L.A. Noire – Nintendo Switch Review
You begin the adventure as a humble beat cop, and the game’s opening missions serve as a handy tutorial that guides you through the game’s mechanics. These can be roughly broken down to three distinct sections: hunting for clues at crime scenes, chasing and subduing suspects either on foot or by car, and interrogation. In the first, you’ll have to snoop around for vital pieces of evidence which not only give you additional leads to go on but also arm you with the facts you need to nail guilty parties during the interrogation phase. HD Rumble is employed to alert you to objects you can interact with, but not everything you can pick up and inspect is connected to the case at hand. Combing the environment for that vital clue can become laborious but you’re always given a tight perimeter to explore and musical cues tell you when a crime scene or location has surrendered all of its secrets, allowing you to move onto the next phase of the investigation. Rockstar has made quite a song and dance about the new touchscreen-based interface included in the Switch port, but truth be told it’s far easier to simply use the sticks and buttons. We also turned off the motion controls – enabled by default when playing docked – which replicate the movement of the camera, mapped to the right-hand analogue stick. It’s nice touch, but strikes us as needless duplication.
During some cases, suspects will crack under pressure and give flight on foot, so you’ll need to direct ex-army man Phelps as he vaults over obstacles and clambers up drainpipes in the hope of bagging his man. These sections are exciting and give a neat change of pace to all the sleuthing, especially when they end in a confrontation; fist-fights involve slugging your enemy and dodging incoming blows, while shoot-outs are naturally riskier and require you to use cover effectively, as well as brandish different weapons such as shotguns and long-range rifles. Unfortunately, combat is too stiff to be genuinely thrilling and the gunplay is painfully awkward during some missions. Enemies make little attempt to move around and will simply remain rooted to the post in many cases, popping their heads up obediently so you can get a clean shot.
Interrogations are peppered with moments where you can make a choice on how the conversation proceeds. In the 2011 original, these options were “Truth” (if you believed what you were being told), “Doubt” (if you felt the subject was withholding information) or “Lie” (if you felt sure enough that you could produce a piece of evidence to discredit what you were being told). These options were criticized at the time for not being specific enough – “Doubt” could result in Phelps making a sarcastic yet superfluous wisecrack at the suspect’s expense or – at the other end of the scale – threatening to smash their head against the nearest brick wall, causing them to clam up completely and refuse to give you any more information. It was an imperfect system that often made picking the right response more a matter of blind luck than solid detective work.
As you work your way through L.A.’s underbelly Phelps rises through the ranks and gains a degree of notoriety and fame, with bystanders commenting admirably on his admirable record under their breath as you walk around the streets. Each case you take on seems unconnected, and the only thread you have to hold onto is a series of flashbacks from Phelps’ time in the army, as well as a series of vignettes which play out as you pick up newspapers. However, as you solve more and more crimes a pattern begins to emerge – perhaps too slowly for some players – that changes the direction of the narrative and sets the scene for a surprisingly emotional conclusion and a brief change of protagonist. Even so, it’s a shame that more freedom isn’t given to the player to strike out on their own; while L.A. feels like an expansive and realistic city, the scope for interaction is limited solely to where the designers want you to be; even when you’re entering buildings, it’s only possible to open doors with gold handles – a visual mechanic which simultaneously reduces player frustration in picking the right path but also serves to highlight just how narrow a corridor you’re being funnelled down. Creating a game world with a compelling narrative that also gives the player total agency is perhaps beyond the skill of current game designers and technology, but it doesn’t make L.A. Noire’s linearity any less disappointing.
While the game’s myriad faults remain and the revised interrogation system fumbles its chance to fix one of the most egregious part of the game, the great acting, stunning atmosphere and amazing facial animation all combine to make this a detective adventure that’s worth experiencing, despite its rough edges. L.A. Noire wasn’t a faultless game back in 2011 and that hasn’t changed in 2017, yet it somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts. We suspect it will be regarded as a pioneering classic for the next few years regardless; few games treat the player to such a grown-up and mature experience as this, and that’s important for the video game industry as a whole.