She's lying in the middle of a deserted alleyway, naked as the day she was born. A blood-soaked silk stocking lies nearby, and her neck shows signs of trauma, but for now it's impossible to tell if this was the weapon that ended her life. Her face is a mess of blood and lacerations, and similar mutilations elsewhere have left her pale skin stained with red. Across her torso, a message scrawled in lipstick: "Kiss the Blood. BD."
Her name was Antonia Maldonado. She was 21 years old.
As desensitised as I am after years of video game violence, there's something deeply affecting about the crime scene before me. This is a medium often criticised for its supposed glorification of brutality, but there's nothing celebratory about Antonia's fate. True, the horrific details of her death appeal to our morbid curiosity, but where a typical horror film would drench the scene in theatrical shadow, here the body is lying in stark daylight. No, there's no glory here. If anything, it's just sad.
In any case, there's no time to be getting queasy or emotional. Somewhere out there in Team Bondi's recreation of 1947 Los Angeles, the killer is hiding - and Detective Cole Phelps is the man to find him. The area surrounding the body is littered with things that might be vital clues, or simply everyday detritus. Could that discarded coffee cup point to the murder? It seems unlikely, but it can't be ruled out. To uncover the path to the truth, Phelps and I will have to inspect every one of these potential hints. All the pieces matter.
Thankfully I already have a fairly good idea of how to approach a crime scene, as poor Antonia is actually the second corpse I've seen in today's play-test. The first unfortunate I saw was the victim in the Red Lipstick Murder, another young woman left naked, mutilated and daubed with a creepy message. You'd be forgiven for assuming that the same person might be responsible for both killings, but unfortunately the situation isn't so straightforward. The whole of LA is in a state of media-fuelled hysteria following the Black Dahlia killing (a real-life case, if you didn't know), and so there's a strong possibility that people could simply be copying the modus operandi to mask their own guilt - hence, perhaps, the reference to "BD".
In the Red Lipstick Murder demonstration, a Rockstar representative showed me how to dissect a crime scene. Now for the Silk Stocking case I am allowed to give it a whirl for myself, carefully using the game's subtle audio cues to find clues surrounding the late Miss Maldonado. As I briefly described in my first preview, there's a distinctive bit of sleuth-y music that kicks in whenever you're gathering clues from a crime scene, and a brief piano sting plays when you approach an item of interest in the environment. After single-button tap Phelps will duck down and inspect the object in question, and the left stick then allows you to turn and manipulate it in his hands. If you turn the item to an angle that reveals something important, the controller will vibrate; maintain this "sweet spot" and the camera will zoom in, prompting further inspection from Phelps.
You're not entirely alone in this hunt for clues. As long as the music is playing you'll know that there are still things to find at a crime scene, and if you get really stuck there's an optional in-game hint system. Aside from the technical aids, Phelps can also rely upon his partner - who for this case takes the form of the gruff and rather sardonic Rusty Galloway. Mr Galloway doesn't seem to like Phelps very much, but he still pitches in at the scene, calling you over to clues you may have missed. You can also force the grumpy git to drive you about town, if you're in the mood for a trip skip.
As with my first preview of L.A. Noire, I'm reluctant to go into too much detail about the way the Silk Stocking murder pans out, as to be too explicit would be to deprive you of many of the surprises and twists that make the game what it is. What I will say is that the initial crime scene soon reveals itself to be a lot larger and more complicated than what initially seems to be, and while the small library of clues certainly give our homicide detectives a lot to work with, there's also a sense that the killer may be toying with them, even telling them where to go next.