LA Noire preview
I've had murder on my mind for the last couple of days. A woman, seemingly cut down in the prime of her life, laid dead and naked on a bluff on the outskirts of LA. She died of blunt trama to the head, her murderer striking her head in the dead of night with what looked like a pipe. The only witness was an ominous full moon.

I know this because I watched her murder, only briefly, before LA homicide's newest member, detective Cole Phelps, was assigned the case: The Red Lipstick Murder. Phelps may be new to the murder beat, but his skills of detection are unparalleled, both at the crime scene and when interrogating persons of interest.

Sure, it was odd to see him put his hands all over the body, twisting it and analyzing it for clues: a bruise here; a missing wedding ring there; a nearby size 8 man's boot print. Modern detective shows have taught us that touching any evidence is a big no-no, but in 1947, it was the norm -- at least, LA Noire says as much. After stomping around the scene of this gruesome murder, Phelps walks away with a lighter from the Bamba Club and a cause of murder. Odd, since I could've just told him how she died, if only he asked me.
Phelps' interrogation skills are likely what catapulted him from his previous station at the LA burglary desk to homicide. The bartender at the Bamba Club, an honest man named Garret Mason who doles out frothy beers and potent libations for LA's thirsty patrons, reveals the name of the victim after Phelps describes her physique. Her name is Celina Henry. Mason then points Phelps toward the Bamba Club's owner, a reserved man named McCall sitting in a booth in the back room.

With the name of the victim, Phelps has a good starting point for his questioning of the club owner. McCall reveals that Celina was with another man and they left together around 11pm last night -- and he even got a license plate number for the vehicle they left together in. For a club owner, he certainly seems to have a vested interest in this one woman. Lucky for Phelps, I suppose.

Phelps asks if Celina's husband, Jacob, killed her. The darting eyes and inability to meet Phelps' glance as McCall spoke, saying that he didn't think Jacob killed his wife, indicated he was lying. But without any hard proof that he's lying, Phelps can only display doubt and put pressure on him. When Phelps put on the pressure, McCall revealed that this wasn't the first time Celina had come to the bar and had a few too many.

Initially, he claims to have no idea of the whereabouts of Celina, offering a convincing lie, but evidence and other persons of interest have given Phelps a good outline for the night's events.

McCall and Jacob had a deal worked out: when Celina had had too much, McCall would ring up Jacob and he'd come get his wife. The only problem: that night Jacob refused to come get her. Things were starting to get a bit fishy and, aside from the license plate number McCall jotted down, Celina's home address would become the only other focal point for Phelps and Galloway. Stopping at a phone bank on the way out, Phelps calls in the license plate number and is promised some info later on, then makes his way to the Henry residence.

Here, Phelps and Galloway pull out their pistols and cautiously approach the Henry residence, a quaint little rancher across town. Moving in on the house, the two knock and get no answer. Galloway then takes the back and Phelps peers in the front windows. Galloway then finds a smashed window and kicks in the back door, eventually letting Phelps in through the front. Later he would exclaim that he kicked in the door because he didn't want to climb in through a broken window in a thirty-dollar suit. His priorities are a bit different from Phelps', it seems.

Inside, the house is empty but quite messy. Phelps walks about, searching for clues, finding an address for an apartment Jacob is staying at. There are no signs of a struggle or anything, but with the window the way it is, the consensus is burglary. Galloway calls it in and Phelps heads over to the neighbor's place to ask them some questions.

In the driveway, Phelps is met by Jennifer Horgan, who has known Celina for more than 10 years (their kids grew up together). Horgan explains that, while Celina's a drinker, her husband Jacob has a propensity for violence and has hit Celina before. According to Horgan, last night Celina left the house, quite innebriated, around 10pm -- only after Jacob showed up and got into a pretty loud tussle with her. After hearing news that Celina was murdered, Horgan dismisses herself in grief and Phelps and Galloway head over to Jacob's apartment.

Jacob is there and lets the police in. He's obviously quite flustered by the news. Galloway sits him down on the couch while Phelps looks around. A size 11 shoe, belonging to Jacob, would seemingly get him out of the murder (remember: a size 8 shoeprint was found there), but a nearby notepad on a table would offer the most juicy clue of them all: Taking a pencil and rubbing it across the notepad, Phelps finds a curious note implicating Jacob in a conspiracy to murder Celina. Things aren't looking good for Jacob. "The oldest problem there is: what to do about the old lady?" Phelps utters to himself.

At this point, Phelps begins to interrogate Jacob. Initially, he claims to have no idea of the whereabouts of Celina, offering a convincing lie, but evidence and other persons of interest have given Phelps a good outline for the night's events. Phelps knows that Jacob talked to the bartender at The Bamba Club, and uses this evidence against him. Jacob budges and admits that he refused to pick her up and admits the phone rang several more times that night and that he ignored it -- and that he went over to Celina's house earlier that evening, though he curiously doesn't recall exactly what time that was. It doesn't add up.

Phelps draws in on the truth, trapping Jacob in a web of lies of his own doing. Jacob, flush with anger at the implication that he would conspire to kill his wife (and, more importantly, at the evidence suggesting so), sucker punches Galloway and initiates a fist-fight with Phelps.

Honestly, out of the whole demo, this section was the one I had the most trouble with. It just seemed forced; a gameplay segment to break up all of the interrogation and talking. Considering the facial animation tech and interrogation mechanic is so fascinating and well-done, I was a bit put-off by the sudden uninspired fist-fight. It played out exactly like any million other fist-fights seen in the GTA games or, probably more appropriately, Team Bondi's Getaway games.

After knocking Jacob down and putting the cuffs on him, the demo came to an end. The Rockstar rep showing us the game sadly couldn't take us any further, but I was immediately hooked. Scouring the scene of a crime for clues and interrogating these people looked like an engaging, interactive version of TV's police procedurals, just without all of the techo-gadgetry and barely-researched dialog.

LA Noire is, as my colleague Andrew Yoon put it, a "big-budget, M-rated Phoenix Wright." It's a police simulation of the highest caliber and, for a person who may be out of love with the Rockstar formula, Team Bondi's LA Noire offers the prospect of an open-world game for those of us who don't want to play the antihero.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.