Why summer is cancelled until after I finish LA Noire

Steve Dinneen
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My battle with summer begins in earnest this month. I’m going to start by sealing the windows to my flat with masking tape and sticking towels under the doors to block out even the tiniest hint of sunlight.

Next I plan on selling my phone, quitting my job and setting fire to my internet connection; anything that is likely to distract me from playing 600 hours of LA Noire is strictly proscribed. Avoiding barbecues and other social events will become nothing more than a dull side mission in my gaming experience.

LA Noire, of course, is the latest release by the team behind the Grand Theft Auto franchise, a series which is – very unfairly – better known for its tendency towards relentless violence than its game-play dynamics or wicked sense of humour.

But Rockstar’s LA Noire promises to be a very different kettle of fish. In fact, the kettle won’t contain any fish at all, just dreams and magic and a laboured metaphor.

It promises to be one of those releases that only come around once every few years – something that takes the gaming industry and sets it in a new direction. While GTA (and, to a lesser extent, last year’s Red Dead Redemption) relied on killing people in various – albeit ceaselessly satisfying – ways, LA Noire sets the emphasis firmly on human to pixel interaction.

Its motion-capture technology is so advanced that the actors hired to play the various characters – including Mad Men’s Aaron Staton, who plays Ken Cosgrove – can be recorded in unprecedented detail. Every minute facial tick can be captured and put on screen in glorious 3D. As a detective, it’s your job to work out whether people you encounter are terrified, clueless or lying through their teeth. You can then guage your actions appropriately. Reassure them; slap them until they talk; shoot them in the face (which, incidentally are the same options I choose from during most social interaction).

The acting talent, appropriately, is straight from LA. The days of clunky cut-scenes are rapidly receding; as well as Cosgrove, half the cast of Mad Men also crop up in cameo roles. The game’s makers boast there is recorded dialogue for 400 characters and a script that is over 2,200 pages. And getting this right will be key to the its success – poor acting when your face looks like it’s been drawn onto a balloon by a child, as has been the case throughout most of video-game history, you can just about get away with. But when 32 cameras are tracking every individual bead of sweat on your face, quality counts.

It should probably be noted that the last time I waxed this lyrical about a game release I was talking about the not entirely deserving Alan Wake (a game that must hold the record for the longest ever gestation, being slated as an Xbox 360 release title but only emerging years after the event. It practically evolved in real time, crawling out of the primordial soup alongside our far flung ancestors and stewing for aeons in its own self-importance).

It promised the deep characterisation and photo-real locations expected of LA Noire but retained the outdated collect-all-the-flags-or-coffee-cups-or-whatever dynamic that had largely been hounded from gaming in the period between it being conceived and released. It ended up being a bit of a damp squib – but then any game that has hype lasting almost half a decade has an awful lot to live up to (God help Duke Nukem Forever, which has been in development since 1997).

Rockstar is unlikely to make the same mistakes. LA Noire is out 20 May