It seems Nintendo's Switch has us all revisiting our past. Doom had us jumping back to its original release in 2016, while The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim allows fans to relive a classic RPG wherever they feel like it. Next week offers up Resident Evil: Revelations 1 and 2, giving Capcom's portable survival horror another shot at life.
This week saw the release of Rockstar's remaster of L.A. Noire, which stands as a unique outing in the larger Rockstar slate. Originally developed by the now-defunct Team Bondi and released by Rockstar in 2011, L.A. Noire was a direct callback to film noir. The game was a flawed detective romp, placing players in the shoes of LAPD officer Cole Phelps as he attempted to solve crimes inspired by real-life cases. L.A. Noire was notable because most of the characters were scanned into game directly for actor performances; the idea was that players could actually read tells in suspects as they were questioning them.
I'm a big fan of detective noir, though more on the literary side than the film one. I have fond memories of reading Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, and James Ellroy. Who doesn't love a good hardboiled detective story? The magical fedora before it was ruined, tense meetings under city streetlights, the moral grey area of a character who believes in justice, but isn't a part of law enforcement. It's the best.
L.A. Noire trades in some of those themes, but tends to stick a bit closer to reality. Phelps is a bit of an unpleasant person and his world trades in the grey morality of those detective noir stories, but he himself is mostly a stand-up officer of the law. You begin the game as a beat cop and eventually become a newly-minted detective across various desks in the police department, each with a focus on a different type of crime.
There's a bit of an open-world and shooting action here, but that's not what L.A. Noire is really about. Instead, Phelps and whoever is assigned to the case with him canvas the crime scenes, talk to witnesses, collect evidence, and question the suspects. This is the core loop that keeps the game going and while it can be a somewhat straightforward and boring, I appreciate it most of the time. It's loop that's only really replicated in the original Assassin's Creed, or games like the Ace Attorney series. Once you have your evidence and an idea of who the suspect is, it's time for the interrogation, which is the hat that L.A. Noire hangs its head on.
Here, the actors behind Phelps and company do most of the legwork. Phelps is portrayed by Mad Men's Aaron Staton, but L.A. Noire features acting work from folks like John Noble, Kurt Fuller, Michael McGrady, Carla Gallo, Keith Szarabajka, Daniel Roebuck, and Steve Rankin. I guarantee that most of these folks' names won't ring a bell, but if you look them up on IMDB you'll find yourself probably saying, "Oh, that guy!" It's a great cast.
In the previous release, the scanned actors sometimes came across as a bit unrealistic: in order to sell the magic of being able to read their actors, some emotions were overacted and the MotionScanned heads didn't always mesh well with the bodies they were attached to. That's still the case here, as the Switch version doesn't change up too much of the visual aspect as much as the fully remastered PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions might. All in all, the city looks a bit better and lighting may be improved, but everything else feels like I remember it.
One major change has happened to the interrogations themselves. In the original release, you'd have three choices when confronted with a suspect's statements: Truth, Doubt, or Accuse. Now, those options have been renamed—Good Cop, Bad Cop, and Accuse—but ultimately, they're pretty much the same as they were before. The change reflects more on how Phelps reacts when choose those specific responses: fans previously complained that Phelps would go off the deep end if you chose doubt, instead expecting a more subtle refutation. It looks different, but in the end, it plays the same. It's not perfect, but it's better than before.
Since this is the Nintendo Switch, Rockstar has also added additional Switch-exclusive control options. Touchscreen controls are available, allowing you to interact with the game in a way that reminds me of the old point-and-click adventure games, touch to interact. Digging through evidence with the touchscreen controls is actually pretty enjoyable. On the less successful side of things, the Joy-Cons can be used to move the camera and aim your weapon in L.A. Noire's action scenes. Much like on Skyrim, the use of motion controls and HD Rumble isn't horrible, but I don't find myself using them as standard control options.
At the end of day, this is a great port of L.A. Noire. (It includes all of the downloadable content too.) Sure, it's a six year old game that originally ran on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so it should be a great port, but being able to take L.A. Noire with you is a boon. I will note there's a very big caveat here: the physical version of L.A. Noire requires a download of additional content to play. It needs an additional 14GB of space and given that the base Switch only has 26 GB of free space, you might need a microSD card. Also, the Switch version is $10 more than the PS4 and Xbox One releases, which might give some folks pause.
If you liked L.A. Noire before and want to revisit the series, this is a fine way to do it. If you don't, the new touchscreen controls are nice, but there aren't enough changes here to bring you into the fold and the extra price might turn folks away. What's really important about L.A. Noire's release of Switch are the possibilities: Rockstar working on Switch games has to mean more for the future, especially if L.A. Noire does well. I for one am looking forward to that future and this is a great start.