Rockstar’s noir thriller feels like a totally different tale on Nintendo’s fabulous portable.
On release, L.A. Noire was something different. Back in 2011 it bucked a lot of trends and placed a lot of emphasis on its characters and on humanising its cast. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing messages and last-minute design decisions, it didn’t appear as slick as it initially could have.
Many thought it was going to be an action-packed open-world detective romp, mostly because that’s what its publisher Rockstar was renowned for. Others were perturbed by the bad signposting used for interrogations, where “doubt”, “truth” and “lie” didn’t encapsulate what they actually intended to happen. If those didn’t prove to be issues, there was also the unsettling realism of the 3D-scanned actors’ faces on every character model.
Fast forward to 2017 and the PS4, Xbox One and Switch remasters have alleviated many of these problems. As a whole, they’re essentially the same game as the one released six years ago but now Rockstar’s touch-ups have brought 4K textures and HDR to the PS4 and Xbox One releases while the Nintendo Switch title has become its own nugget of L.A. Noiredeliciousness.
L.A. Noire review: A noir tale as old as time
Before I get down to brass tacks, however, those who haven’t played it already need the skinny on what L.A. Noire is all about. Set in post-war Los Angeles, you play as Cole Phelps, a decorated USMC veteran setting out on his career in the LAPD. His strong moral compass, no-nonsense attitude and a nose for finding facts means Phelps rises through the ranks swiftly and is exposed to the dark underbelly of LA’s bright lights and the shady side of the police force sworn to protect it.
Basically, the game riffs off the noir thrillers that popularised the 1940s and 1950s. If you’ve seen L.A. Confidential or The Untouchables or read anything by James Ellroy and Dashiell Hammett you’ll get the picture.
L.A. Noire is as close as you’ll get to playing your way through one of these movies in video game form. Sure, both Grim Fandango and Hotel Dusk make a good stab at it, but L.A. Noireactually feels like a film to play through. Heck, the original game developer, Team Bondi, even offered a black and white filter for you to play with to make it feel just that little bit more authentic.
You’d think, then, that shrinking down such a filmic experience into a portable form would sully the creation, but it does anything but that. But L.A. Noire works just great on Nintendo’s portable console: on Switch is an absolute delight. In fact, it’s exactly how I’ve wanted to play games like this for years.
L.A. Noire review: A game to kill for
To make the experience work on Switch, Rockstar has clearly had to make some concessions compared to the PS4 and Xbox One remasterings. But that doesn’t mean it’s any worse for it. In fact, the Switch version is a vast improvement over the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
The hyperrealistic 3D scanned faces of the original remain but this time they’ve been softened. They still look incredible but, thanks to a bump in environment and character detail, along with improved lighting, they don’t look as out of place as before. They also no longer seem to float over the surface of a character’s model; instead, they look part of the character in question.
Environments also seem to be more detailed and, while equally as sparse in terms of activities, the streets of L.A. seem more alive, particularly during driving sections. Details in crime scenes are just as equally grisly, earning the game a well-deserved 18 rating from the BBFC. The improvement in visuals and fidelity over the PS3 and Xbox 360 do come at a cost, however. This is a gargantuan release for Switch.
Some of its enormous size is down to L.A. Noire’s included DLC and smattering of new collectables and outfits but the texture improvements don’t help. The game box handily states you may need a microSD card to play it, but good luck even trying to run it if you don’t. Even with a copy of the game on a Switch game cartridge, you’ll still need to download an incredibly meaty 14GB file. Those opting for a completely digital download will need to stomach 29GB.
But it’s worth it, as L.A. Noire on Switch is more than just a lazy port with some improved visuals. Rockstar has taken the time to really play to the Switch’s strengths. Some modifications are small touches, such as the Joy-Con HD Rumble function reacting when you turn on a car engine, rumbling alternately with each footstep on the rung of a ladder or when you inadvertently kick a bottle that’s lying on the floor.
Bigger improvements come in the form of the implementation of both touchscreen and motion controls. You can now touch the Switch screen to move Phelps and drag your finger to adjust the camera. Touch controls also work during interrogations so you can hit the huge, screen-filling, updated conversation prompts for “Good Cop”, “Bad Cop” and “Accuse”.
The motion controls are slightly less intuitive but still work very well. Movement is still mapped to thumbsticks but you can also use the Joy-Cons to handle aiming and camera movement. It also lets you reload by tapping the IR camera on the right Joy-Con, switch targets by flicking your wrist when locked-on and rotate clues by moving them in your hands. Rockstar has done a great job in making the game feel more interactive.
L.A Noire review: Verdict
The only real sticking point with the Switch version, aside from its huge storage requirements, is its price. It’s not as expensive as Doom or Skyrim, but it’s still £36, which is more than its PS4 and Xbox One release. Granted, the new gameplay features, tweaks and portable play do make up for that somewhat, especially if you’ve never played L.A. Noire before. But that may still be a touch too high for some.
Regardless of cost, though, L.A. Noire is yet another ringing endorsement for why the Nintendo Switch is the freshest console around. Even a six-year-old title can feel like something entirely thanks to its unique approach and, despite the shiny visuals of its big-console counterparts, I wouldn’t play it on anything other than the Switch.
L.A. Noire on Switch
“Regardless of cost, though, L.A. Noire is yet another ringing endorsement for why the Nintendo Switch is the freshest console around.”
• Developer: Team Bondi
• Publisher: Rockstar