Monday, February 8, 2010

LA Noire: Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush

By Kirk Hamilton

We've been hearing about Rockstar's upcoming open-world detective game LA Noire for a long time. It was announced almost 2 years ago as a PS3 exclusive, and in the time that's passed, at least according to the twitter feed of "someone close" to developer Team Bondi, the game has gone through a tortured hell of a development cycle that was almost Duke Nukem-Forever-esque in its boondoggleness and clusterfuckery.  Whether or not that will impact the final product remains to be seen - in the meantime, Rockstar and development studio Team Bondi have started to unveil bits about the game, and it sounds quite interesting.

Of course, an open-world noir detective game set in 1947 Los Angeles immediately captures my attention and imagination - not only is it set in a real place, if it's done properly, the atmospheric and cinematic tricks of noir could really work in a game. It's something I have only seen done right once, and that was in Grim Fandango, which is one of my favorite games in the history of ever.

What's more, LA Noire doesn't appear to adhere to Rockstar's patented "Be a sympathetic human person during the missions but a murdering psychopath on your own time" design scheme that can be so frustrating.  Instead, the game is grounded in reality, with gameplay focusing heavily on old-fashioned detective work - finding clues, interviewing witnesses, and interrogating suspects.

The crime-scene investigation sounds like it'd work better with a point-and-click mouse interface (and makes me think about Police Quest: Open Season for the first time in years... The head! In the fridge!) but it could still be interesting, if the interface is up to snuff.

The interrogation sequences sound intriguing, as well, though I'll believe that business about how "every facial moment is recorded, from the most exaggerate of motions to the slightest twitch of an eye" when I see it in action. All the same, it'll be fun to push lying suspects into showing a tell, sort of like that (heavy-handed) scene when you manipulate the neck-scratching Noverian genetics dealer in the original Mass Effect. They're gonna need to get some good actors, though.

There is, of course, a lot about LA Noire that remains to be seen - it's not being developed by Rockstar North, nor is it written by Dan Hauser, so despite the Rockstar name, the polish and charm of a Rockstar game is far from a sure thing. What's more, the game was announced and then slunk back from the spotlight for a year or so, which is never a good sign, and switched midstream to multi-platform, which could point to publisher meddling and abrupt tech changes.

I'll have really high demands/expectations for the soundtrack, too - it'll need lots of great licensed tracks from the era, as well as a great score full of scratchy-record effects and smokey saxophones - anything less will be a disappointment.

But still, if it works out, it'll be some unholy mashup of Phoenix Wright, Police Quest, Mafia, and LA Confidential. If there's even an outside chance of those elements successfully coming together in a game, then oh, what a game it will be.