For: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Team Bondi/Rockstar
Publisher: Rockstar Games
When? 20 May 2011

What’s it all about? Sleuthing, that’s what, all in a circa 1940 LA modelled on genuine period maps. Fist swinging wise guys, cigarillo-smoking dames and a police force riddled with infighting and corruption, all adding to a living, breathing city dripping with nostalgia.

For main character, Cole Phelps, WWII veteran and now rookie cop, it’s all he can do to put in an honest day’s work. Able to handle himself in a brawl, calm under fire and with a head for problems, it isn’t long until Phelps is noticed by the top brass and so begins his police career, taking him to various crime desks, including Beat, Traffic, Homicide and Vice.

The first thing that strikes you about LA Noire is the facial animation on show, recorded via groundbreaking performance capture technology called ‘MotionScan’, each character has been painstakingly scripted and acted, down to every stutter and furrowed brow.

All that technology is necessary to make the meat and drink of the game, the interrogation, work naturally. You see, Phelps’ main weapon isn’t his gun, even his fists; instead it’s his ability to spot a liar and expose the truth via the presentation of evidence.

When interviewing a witness or suspect each of their statements is open to three responses, you either believe them, outright accuse them of lying, or show them they’re lying by presenting contradictory evidence. Is that a moment of hesitation? Maybe they’re lying, maybe they’re just scared. Press them too hard though and many will clam-up so if you’re going to accuse them you better be sure.

Thankfully the games amazingly flexible and branching storyline is able to handle whatever choices you make. For example, take the ‘The Silk Stocking Murder’, one of several of Phelps’ Homicide Desk cases as he hunts down the Black Dahlia serial killer – yes, the real one, all of LA Noire’s cases are based on actual police files.

First on the crime scene, Phelps and his partner begin their investigation as subtly, in the background, an inquisitive, slow paced sax kicks in, indicating there are clues here. Aside from the naked, brutally mutilated corpse of a young woman – this isn’t an 18 cert for no reason – a trail of blood leads Phelps along from clue to clue. A gory ring prised from the woman’s finger here, a necklace draped across a post there, until the final discovery of the woman’s handbag with some personal effects – the murderer wants us to know who the woman is; he’s toying with the police.

Stopping by the murdered woman’s home, we speak to her landlady who tells us two things: one that she was separated from her husband and second, that she went out to the El Dorado bar that night. Here’s where the game’s flexibility is truly apparent, Phelps can call on the husband or see if anyone remembers her at the bar. Which we do first directly affecting what happens at both locales, in terms of how witnesses react to us, what we learn and how we can advance afterwards.

By this point we might not even have heard the information pertaining to the El Dorado depending on how the questioning of her landlady went down. In that case the game might try to again point us in the bar’s location by having her husband mention it during interview, or again we might miss it, in which case Phelps might not find out about the bar at all; the game’s narrative structure flexing and restructuring so we can still carry on with the case – it seems that no two play-throughs will ever yield quite the same storyline.

Add into the mix some frantic chase scenes and shoot-outs, a variety of non-story related crimes – from muggings to bank heists – for Phelps to help out with if the mood takes him (you can return to these later at your leisure) and you begin to get an idea of how expansive and ambitious a project this is.

Worth the wait? LA Noire is shaping up to be some exciting for sure, it’s something of a departure from Rockstar’s usual releases too, undoubtedly due to this being a collaboration between them and Brendan McNamara’s Team Bondi. A slower pace and more contemplative mood awaits in LA Noire, no bad thing if the bulk of cases are as interesting as the ones we’ve been privy to so far.