Nintendo Switch gets a Rockstar classic. How does it hold up? LA Noire – The FingerGuns Review.
If you asked any Nintendo Switch owner on the street which Rockstar game you would want ported to their shiny new handheld hybrid, what Rockstar experience you’d want on the go, there’s every chance at the very bottom of their list is their 1940’s set crime melodrama L.A. Noire. There’s a couple reasons for this; Firstly, it’s not a game that, at least in the memory, has aged particularly well. I remember playing it upon release and having a great time with the game, but I never thought about it again once it was out of my Xbox 360. It was a one and done experience for me, with little to tempt me back once all the cases were finished up and I knew the resolution of Cole’s story.
Secondly, well, it ain’t Grand Theft Auto and it ain’t Red Dead Redemption. The two tent-pole Rockstar titles – sorry, Table Tennis – that defined themselves on the same generation that L.A. Noire appeared in (which is quite amazing, when you think about it) and had far more pulling power as the generation moved on, ensuring L.A. Noire sunk without much of a fanfare for it to ever return.
And yet, here it is. Six years later and I can now play L.A. Noire wherever the hell I want and now I’ve beaten the campaign all over again, I’m absolutely delighted Rockstar have resurrected this one for a new audience.
I fondly remember placing the cartridge into the Switch and immediately undocking the system, for some reason I wanted my first experience with this new version of L.A. Noire to be handheld, I wanted to experience that novelty immediately. So what did I do? I ran up to my bedroom and lied on my bed to play this game in a brand new way and it was, frankly, a revelation. L.A. Noire earns a place amongst the Switch’s best purely because it’s an absolute miracle it even runs as well as it does on a handheld device.
OK, well it isn’t. It’s well documented the Switch’s power is similar, if not more so, to the 360/PS3 era, so on paper it should run without a hitch and yet, there was always something in the back of my mind telling me that it’s not going to be the same experience, for whatever reason. It’s the same voice in my head that tells me GTA V is not going to happen on this thing, even though it probably has the power to pull it off without much hassle.
Still, as the game began I was in awe at the porting job that had been done by Virtuos, as it felt and looked exactly the same as I remembered, with the odd jagged edge here and there. Primarily, the central experience of L.A. Noire is alive and well and incorporates itself brilliantly in handheld form, even if visually it does suffer from various issues that I’ll go into below. The fundamental aspect of this game on Switch you need to know is that it works. It really bloody works.
The Switch version of L.A. Noire is £10 more expensive than its Xbox One / PS4 counterparts that boast that super swanky 4K goodness, but for that extra ten smackaroons you’re getting the same game wherever you like. Being able to break out the full L.A. Noire experience is a joy that never really gets old, and the same can be said for any AAA that appears on the handheld – DOOM especially. The only area the game is compromised is visually, everywhere else it’s the complete game with all of its DLC thrown in. The vehicle showroom extra has also come along for the ride, along with all side quest dispatch calls and a new camera perspective, widening the field of view, which ended up being my optimal way of playing the game.
Also along for the Switch ride are the controller options, and Rockstar have ensured you’re not left out of the fun regardless of your set up. The game supports handheld, split Joy-Cons and Pro Controller, along with the systems gyro controls to twist and turn pieces of evidence that Cole investigates throughout his cases. Then there’s Rockstars utilisation of the Switch touchscreen, which works far better than it has any right to. Being able to manipulate crime scenes and flip through evidence with the touch of your finger is oddly satisfying, and Rockstar have incorporated these additions subtly and are thankfully entirely optional. Still, you may find yourself picking up envelopes and using your fingers to pull out the letter, then using your finger to find that moment where the clue discovery kicks in. Credit to Virtuos for really digging deep into this system and finding creative ways to use its abundance of features, there’s plenty out there that could take a lesson in the balance between physical, motion and touch controls that are on display here.
One of the more, shall we say, ‘controversial’ changes Rockstar have made to the game is in the infamous interrogations, where the meat of the game truly lies. In previous versions you had three options, ‘truth, doubt and lie’, and it was up to you as a detective to figure out whether or not your suspect was lying, telling the truth or if you wanted to push them a little harder. This time around they’ve switched up those options to ‘good cop, bad cop, accuse’ which, for me, makes far more sense. Your protagonist Cole Phelps, as you learn throughout the game, is a man that’s consistently on the edge and it seems like under his cool bravado is a man about to snap into a thousand pieces, and this is evident in his interrogation methods. If you go for anything other than ‘Good Cop’, he’ll begin to get mad, raise his voice and get in the face of his suspect, turning up the pressure in a split second. Much as been said of this new addition and whether or not it makes sense for the character and for me, it works just as well if not better. You’re going to be doing a hell of a lot of interrogating over the course of the game so very quickly you’re going to see Phelps on the edge. ‘Doubt’ and ‘lie’ didn’t feel justified to truly match his dramatic reactions. ‘Bad cop’ and ‘accuse’ feels more in line with the actual retort he provides in return to his suspects answers.
And that’s what L.A. Noire completely nails from beginning to end, and did so back in its original release. The post-war 1940’s of America is a dirty place, full of buffoons and fat cats, racism and glamour covering up evil deeds (wait a minute…), the brutality of the murders with blame placed on returning soldiers, who have spent their time in the war murdering the enemy, only to take out their PTSD on their long suffering wives or just a girl walking down the street because they need some outlet for their grief. The darkness that runs through the city is something that isn’t shied away from in this version of a country still somewhat trying to pick itself back up after returning from seeing tragedy on every corner. Cole Phelps, being a returning soldier, in unfazed and simply just wants to get the job done, regardless of how much darkness continues to plague him and it’s here that Rockstar tell one of their more tragic stories, even if they all are, to an extent. To be transported back to a time of style but little substance, a time where everyone wore suits and dresses wherever they go, where the sound of timeless jazz fills the streets – accompanied by the spectacular soundtrack – is still an experience that no other game has provided since.
So comes the games most obvious downfall, and sadly its in the visuals. Now, L.A. Noire looks bloody great on the Switch, terrific even. The game runs at a perfectly acceptable 1080p when docked and 720p when undocked, there’s little to nothing wrong with this, it’s just in certain places, the game shows its age. The cities are practically empty and bland, they’re dull to drive around at night, especially considering you can’t just piledrive your way through traffic, being a cop and all. It’s the daytime where it gets a little worse though, with fog and pop-up all over the town, all appearing a little closer than you would like if you were showing off the game for the first time. As you’re driving you’re never really going all that fast, so there’s time to see the game simply appear or textures render right before your eyes, and those little niggles – whilst absolutely nowhere near gamebreaking – can break the immersion a tad.
There’s plenty that’s a little too noticeable, but hey, this is L.A. Noire and you’re here for the motion scan facial technology, the ridiculously clever magic that Team Bondi (RIP) utilised to give the game photo realistic facial animations, near enough turning every character into a full digital recreation of their real life counterparts and allowing the games core interrogation mechanic to exist at all. Six years later, it’s still absolutely mindblowing, and remains a standard in the industry which few have reached, not to this level anyway. The story of how the tech died when Team Bondi did may ring true, as it was never really used in games again moving forward, and it’s a great shame. Imagine games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted, Gears of War with this kind of facial animation today. L.A. Noire’s biggest selling point remains in tact, and it still has to power to amaze. And now you can show it off on the bus.
This is where L.A. Noire may not have remained in the subconscious of gamers in the same way that GTA V and Red Dead Redemption did. Yes, you could argue that the only reason this is the case is that they’re simply better games than L.A. Noire, but hanging over the games head is the fact that this isn’t GTA, and I know a few people who thought that it was going to be similar. Grand Theft Auto: 1940 was what people thought they were getting and it’s about as far away from GTA’s core attributes as you can imagine. The narrative and dialogue are centre stage, recklessness isn’t rewarded, it’s punished. You’re on the side of the angels and if you don’t act like one you’re going to be out on your ass. Your job in L.A. Noire is to put the criminals to justice, and not become one in the process. The core differences allow L.A. Noire to stand on its own and it’s exciting that it’s been recreated for an audience that may have missed out the first time round.
L.A. Noire remains a wholly unique experience, and a game that deserves its second round.
But seriously, Cole Phelps is still an asshole.
L.A. Noire is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4 and Xbox One.
Publisher: Rockstar Games
All screenshots were captured in-game on Nintendo Switch in either docked or undocked mode.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a physical retail version of the game from the publisher. For our full review policy, please click here.