Giant Bomb News

127 Comments

Sleuthing Through the Back Alleys of L.A. Noire

Rockstar's crime thriller was shown to the public (and us) at PAX East 2011. Read about it!

It's surreal, the number of long-in-development games that might actually burst forth into the light of commercial release in 2011. In the time since Rockstar Games and Team Bondi's Los Angeles crime saga, L.A. Noire, initially appeared by way of scant few screenshots and little concrete info back in the mid-2000s, children have been born, learned to crawl, walk, talk, and use basic arithmetic. And yet, while some games of similarly protracted and clandestine development cycles perhaps look worse for all that developmental wear, L.A. Noire seems to have benefited from its extended gestation. Though the game was only shown via a developer-driven, 30-minute demo at PAX East 2011, what Rockstar showed certainly made an impression.

At first blush, L.A. Noire seems to have all the hallmarks of a typical Rockstar joint, namely a third-person protagonist wandering around an open world full of sex, murder, corruption, and everything illicit in between. In this case, the setting is 1947 Los Angeles, and you play as Cole Phelps, a young officer in the LAPD rising through the ranks of the department. Phelps, played by Mad Men's Aaron Staton, starts out the game as a beat cop, working the streets and securing crime scenes for the detectives above his pay grade. However, over the course of the game your career will flourish, with stops in a variety of different units, including traffic, arson, vice and homicide.

 Investigation is the name of the game. Also the name of the game: L.A. Noire.
The mission shown in the PAX East demo was one of the earliest homicide missions, titled "The Red Lipstick Murder." Rockstar was quick to point out that many of the game's cases are rooted in true crime origins, drawing inspiration from real scandals and murders of the period. Similarly, each case is a stand-alone story event with a self-contained narrative. The game will include an overarching plot revolving around Phelps, as well as his troubled past--some of which involves his service during World War II--but nothing shown in the PAX demo alluded to the direction any of that story might go.

Instead, we were introduced to intense, brutal violence right from the get-go. A woman is dragged screaming from a car at a popular heavy-petting spot overlooking the city, and is subsequently beaten to death with a tire iron. The faceless killer fades into the dark, and we are introduced to Cole. Upon arriving at the scene with his cantankerous, half-drunk new partner, Rusty Galloway, Phelps goes right to work, bee-lining for the stark-naked and desecrated corpse. Side note: If you are sensitive to seeing fully naked dead ladies, this is probably not the game for you.

After a bit of rat-a-tat back-and-forth with some nosy reporters, Phelps begins investigating. Rockstar emphasized the nature of the game's investigation mechanics, compared with other crime-solving adventure titles. Rather than just poking around until you find the right highlighted object that progresses you to the next section of the story, L.A. Noire is aimed at getting you to use your head and actual investigation. For example, when you examine the woman's body, you can highlight several sections, including her head, her arms, her torso, and so on. While highlighted on those sections, you can use the controller's analog sticks to turn them to look more closely at wounds, markings or other possible evidence. Elsewhere, it pays to be dutiful in your searching. Supposedly, you will never quite know when an object might pertinent to your investigation or not, so it pays to be painstaking when it comes to searching and evidence collection. All of your evidence and information is kept inside your notebook, which keeps a detailed and easily accessible list of everything you've discovered so far.

 The game is thick with era-specific atmosphere.
This careful style of play carries over into interrogations. As persons of interest appear, you will find yourself asking them pointed questions about the victims, what they saw, and possible involvement in the crimes. With each response given, it's on you to determine if the person in front of you is being truthful or not. How you determine that comes largely from intuition. If a person is being direct, making eye contact, and saying things that don't contradict evidence you have, they're almost certainly telling the truth, which means you should select the "truth" option when directing your next question. However, if someone is being evasive or stumbling over their words, they're likely lying. If you have evidence that directly contradicts what they're saying, you can choose the "lie" option, and directly confront them. If you currently lack that evidence, choose "doubt," and you'll press them without out-and-out calling them a liar.

It's easy to envision a mechanic like this boiling down to a series of painfully obvious visual cues and character tics--after all, subtlety in facial expression is not something games have really done well up to this point. Enter a new form of facial capture technology, which Team Bondi has used to capture the expressions of the actors as they deliver their lines in the recording studio. The aim of this tech is to finally cross over that seemingly insurmountable valley of the uncanny and create video game characters that blink, smirk, furrow, and frown with naturalistic quality. If the demo I saw was any indication, they've nailed it. 
  
  
Certainly you know you are looking at a game character, but I can't recall a time when I've seen anything this believable and realistic. Lip movements are phenomenal and accurate, with none of the awkward fish-mouthed movements one tends to associate with games. More impressive are the eyes, which don't just dart around based on random algorithms or stare straight ahead at you, like a dead-eyed automaton. Interrogating a suspect, you see the subtle movements, the wrinkles in their brow, the throwaway looks downward that signal something might be amiss. I'm trying to avoid hyperbole because, again, this was just a 30-minute demo. But over the course of that demo, I saw such a wide array of expressions and facial features that frankly, I just couldn't help but be impressed. The one knock is that, by comparison, the body animations seem rather antiquated. Outside of fisticuffs--which, frankly, looked a bit clunky--the basic body movements seemed fine, but when juxtaposed against the hyperrealism of the character faces, the stiffness found below the neck stuck out.

Equally impressive is the game's sense of style and atmosphere. Though it's set a few years earlier, L.A. Noire immediately evokes the look, feel, music, fashion and overall vibe of 1997's Oscar-winning 1950s crime drama, L.A. Confidential. You see it all over the larger world, from the busy, coupe-filled streets to the rundown bungalows and apartment buildings that pock the sprawling landscape. However, it's the smaller details that really dig out the L.A. Confidential thing. One particularly on-the-nose scene features your Irish police captain delivering a matter-of-fact speech on the heinous murder you're about to investigate, while you sit in a wood-paneled room behind clunky desks amid peers of run down men in $30 suits and fedora hats. Much the way that they co-opted the plot, scenery, soundtrack and characters of Scarface for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Rockstar seems to have plunged its tendrils deep into L.A. Confidential's cultural elements, and found a way to marry them to the world of their game with a kind of creative reverence. 
 
 The notebook is a detective's best friend. Well, that, and the occasional scotch.
For as much as was shown during the L.A. Noire demo, just as much wasn't. The developers opted against showing any of the open world stuff, instead sticking to the "trip skip" mechanic to jump to the next relevant point on the map. They did comment on the size of the city--8 square miles--and that deciding to drive would yield you some periodically relevant dialogue about your current case with your partner. Additionally, we only saw maybe half of one case, with no clear picture of exactly how many cases the game offers, or how much exploratory side questing the game would allow for (though earlier reports seem to indicate the game maintains a fairly linear structure throughout). Still, the facial capture tech, the detail-rich world, and the solid-looking crime-solving mechanics at the core of the game all looked unquestionably impressive. It can be tough to glean the true nature of a game from a tightly-scripted, developer-driven demo, but what Rockstar brought to PAX East was something that certainly seemed worth getting excited about.

Alex Navarro on Google+
127 Comments
  • 127 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Posted by Alex

It's surreal, the number of long-in-development games that might actually burst forth into the light of commercial release in 2011. In the time since Rockstar Games and Team Bondi's Los Angeles crime saga, L.A. Noire, initially appeared by way of scant few screenshots and little concrete info back in the mid-2000s, children have been born, learned to crawl, walk, talk, and use basic arithmetic. And yet, while some games of similarly protracted and clandestine development cycles perhaps look worse for all that developmental wear, L.A. Noire seems to have benefited from its extended gestation. Though the game was only shown via a developer-driven, 30-minute demo at PAX East 2011, what Rockstar showed certainly made an impression.

At first blush, L.A. Noire seems to have all the hallmarks of a typical Rockstar joint, namely a third-person protagonist wandering around an open world full of sex, murder, corruption, and everything illicit in between. In this case, the setting is 1947 Los Angeles, and you play as Cole Phelps, a young officer in the LAPD rising through the ranks of the department. Phelps, played by Mad Men's Aaron Staton, starts out the game as a beat cop, working the streets and securing crime scenes for the detectives above his pay grade. However, over the course of the game your career will flourish, with stops in a variety of different units, including traffic, arson, vice and homicide.

 Investigation is the name of the game. Also the name of the game: L.A. Noire.
The mission shown in the PAX East demo was one of the earliest homicide missions, titled "The Red Lipstick Murder." Rockstar was quick to point out that many of the game's cases are rooted in true crime origins, drawing inspiration from real scandals and murders of the period. Similarly, each case is a stand-alone story event with a self-contained narrative. The game will include an overarching plot revolving around Phelps, as well as his troubled past--some of which involves his service during World War II--but nothing shown in the PAX demo alluded to the direction any of that story might go.

Instead, we were introduced to intense, brutal violence right from the get-go. A woman is dragged screaming from a car at a popular heavy-petting spot overlooking the city, and is subsequently beaten to death with a tire iron. The faceless killer fades into the dark, and we are introduced to Cole. Upon arriving at the scene with his cantankerous, half-drunk new partner, Rusty Galloway, Phelps goes right to work, bee-lining for the stark-naked and desecrated corpse. Side note: If you are sensitive to seeing fully naked dead ladies, this is probably not the game for you.

After a bit of rat-a-tat back-and-forth with some nosy reporters, Phelps begins investigating. Rockstar emphasized the nature of the game's investigation mechanics, compared with other crime-solving adventure titles. Rather than just poking around until you find the right highlighted object that progresses you to the next section of the story, L.A. Noire is aimed at getting you to use your head and actual investigation. For example, when you examine the woman's body, you can highlight several sections, including her head, her arms, her torso, and so on. While highlighted on those sections, you can use the controller's analog sticks to turn them to look more closely at wounds, markings or other possible evidence. Elsewhere, it pays to be dutiful in your searching. Supposedly, you will never quite know when an object might pertinent to your investigation or not, so it pays to be painstaking when it comes to searching and evidence collection. All of your evidence and information is kept inside your notebook, which keeps a detailed and easily accessible list of everything you've discovered so far.

 The game is thick with era-specific atmosphere.
This careful style of play carries over into interrogations. As persons of interest appear, you will find yourself asking them pointed questions about the victims, what they saw, and possible involvement in the crimes. With each response given, it's on you to determine if the person in front of you is being truthful or not. How you determine that comes largely from intuition. If a person is being direct, making eye contact, and saying things that don't contradict evidence you have, they're almost certainly telling the truth, which means you should select the "truth" option when directing your next question. However, if someone is being evasive or stumbling over their words, they're likely lying. If you have evidence that directly contradicts what they're saying, you can choose the "lie" option, and directly confront them. If you currently lack that evidence, choose "doubt," and you'll press them without out-and-out calling them a liar.

It's easy to envision a mechanic like this boiling down to a series of painfully obvious visual cues and character tics--after all, subtlety in facial expression is not something games have really done well up to this point. Enter a new form of facial capture technology, which Team Bondi has used to capture the expressions of the actors as they deliver their lines in the recording studio. The aim of this tech is to finally cross over that seemingly insurmountable valley of the uncanny and create video game characters that blink, smirk, furrow, and frown with naturalistic quality. If the demo I saw was any indication, they've nailed it. 
  
  
Certainly you know you are looking at a game character, but I can't recall a time when I've seen anything this believable and realistic. Lip movements are phenomenal and accurate, with none of the awkward fish-mouthed movements one tends to associate with games. More impressive are the eyes, which don't just dart around based on random algorithms or stare straight ahead at you, like a dead-eyed automaton. Interrogating a suspect, you see the subtle movements, the wrinkles in their brow, the throwaway looks downward that signal something might be amiss. I'm trying to avoid hyperbole because, again, this was just a 30-minute demo. But over the course of that demo, I saw such a wide array of expressions and facial features that frankly, I just couldn't help but be impressed. The one knock is that, by comparison, the body animations seem rather antiquated. Outside of fisticuffs--which, frankly, looked a bit clunky--the basic body movements seemed fine, but when juxtaposed against the hyperrealism of the character faces, the stiffness found below the neck stuck out.

Equally impressive is the game's sense of style and atmosphere. Though it's set a few years earlier, L.A. Noire immediately evokes the look, feel, music, fashion and overall vibe of 1997's Oscar-winning 1950s crime drama, L.A. Confidential. You see it all over the larger world, from the busy, coupe-filled streets to the rundown bungalows and apartment buildings that pock the sprawling landscape. However, it's the smaller details that really dig out the L.A. Confidential thing. One particularly on-the-nose scene features your Irish police captain delivering a matter-of-fact speech on the heinous murder you're about to investigate, while you sit in a wood-paneled room behind clunky desks amid peers of run down men in $30 suits and fedora hats. Much the way that they co-opted the plot, scenery, soundtrack and characters of Scarface for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Rockstar seems to have plunged its tendrils deep into L.A. Confidential's cultural elements, and found a way to marry them to the world of their game with a kind of creative reverence. 
 
 The notebook is a detective's best friend. Well, that, and the occasional scotch.
For as much as was shown during the L.A. Noire demo, just as much wasn't. The developers opted against showing any of the open world stuff, instead sticking to the "trip skip" mechanic to jump to the next relevant point on the map. They did comment on the size of the city--8 square miles--and that deciding to drive would yield you some periodically relevant dialogue about your current case with your partner. Additionally, we only saw maybe half of one case, with no clear picture of exactly how many cases the game offers, or how much exploratory side questing the game would allow for (though earlier reports seem to indicate the game maintains a fairly linear structure throughout). Still, the facial capture tech, the detail-rich world, and the solid-looking crime-solving mechanics at the core of the game all looked unquestionably impressive. It can be tough to glean the true nature of a game from a tightly-scripted, developer-driven demo, but what Rockstar brought to PAX East was something that certainly seemed worth getting excited about.

Edited by VisceralBishop24

Definitely looking forward to this game. Reading through this article now. 
 
Weird that they didn't show any of the open world. Driving in GTA IV was utter crap, so would have been nice to know if they changed anything with it, but if you can just teleport to the next objective, I guess it doesn't really matter. 
 
Great write up Alex for the people that didn't see that 30-minute demo.

Posted by satiricalscience

Man, I can't wait for this game.

Posted by buft

looks amazing, finding clues, watching faces for lies and shooting dudes.

Posted by nail1080

PAX East news... 1 week later

Posted by isles

cool!

Posted by Purple_Proletarius
@nail1080 said:
" PAX East news... 1 week later "
GB has always been about quality, not efficiency.  
 
Anyways, glad Alex got to do this one, feel he's most equipped to relate to the inspirational material.
Posted by kurashu

Hey Alex, I was in the same session as you! 
L.A. Noire looks to be another smash hit, apart from the above mentioned issues (clunky animation and maybe lack of free roaming).
 
One thing that I didn't get right is, each case starts off as a murder or incident and once you get control of Phelps you start doing the detective work. Now, does that mean you can just roam around instead of looking for clues or do other stuff, or you have to go crime scene and start investigating. I'm hoping (and guessing that it is) the latter one. 
 
Anyway, the demo was pretty cool and gave some good sense of what to expect when we get the game in 2 months!

Posted by SSully

Sounds outstanding. I hope it doesnt suffer from Mafia 2 syndrome by giving you a huge world, but having nothing in it to do. 

Posted by DystopiaX

Even more hyped for this game than before.

Posted by BigStupidFace

Haven't decided if the game actually looks that fun yet, but damn, the facial expressions.... the eyes actually like and act like eyes!

Posted by BigStupidFace

And at 1:22, it kinda looks like Wayne Rooney

Posted by Brad
@Purple_Proletarius said:
" @nail1080 said:
" PAX East news... 1 week later "
GB has always been about quality, not efficiency.  
Nevermind that PAX East ended less than 24 hours ago.
Staff
Posted by Bloodgraiv3

It looks so damn incredible. 
Posted by Rhombus_Of_Terror

I wonder if the protagonist will accidently say "ARI COMMENT" as a wink and a nod.

Posted by myslead

my only two games I really really wanted to play early 2011 were 
Dragon Age 2 
and 
L.A. Noire 
 
let's hope L.A. Noire will deliver because DA2 sure didn't...

Posted by misfit13b

"the stiffness found below the neck stuck out." 
 
OK, we get it.  You liked the game!

Posted by SpicyRichter

Kinda looking forward to how they will apply the face tracking tech into a GTAIV Vice City

Posted by Magarnacle

Everything seems to be lining up with this game. Every new video has me more and more excited and it sounds like the 30 minute demo only confirms that.
 
Hopefully this game creates a resurgence of the crime game. The Police Quest series a needed reboot. It has been too long since someone went after the Death Angel.

Posted by kurashu

Also, for whoever didn't see the demo, you can also interact with certain evidences you find in the crime.
For instance, an object that is a puzzle. Solve it and it could give you a new clue. (Not being very specific as not to spoil the game)
 
That was pretty neat surprise to me as I thought you could you inspect the objects.

Posted by OllyOxenFree
@misfit13b said:
" "the stiffness found below the neck stuck out."  OK, we get it.  You liked the game! "
Dohohohoho!
Posted by FritzDude

Amazing. Truly.

Edited by Sooty
@VisceralBishop24 said:

" Definitely looking forward to this game. Reading through this article now.  Weird that they didn't show any of the open world. Driving in GTA IV was utter crap, so would have been nice to know if they changed anything with it, but if you can just teleport to the next objective, I guess it doesn't really matter.  Great write up Alex for the people that didn't see that 30-minute demo. "

This game isn't actually made by Rockstar, for some reason everybody on Giant Bomb keeps referring to it as "Rockstar's L.A. Noire" when it's actually developed by Team Bondi.  
 
It's weird.
Posted by Woodroez
@misfit13b said:
""the stiffness found below the neck stuck out."  OK, we get it.  You liked the game! "

A+, would quote again.
Posted by weegieanawrench

Great write up, Alex. Thanks for shedding some light on L.A. Noire, really excited for this game!

Posted by Jackel2072

im glad the crime solving puzzles rely on you using your own brain and not some triggered event once you've found all the evidence. 

Posted by Skald

That's a pretty retro looking atmosphere there, hoss.

Posted by Zimbo
@Ygg:  It's probably because it looks so much like a Rockstar game. Rockstar is also publishing it so I'm sure they have helped Team Bondi a fair amount throughout development.
Posted by TheWan

it's amazing how good the characters look. I spotted Tim Allen's brother Marty from Home Improvement right away. there were others too that I recognized, but couldn't quite place what I have seen them in lately.
Posted by Superfriend
@VisceralBishop24 said:
Driving in GTA IV was utter crap "
I really, really hope the developers don´t listen to comments like this. It was fine, maybe they should include a couple more options, but they should definitely NOT go for an arcadey driving model like in Saints Row.. it just wouldn´t fit the setting.
Posted by Vinchenzo

ALEX DON'T YOU HAVE A FUCKING MOVIE SITE TO RUN?

Posted by Death_Unicorn

Hyped.

Posted by VilhelmNielsen

So many Mad Men cameos in that trailer.

Edited by VisceralBishop24
@Ygg said:

" @VisceralBishop24 said:

" Definitely looking forward to this game. Reading through this article now.  Weird that they didn't show any of the open world. Driving in GTA IV was utter crap, so would have been nice to know if they changed anything with it, but if you can just teleport to the next objective, I guess it doesn't really matter.  Great write up Alex for the people that didn't see that 30-minute demo. "

This game isn't actually made by Rockstar, for some reason everybody on Giant Bomb keeps referring to it as "Rockstar's L.A. Noire" when it's actually developed by Team Bondi.   It's weird. "
Pretty sure I knew that.  It doesn't mean they would not incorporate that same driving technology. Although I doubt they will, you or I don't know that. But yes, I knew Team Bondi was making the game.
 
@Superfriend said:

" @VisceralBishop24 said:

Driving in GTA IV was utter crap "
I really, really hope the developers don´t listen to comments like this. It was fine, maybe they should include a couple more options, but they should definitely NOT go for an arcadey driving model like in Saints Row.. it just wouldn´t fit the setting. "
Yeah, it's really bad for developers to know opinions on games from the gamers. I thought it was bad, that's MY opinion. I don't believe I even mentioned about adding in a driving style like in Saints Row, I was simply stating that if they use the same driving technology that was in GTAIV, which they're probably not, I hope they update it, as I didn't think it was all that good.
Posted by Xpgamer7

Now I'm definitely ready to get it.

Posted by Underachiever007

Nicely written article, Alex.

Posted by karmaghost
@TheWan said:
" it's amazing how good the characters look. I spotted Tim Allen's brother Marty from Home Improvement right away. there were others too that I recognized, but couldn't quite place what I have seen them in lately. "
At 2:19 in the video I'm pretty sure that's Greg Grunberg, aka  Matt Parkman from Heroes aka Ethan Thomas from Condemned.
Posted by Doctorchimp

Didn't expect anything less.
 
Rockstar has my money...

Posted by Nicky929

This game is going to be seriously good.

Edited by Elwood

#Ygg it's not only in here, other gamesites does it too, IGN even has an article called :  L.A. Noire is Rockstars most serious game.
 
 But just wanted to say good job to Alex for remembering to mention Team Bondi in the beginging of this article 8-)

Edited by Sooty
@VisceralBishop24 said:

" @Ygg said:

" @VisceralBishop24 said:

" Definitely looking forward to this game. Reading through this article now.  Weird that they didn't show any of the open world. Driving in GTA IV was utter crap, so would have been nice to know if they changed anything with it, but if you can just teleport to the next objective, I guess it doesn't really matter.  Great write up Alex for the people that didn't see that 30-minute demo. "

This game isn't actually made by Rockstar, for some reason everybody on Giant Bomb keeps referring to it as "Rockstar's L.A. Noire" when it's actually developed by Team Bondi.   It's weird. "
Pretty sure I knew that.  It doesn't mean they would not incorporate that same driving technology. Although I doubt they will, you or I don't know that. But yes, I knew Team Bondi was making the game.

If you knew it then I don't know why you brought it up, Team Bondi had nothing to do with GTA IV and I doubt Rockstar are calling any shots over the driving system in place within L.A. Noire. 
 
Also I doubt they would be looking into using the same driving system from a 3 year old game, for a totally different era in a different pace of game.
Posted by Vetterli

Great article, Alex! I enjoyed it very much.
 
Btw. does anyone know whether or not they're using the Euphoria physics engine as in GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption?

Posted by angelfan91

How many people from Mad men did they get exactly?
Posted by Fjordson
@kurashu said:
" Hey Alex, I was in the same session as you!  L.A. Noire looks to be another smash hit, apart from the above mentioned issues (clunky animation and maybe lack of free roaming).  One thing that I didn't get right is, each case starts off as a murder or incident and once you get control of Phelps you start doing the detective work. Now, does that mean you can just roam around instead of looking for clues or do other stuff, or you have to go crime scene and start investigating. I'm hoping (and guessing that it is) the latter one.   Anyway, the demo was pretty cool and gave some good sense of what to expect when we get the game in 2 months! "
You'll be able to roam freely. Also, in between cases when you're driving is when you'll get word over your police radio or at the station of street crimes or crimes in progress that you can respond to (a little bit like the random events in Red Dead Redemption).
 
 
Anyways, great writeup Alex. This has been my most anticipated game for years now. Can't believe it's finally coming out. I'm confident it's going to be great.
Posted by Daniel

What an abundance of Mad Men actors and actresses. Recognized 5 faces from that show in here.

Posted by Daniel
@angelfan91: I saw 5. 
 
Ken Cosgrove 
Paul Kinsey 
Peggy's mom 
Joan's old roommate who was in love with her 
Jimmy Barrett  
Posted by zameer

always nice to see you covering games, alex

Posted by Jimbo

Rusty Galloway and Booker DeWitt should team up.

Posted by PillClinton

SPOILERS: Phelps turns out to be the murderer.  
 
...and also an olympic gold medalist swimmer. 

Posted by Cincaid
@alex: 
Excellent write-up man, can't wait for some crimesolving fun! Reminds me of China Town.
 
Forget it Alex, it's China Town.
  • 127 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3