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PAX East 2011: LA NOIRE

Posted by: Ben Berry at 3/16/2011 11:55 PM
I have to admit, I didn't have any idea what Rockstar was showing when I saw they had a booth upon entering the PAX East hall on Friday morning. In fact, not only did I not know what they were showing, but I didn't have an appointment and the line was LOOOOONG. It was easily the second longest long behind The Old Republic at the entire show. So I decided to wait until Sunday when most of the press time is over, or even better, people start skipping their appointments to goof off or recover from a night of drinking. Sunday afternoon, I made my move walking up to the booth, business card in hand. 3 minutes later I was ushered into a room with just 2 other press people for a just about to start briefing on LA NOIRE. Like I said, Sundays are the day to see stuff if you don't have an appointment.


If you aren't familiar with LA NOIRE, it's a police drama set in 1940's Los Angeles. You play as Cole Phelps, a white as driven snow young officer, working his way up the ranks. Your goal is to solve cases as you move through the various departments of the LAPD. Like every young policeman, you start by walking the beat, and work your way through traffic, vice, all the way up to homicide. 

Earning your way through each desk isn't as simple as going out and shooting someone. In fact, if I had to sum up this game in a single term, it would be the "anti-Grand Theft Auto". You're a cop, and your job is to protect and serve. At least as it was done in the 40's. Procedure is still procedure, but you won't be waiting for a warrant every time you need to interview someone. But you'll have to do some detective work if you want to find the right person to talk to. Many items in the world, including corpses, can be examined for clues or evidence that will help you along the way in each case. The more you investigate, the better your chances of successfully closing the case


 

While it's not GTA, LA NOIRE does take a lot of good things from it's older brother; you get 8 square miles of pre-freeway system LA to explore sandbox style. You can walk the straight and narrow with the hopes of the brass on your shoulders, or you can choose to walk the darker part of the thin blue line. You'll be surrounded by characters that feel authentic, like a homicide partner who will tell you sometimes a woman needs to be put in her place with the back of a hand. Some people might find it offensive, but it's definitely fitting for a period when men were men and dames were dames.

Exploration and investigation are the name of this game. Finding and following up on clues earns you experience. Experience is used to boost intuition, which helps you make smart judgement calls on tough cases. In a game with over 400 real life actors involved in the production, story is clearly the center of this adventure. And that story is relayed through animation that comes from a new form of facial scanning developed in Australia that gives the characters some very realistic expressions and motion. 
 


 

The realism of the game is buoyed both by the period acting experience of Mad Men's Aaron Staton in the lead role as Cole Phelps, and from the Law and Order style "ripped from the headlines" crimes. Of course, those headlines are from the 1940's but it really does add depth for anyone familiar with the Black Dahlia murders or other well known crimes of the period. Little touches like the licensing of Cole Porter songs really set the tone, and little touches like the tinkle of piano keys when you are in the vicinity of a clue gives this game the welcome feel of an interactive movie and not just another cops and robbers shoot em up.

LA NOIRE hits retail on May 17th.