Cole Phelps is a good detective, out to solve crimes and let the law do what it does best -- prosecute the offenders. He's a complex character and a shady past haunts him through the events of the game, including but not limited to some unsavory business during World War II during the battle of Okinawa.
Cole doesn't start the game as a successful detective. His beginnings lie in the role of a street cop working the beat, interrogating everyday citizens and getting down in the nitty-gritty to solve crimes. The more he works, though, the better the desk is that he has back at Police HQ. With each promotion comes new responsibilities in new areas, such as traffic and homicide, working all the way up to arson. Each change in desks also introduces a new partner, some who are more trustworthy than others.
The gameplay is more or less described as an adventure game, rather than the usual Rockstar experience of go-kill-stuff in an open world. In this sense, it's more like Bully- still free roaming but with a stronger set of rules over the player. While searching for clues and interrogating, the occasional gunplay is thrown in. Unlike most games, the player's health is not displayed by an HUD. Instead, when the player takes damage, the game screen fades into a black and white tone. The player recovers health by taking cover.
The first mission revealed to the press was called "The Driver's Seat". It involved the police finding an abandoned car that had its interior covered in blood. In order to carry out the investigation, the player must find clues. Unlike other games, clues don't just pop up, but it is up to the player to search for them. Different people can find different clues, a detail that changes the way the investigation plays out. This will also affect the length of certain investigations.
During cases the player will always start off at a crime scene. There, the player must find clues and interview victims. Most clues usually lead up to the next event in the case. Some clues can further progress the case's finish. One major clue can change the outcome of the case.
As the player progresses through the ranks, they earn "intuition points". With this they have the option to, remove an answer, show all clues, and "ask the community" (online connection required). The "show all clues" option usually can help by highlighting evidence at a crime scene. The "remove an answer" option removes wrong answers to give more chances at succeeding in interviewing a person.