It isn’t that often that a video game gets a second chance to show the world what made it so special, especially when the studio that developed it isn’t even around anymore. However, such is the unique case for LA Noire. Essentially being a one-trick pony for the now-defunct Team Bondi, LA Noire Remastered puts us back in the shoes of 1947 police officer Cole Phelps as you experience his journey through the various crime-stopping divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Law & Order
LA Noire isn’t like other Rockstar games that center around open-world shenanigans and insane, bombastic action. Though it does contain an open Los Angeles to explore, LA Noire’s true focus is on linearly investigating and solving crimes ranging from petty thievery to brutal homicide.
The game is divided up into chapters, with each of them revolving around which division of LAPD Cole is currently working in. Even though some departments like traffic or patrol may not sound as riveting as homicide, LA Noire does a great job of keeping the stakes high no matter which case you are doing.
A routine abandoned car investigation can lead into a full-blown murder case with its own self-contained twists and turns. LA Noire is clearly inspired by film noir as seen in its stylish, overly dramatic writing. There is a lot of care and love put into making the game feel like an actual movie, due to high-quality facial animations and performances.
Little details like a suspect shifting eyes rapidly back-and-forth to show they’re lying during an investigation could have been overlooked in any other game, but they have purpose in LA Noire. It helps that the voice acting is given the same amount of care.
Aaron Staton – of Mad Men fame – carries the narrative on his shoulders as Cole Phelps, lending realistic weight and emotion to each and every case. He’s assisted in this by the several side characters, partners and even villains he interacts with over the course of more than 20 unique cases – including all DLC.
Not much has changed in the gameplay portion of LA Noire, minus a few welcome changes and additions we’ll get to in a moment. During the main story cases, it is extremely linear, moving you directly from beat to beat. One moment you might be examining a corpse; the next, you could be accusing someone of murder.
Investigations utilize the Nintendo Switch’s features the most, allowing for both motion controls and touchscreen compatibility. Being able to rotate evidence for clues using the Joy-Con’s with the added HD Rumble effects is a welcome addition.
Better yet is the ability to move and select using the Switch’s touchscreen. While undocked, you can tap any spot to move Cole there or examine a clue. Searching a body for evidence or sifting through your notebook feels natural with the touchscreen controls, streamlining investigations into a more user-friendly process.
This extends to interrogations, too. Once you’ve nailed one – or more – suspects, you bring them in and have to interrogate them to nail down the guilty party. This involves observing the suspect for movements that give away lies or deceit, and presenting evidence when necessary.
Previously, you had the options of truth, doubt, and lie in response to a suspect’s claims. Those have now been changed to good cop, bad cop, and accuse. The changes aren’t much more than cosmetic, but they do better convey what Cole will say or do. No longer will you have moments where you picked doubt and Cole goes off on the suspect, contrary to what you expected. It is a simple solution that helps the puzzle aspect of these interrogations make more sense in the long-run.
On the other hand, the more intense gameplay sections are unchanged, feeling just as off as they did in 2011. Being an officer of the law, you will occasionally have to fight against criminals in shoot-offs and even fistfights. While shooting, there is a cover-based system that you can use, but it is iffy sometimes.
The combat is unnecessarily slow, partly due to stiff animations – specifically during fistfights – and wonky aiming. It certainly feels like an afterthought compared to the rest of the game and I enjoyed it the least in LA Noire.
I always thought it was strange that exploring Los Angeles, completing optional side missions and visiting landmarks is strangely partitioned until after you complete a desk chapter, but it works really well for on-the-go play with the Switch. Roaming around the streets of LA and completing one of the 40 Street Crimes is a great way to pass the time when on the bus or while the TV is occupied.
While undocked, the game runs at 720p and at 1080p when hooked up to your TV. Honestly, there is little change visually between the original Xbox 360/PS3 versions and this one. The environment’s buildings and cars look slightly sharper, but not enough to really feel like a remaster. The limitations of the Switch are obvious, and perhaps it looks better on the PS4 and Xbox One, though I expected its visuals to look a little better than they do here.
The draw distance of the city is better when you’re exploring, but that’s about all that was improved technically. Notably, there are the occasional slight frame rate dips during combat and the more intense gameplay sections. There is also a bizarre audio issue that I encountered. It was rare, but the audio – sound effects, voices, etc – would cut out briefly. I encountered all of these issues both docked and undocked, but it wasn’t enough to be too frustrating.
Whether it’s exploring the open city of Los Angeles or pointing fingers at suspects, LA Noire feels right at home on Switch. The mature, serious film noir storyline is just as effective as ever, filling a much-needed gap in the Switch’s lineup of games.
The quality-of-life improvements like HD Rumble, touchscreen support, and interrogation changes offset the unchanged wonky combat and occasional technical hiccups to make the Switch version the premier way to experience LA Noire. It is a positive sign of Rockstar Games’ support for Nintendo Switch.
Disclosure: Nintendo Switch copy provided early by retailer.