After two hours hands-on with Rockstar's 1940s detective adventure, we're close to solving LA Noire's biggest mystery - no, not the identity of the Black Dahlia murderer (based on the 1940s Los Angeles serial killer who escaped detection) that underpin the game's myriad cases, as you move from beat cop, to homicide desk but LA Noire itself.
How does it play? How nuanced are the interrogation scenes where you read suspect's true feelings from subtle facial movements, via the impressive MotionScan tech? How branching is the plot? Y'know - how does it work as a game?
All clues lead us to one key suspect and a curious influence - the Australian game developer Team Bondi and PS2's maligned, but brave 2002 gangster epic, The Getaway. LA Noire developer Team Bondi are headed by Brendan McNamara, the brains behind Sony's '02 open world gangster game.
His fingerprints are all over LA Noire: no, not in the crass swearing and violence that characterised The Getaway, but its inventive (if flawed) attempt to change the visual language of videogames.
In The Getaway, health bars were replaced by subtler visual clues to indicate your level of injury (the hero's shirt would bloody), while glowing route icons became flashing car indicators. LA Noire refines this formula, so the rarefied atmosphere is rarely broken by crass videogames tropes.
Get near a clue such as a bloodied stocking in the on-foot investigation sections (think Silent Hill, but with no beasts or combat), and the pad gently rumbles, while a subtle piano motif plays. Genius? Not really, but it beats a glowing switch.
PICK UP THE TRAIL
You can rotate clues/objects in your hand using the stick, while the camera zooms in when you spot something crucial, like an inscription, flaw or key detail. This adds another branch of enquiry into your note book - a more mature veneer for the classic 'objectives' pause menu - opening new lines of questioning for the interrogation sections.
In one scene, you're 'steered' by audio and camera clues along a trail of blood - again, it beats a glowing yellow route line. During interrogations, you ask suspects a series of questions (more open up should you find more clues in the on-foot sections), then read their facial expressions and behaviour to determine if they're lying.
You can then 'call them out', pressing X for 'truth' (if you believe them), square for 'doubt', and triangle for 'lie'. People don't like it if you falsely accuse them of lying and clam up, so you get one chance to 'back out'. Successful interrogation opens new scenes to investigate, taking you closer to solving the case.
The on-foot, free-roaming detection scenes are linked to the cut-scene-style interrogations by open-world driving - this feels very similar to GTA, only more handsome and sedate.
Check your notebook and locations 'lock' onto your mini-map (like a radar), but instead of following glowing lines, you can ask your partner for directions - 'go left after the bridge', he'll bark. Aggressive driving is rarely called for, but its infrequency heightens its impact - especially when chasing a suspect after an hour of slow paced clue gathering.
The other mechanics are fighting and shooting (both feel incredibly similar to GTA IV: point, shoot and cover or block, grab and punch), but are used sparingly, and set pieces are rarely so cruel as to result in repeated, cheesy death.
The game wants you to progress - action is used to make you feel like a badass, spiking the pace, and not to conjure artificial barriers.