Despite such clear machinations, Rusty is convinced that the culprit will turn out to be Antonia's husband. Then again, Rusty doesn't seem that bothered about doing the job thoroughly. Corruption is rife in post-war Los Angeles, and you get the impression that Rusty wouldn't be above framing someone for the sake of an easy life. The funny thing is this crooked appearance doesn't make him any less likeable. Rusty resents Phelps for his swift promotion to Homicide (the third of the game's five desks), but his disaffected attitude and cynical banter provides the case with a grimly amusing backbone.
The middle part of the case finds Phelps and his partner moving through a string of run-down locations, interrogating the locals and uncovering new leads at each stop. The first port of call is a battered old boarding house where the victim used to live, but the investigation carries the pair to an apartment block, a grubby bar and a slightly shifty-looking fruit market, as well as to the LAPD HQ. While the investigative aspects have some overlaps with the Phoenix Wright games - in a very loose sense, obviously - it's pleasing to note that the progression of the case feels organic, and comparatively non-linear. In my hands-on, a successful interview at the guesthouse tips me off to the existence of the aforementioned bar; had I missed this I might have been alerted by a matchbook that can be found in the flat belonging to Antonia's estranged husband. Obviously the case will always conclude the same way, but the exact route taken to get there will vary from player to player.
The conversations with suspects and witnesses unfold as I described last time, forcing you to pay attention to your interview subject, and then choosing how Phelps responds: with belief, with doubt, or by flat-out accusing them of lying. Once again Noire's MotionScan technology steps into the limelight, as the focus turns to the game's eerily realistic digital faces. After my first preview I was a little concerned that Team Bondi's virtual actors might be overly reliant on obvious cues to signify that they were lying, but happily this doesn't appear to be the case. Perhaps I just need more practice - or perhaps I'm just an emotional cripple - but there were quite a number of times when I pick the wrong response during an interview. At one point this results in Phelps needlessly savaging Ms. Lapenti, the guesthouse landlady - referring to her as a "nosy old hag".
To my great pleasure this slip-up is subsequently referred to twice by Galloway - once as we leave the house, and then again shortly after we speak to a snooping resident at the apartment block elsewhere. It's callbacks like this that turn Noire's characters into believable creations, and it's clear that significant effort has been put into giving the shifty cast a life beyond their lifelike outer appearance.
It's also encouraging to note that the whole Silk Stocking Murder case, which takes the best part of an hour to work through, is almost entirely based around detective work. Sure, there's was a brief fist-fight, and a car chase as the demo reaches its close, but for the most part the action consists of chatter and thoughtful investigation. It takes confidence to take this kind of design approach, especially if this kind of balance is typical for the game as a whole. The punch-up sequence uses fairly simple block/counterpunch mechanics, in a manner not too dissimilar to last year's Mafia II; the fight served its purpose as a brief change of pace, but its mechanical qualities still clash somewhat with the graceful presentation found elsewhere. For me, the car chase works far better. Vehicle handling is more fluid than the model used by GTA IV, but the cars themselves still move with a definite sense of weight - especially when you're trying to manoeuvre through traffic in pursuit of a fleeing suspect.
The Silk Stocking case closes with the arrest of the apparent killer, but it's clear that the investigation has raised as many questions as it has solved - for Phelps at least, if not for his dubious partner. The similarities with the prior Red Lipstick Murder suggest sinister machinations that extend far beyond the death of poor Antonia Maldonado, but for now the ultimate truth will have to wait. Once again I am left hugely impressed by Team Bondi's work, and while I have questions of my own - how does the gunplay feel? And is Phelps really as clean-cut as he appears? - I'm certainly looking forward to the eventual answers. And with a release date set for May 20, this hopefully won't be The Long Goodbye.
L.A. Noire will be released on May 20 on PS3 and Xbox 360.