When it originally released in 2011, LA Noire impressed everybody with it’s great storytelling and unrivaled facial capture technology. So now that the game has been ported over to the Little Portable/Home Console Hybrid That Could, how does it fare? The answer is quite simply, amazingly.
We’ll start with the appetizer, the visuals, as they’re the first thing you’ll notice. One of the first things I thought to myself when I started up LA Noire on the Switch was just how good I thought it looked. Sure, it’s not going to be receiving any awards anytime soon, but there is a definite improvement over the original release. Lighting and texture quality has seen a noticeable upgrade, even in handheld mode, where the game runs in the same 720p resolution as its last-gen counterparts. Pop-in is rampant all over the map, but the same could be said for GTA V on the more powerful PS4 and Xbox One, so we’ll chalk this up to Rockstar being too ambitious with the amount of detail they pack into their open worlds. Curiously, while running in docked mode at a full 1080p resolution, the framerate seems to suffer when there is a lot of action or explosions on the screen, whereas the game stays at a steady 30fps whilst in handheld mode. The main attraction of the originals, the facial capture, remains just as impressive as before. The nuance seen in every facial expression is absolutely astounding and I’m surprised Rockstar hasn’t implemented this tech into any of their other games (although I bet it has to do with Team Bondi, the creators of the tech, no longer being around).
On to the veggies. The story revolves around Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran-turned-cop with a strong sense of justice as he climbs the ranks from “nosy beat cop who won’t let things go” to “ace detective out to rid the streets of crime”. The crimes you solve are all very elaborate with various branching paths, some of which are meant to deceive you, others to aid you. All the while, Detective Phelps also struggles with his past, as the game gives you glimpses of his military days little by little as the game progresses. It’s a very fascinating tale that managed to hold my interest throughout its entirety, especially toward the end when certain loose ends once thought to be tied up come back into play. Credit to the writers for weaving such an intricate tale. However, enjoyable and intricate as it might be, there are some inconsistencies and straight up leaps in logic to be found, but I didn’t find it to be that big of a deal.
Now to the meat and potatoes (forgive me, I’m really hungry and Thanksgiving is right around the corner) of the game. The gameplay is fairly straight forward, if not formulaic. We’re shown a crime as it happens, briefed on said crime by the head of the department, sent off to search for clues, and then have to use said clues to interrogate “Persons of Interest” and suspects. It’s a bit repetitive, but there are curve balls thrown in here and there. The main mechanic is the aforementioned interrogation sequence in which you have to read the suspect’s extremely accurate facial gestures to decide whether they are telling the truth or not. You can then decide to be a Good Cop (believe their story), Bad Cop (doubt them without concrete proof), or Accuse (poke a hole in their story by bringing up evidence that proves they’re lying). Occasionally, you’ll run into a person who’s clearly guilty and they will make a run for it, kicking off dramatic chase sequences that feel pretty heavily scripted if I’m being honest. Other times, the suspect will drag you into a firefight and make you have to use the clumsy gun mechanics to shoot them and their goons down. Worst case scenario, they’ll book it in a car, forcing you to endure the horrific driving mechanics and try to pursue them in equally scripted (with the exception of traffic) car chases. The controls being bad aren’t a new issue though, as they were addressed by media in the originals as well, but I really wish Rockstar would have improved them after 6 years. It is worth mentioning that they’re no worse using any of the myriad of control options the Switch gives you. I found myself gravitating toward handheld mode (naturally) and avoiding the newly implemented touch-screen controls like the plague.
For dessert, I give you my final thoughts. LA Noire on Switch is yet another example of 3rd party developers taking the time to make a quality port of a AAA game for Nintendo’s exciting new console. With NBA 2K18, DOOM, and now LA Noire, the Switch has shown it’s capable of being a great machine, so long as the developers don’t water down their games (I’m looking at you EA). Now, with Skyrim releasing today, and Wolfenstein 2 (Shout-out to Bethesda for the support!) coming in 2018, the Switch is starting to look like a legitimate contender (at least for second place) in the console space. If you want to experience an excellent crime drama with modern console graphics on a handheld (or on the big screen), don’t mind clumsy controls, and also want to support 3rd parties to convince them to keep bringing their games over to the Switch, I highly recommend you give LA Noire the shot it deserves.