L.A. Noire (Switch) Review – Unique, Dark, Great
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, HTC Vive
Developer: Rockstar Games / Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release: 14th November 2017 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
Price: 49.99 (Switch)
Around five years ago I played L.A. Noire for the first time, a dark crime tale about a corrupted, infested police system, and enjoyed it far more than I initially expected. With its unique interrogation system and focus on investigations it quickly became one of my all time classics. So, hearing it would get ported to the Switch, my favourite game console of this generation, I was more than happy and eager to check it out once again. Now, six years after its original release, L.A. Noire might be a bit rusty but still preserves most of is charm.
After returning from war, Cole Phelps chose to become a police officer to continue his fight for justice. Yet having to patrol through the city instead of investigating crimes isn´t exactly the dream of this ambitious, honest man. By taking the initiative whenever he can he quickly begins to raise in ranks but the more power he gains, the more he finds out about the corrupt, infested nature of justice. Which side will he choose, honesty or corruption?
Phelps’ journey through this corrupt police of the late 40s is divided into different cases. Starting out as a mere officer he quickly raises in ranks, from traffic to even a homicide detective, forcing him to tackle more complex cases. While the slowly evolving central conflict of the game often is in the background, only being thematised in the later parts, L.A. Noire puts a large focus on the cases. Offering a wide variety of themes, from simple car thefts to murders or incendiary, each one offers a very compelling criminal story. Given, to enjoy its structure and focus on realistic crimes, being a fan of the genre is a necessity. Every chapter feels like a round, greatly written crime movie, with its own exposition, climax and aftermath, just with the addition of gameplay.
However, as most Rockstar games L.A. Noire is a very linear game with only one possible outcome, for better or worse. Surely it was possible to implement more cases, as well as control the pacing a lot better. In combination with the huge amount of cutscenes, the early hours in particular feel more like a playable movie. On the other hand the carefully crafted stories and characters, on which the game solely relies on, weigh up a lot of the lost potential. Not only seeing Phelps’ rising doubts with each promotion but also the solutions other detectives found for themselves, in order to live with the rotten system, set in crimes where even the culprits are not always the bad guys, create this dark, depressing atmosphere Rockstar is known for.
Yet, L.A. Noire has one feature which suffers the most under said linearity, the interrogations, the cause for the still impressive facial animations. Similar to reality, culprits or suspects may not always tell the truth. Able to either believe a statement, suspect them or even accuse them of lying with hard evidence, it´s up to Phelps to unravel their web of lies. The game regularly presents us with those situations, granting experience or even new clues the more accurate we perform at them. Unfortunately, there are no real consequences if we fail too often, no matter how false the accusations may be or how much they lie. Finding out earlier about a new location may save some time but ultimately the path and ending mostly stay the same. Comparable to Telltale Games, making the wrong choices may feel bad but never changes much of the story, making its most important feature somewhat lackluster. Additionally, I´m not a huge fan of the “remastered” names for each action, Bad Cop sounds more like being mean without reason than suspecting a lie.
Another big part of police work consists of throughly searching locations for clues, providing valuable insight into a case and associated persons. Starting with the typical crime scenes, where clues are pointed out by handy signs, to private houses, that require a sharp eye and patience. Some may find it boring to look at dozens of objects or rooms while hoping to find something valuable but L.A. Noire has the goal of creating a recreation of police crimes and they´re usually not full of shootings or action. Especially because finding all clues only improves the end score or affects interrogations, hence never providing a real drive to spend more time than necessary at each location. As in Danganronpa, the game makes sure to provide you with everything necessary to solve a case without ever giving the freedom to fail, letting its giant systems seem unnecessary.
Of course L.A. Noire features more action-filled passages as well, mostly in big shootings or little car chases during later parts. In every regard those sections feel very similar to any other Rockstar shooter, just with older guns. Still, due to the rarity and smart use of those segments they´re not only something special, exciting but offer very diverse settings at the same time. Only the movement tends to be quite clumsy when Phelps is confronted with corners or has to turn around. COmbined with the slow movement speed, shooting can feel sluggish in narrow areas.
Last but not least, L.A. Noire naturally features an open world, along the necessary driving sequences. While it was almost a necessity to have long routes in cars without any major events, covered by dialogues rather than interesting gameplay. There´s not much exciting going on here, even the occasional side missions, which come in form of little every-day problems like shootings. Where the real appeal of the open-world comes from is its atmosphere, able to create a giant Los Angeles from 1947. Even nowadays the size or accuracy of certain buildings is still impressive, able to create a very lively, unique city.
Considering the size of this game, it´s particularly impressive we´re able to enjoy it on a portable console like the Switch.Despite its giant file size of 27gb (or 13gb update) L.A. Noire is a surprisingly great port, offering a nearly identical experience to the original version. Naturally it doesn´t have the improved textures, draw distance or many more but it´s still a very stylish, beautiful game. Especially the facial animations can compete with modern standards. Personally, I would trade graphic fidelity for portability anytime, particularly if it´s such a low price as here. Just in docked mode the failry reduced draw distance or frame rate dips tend to get obvious at some points.
L.A. Noire is definitely not for everyone with its length cutscenes and focus on realistic crimes. Walking around in the same building for minutes, hoping to find all clues or driving through a giant world which doesn´t offer much except its beauty. However, even nowadays its outstanding facial animations combined with the interrogation mechanic, topped by captivating cases and a dark main plot, set in a lovely recreation of LA, may just be the right fit for everyone able to enjoy a late-night crime movie. Furthermore, L.A. Noire is still the only AAA game which can deliver such an experience in an excellent way.
[A Review Copy was provided by Rockstar Games]