece of evidence at another scene. However, it’s entirely possible for you to miss both of those and not even go to that location, it just gives you less to go on later on.

      • Thanks for the reply, great to know the option is there to tone down the hand holding for those of us who expect games to have a certain level of challenge to them.

    • Same here, fella. Rare we see a title handled so deliberately, at the correct pace (read: not churned out for hyperactive children) and it sounds utterly fascinating for it. Count me in.

  8. not for me this, I just can’t get excited by it. Didn’t like Heavy Rain and Rockstar just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

    • Out of interest, can you put your finger on your issue with Heavy Rain?
      The game mechanic? The (admittedly occasionally terrible) voice acting? The plot?
      While quite similar in some respects, I see these as wildly different experiences. Aside from the techinical problems suffered by Heavy Rain, I’m always curious about what people do/don’t like about it.
      Also, as Josh pointed out, this isn’t a Rockstar-developed game so it may be enough of a departure from their usual fare.

  9. Will be getting this, just not a day one.

    Manhunt 3 would be a day one, but this, when its around the £15/20 mark.

    • You’ll be waiting a long while then – GTAIV is still that in most stores.

  10. Its good how they’ve just come out and said that the preorder bonuses will be sold later. No need to worry about where you’re buying it from :)

    • Yeah, I was really happy about that as well :D

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