LA Noire: The interactive detective | Technology | The Guardian
Two police detectives burst into a filthy apartment. A woman is cowering on the floor amid upturned furniture as a group of hired thugs search every drawer and cupboard. A fist fight ensues, the heavies are dispatched and the officers are left to question the traumatised victim.
How do they start questioning her? How will they know if she's telling the truth? Well, that's your problem. You are the cop and this is a whole new type of video game.
LA Noire is the latest offering from Rockstar Games, the notorious publisher of Grand Theft Auto and last year's brilliant western shooter, Red Dead Redemption. The action takes place in the seamy, crime-sodden LA of the late 40s; the familiar hunting ground of Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Dashiell Hammett – all huge influences on the game's director, Brendan McNamara. The player takes on the role of rookie detective Cole Phelps as he investigates a series of kidnaps and murders, studying crime scenes, talking to witnesses and interrogating suspects. Gamers are able to choose the tone of each Q&A session, playing nice and going in gently, or challenging every word the subject utters. Vitally, progress is made by watching characters as they stutter and squirm, judging whether they're lying or terrified; it's not killing people, it's reading them.
The realism of these virtual humans is incredible. In one scene the gamer has to question an actor who has been drugged, shoved in the back of a car and wheeled down an embankment in a thwarted murder attempt. Her eyes dart about, she shifts uncomfortably, her brows furrow in agitation – she's hiding something. These aren't the gross caricatures of facial expressions we're used to in video games; they are subtle and natural. Later, the gamer talks to a weasely prop house owner who has been caught running a seedy casting coach. He snarls his way through the session, but after a few threats he wilts, his expression droops. At times, it is almost photographic.