Coming out of Rockstar Games, the famous studio behind the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise and originally developed by Team Bondi, L.A. Noire is an ambitious project that few probably saw coming to the Nintendo Switch. Yet here it is, running on a handheld device that you can take anywhere.
L.A. Noire is described as a detective thriller set amongst the glitz, glamour and corruption of the 1940’s Los Angeles. The game tells the story of detective Cole Phelps, a rather idealistic and intense individual, destined to solve a series of intriguing cases inspired by real-world crimes. The episodic nature of the game guides you through his escalating detective career in a tastefully recreated open world based in Los Angeles. You will tackle each case from the start, searching for evidence, driving around, interrogating suspects and joining all the dots and pieces towards solving the crime.
The Switch version
The game was originally developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so in terms of graphics, it remains relatively consistent with the previous releases, albeit with higher resolution textures. There are a few technical limitations on the Switch that become noticeable to perceptive eyes, such as a reduced draw distance and occasional frame drops. Thankfully, these do not affect the overall gaming experience. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the game runs, though it can sometimes be difficult to appreciate all the details on a small handheld screen. For a thorough detailed comparison between the different console versions, watch the comparison by Digital Foundry.
The Switch version of the game has some optional features that integrate the joy-con motion controllers and touch screen. But I rarely find myself using them as the game works perfectly well with the normal control scheme. Nonetheless, it’s a fun detail that allows you to swing punches with the controllers or navigate the game mostly from the touchscreen.
The original interrogation system also changed, replacing the options from “Truth”, “Doubt” and “Lie” to “Good Cop”, “Bad Cop” and “Accuse”. This change has been mostly welcomed by players, but it still does take some time to understand what “good” and “bad” is supposed to be and their context-dependent usage.
The game is massive, so even if you get the physical version, you will still find yourself downloading a whopping 14GB of game content. So, it is almost expected from players to have a microSD card in their device.
The First Hour
The first hour of any game is a good indicator of what’s to come and L.A. Noire mostly delivered. The environment and the soundtrack are spot-on, the characters possess well-defined personalities and the facial capture (MotionScan) technology truly shines. Even by today’s game standards, it is probably the best in-game facial animation that I’ve seen – and it’s running from a little Switch!
Nonetheless, the gameplay and character movement seem a bit clunky, especially if you are coming from playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or any action/adventure game. The tutorial information that appears on the upper-left corner also disappears a bit too fast to my liking and I keep screwing up with the controls and the interrogations.
Three Hours In
The controls are no obstacle anymore and I am enjoying the game as it is meant to be played. Cole Phelps received his first promotion and the seemingly uninteresting cases become quite intricate the deeper you dig in. I’m also enjoying chasing after the criminals in the side missions, they bring some necessary variety to pure detective work. One does get used to the slower movement at this point and you don’t find yourself turning every piece of trash for evidence. You learn to rely on sound cues during the investigation and learn that you can’t properly accuse the suspect (person of interest – P.O.I.) without sound evidence.
By now you are quite the efficient detective and people on the streets of L.A. start recognizing you. But don’t get too cocky, you still screw up interrogations from time to time. I wish there was an option to read what the character will say beforehand, or to save prior to interrogations in case something goes awry. Nonetheless, it feels great when I manage to interrogate a P.O.I. without messing up! You also continue to get promoted and the cases become more significant and adult, showing the true potential of what’s to come and the complexity of the rotten society of L.A. Noire.
This game really shows the ambition and potential of the Switch as a console, for any kind of game. I find the episodic nature of the game ideal for the Nintendo Switch. As a hybrid device, focusing on one case at a time has proven to be especially nice for commuting or short gaming bursts. The graphics hold up for such a little device and the crimes keep getting interesting the more you play. There are some thrilling moral dilemmas, which makes for a mature game that stands out in the rather children-friendly library available on Nintendo platforms.
While the game can seem slow-paced at times (depending on how much you dig into each case), doing some good and solving cases the best way possible brings a sense of accomplishment. Nonetheless, heavily action-oriented gamers might find more appealing options somewhere else.