Let me bring you to the land of 1947 Los Angeles where the American Dream is flourishing, and anything seems possible. Yet, with the beautiful flowers of prosperity comes the rotten, rancid roots on which it is based.
After six years, L.A. Noire is still one of the most engaging and different games of the last generation. You play as the WWII hero and freshly minted cop, Cole Phelps, and you are aided by a partner assigned at the beginning of every promotion or demotion to a different desk (e.g. Traffic, Homicide, Vice). L.A. Noire for the Switch is one of the best third-party titles on the console, but it is far from perfect.
There are many nice little touches to L.A. Noire that add to the charm and realism of the world like the ability to lose your hat during a fistfight or the simple inclusion of real world brands, street names, and cars. Despite those nice touches of realism which add to the overall immersion, the world just feels empty. I have been spoiled by the likes of the GTA V and I can’t go back to what passed for an open world game from six years ago. I did some exploring through the streets of L.A., but the lack of a diverse range of NPCs and general sense of an empty world made me stick mostly to the main story cases.
Luckily, L.A. Noire has some of the best thought out missions with one after another being crucial to the progression of the plot and character building—excluding DLC cases. There was not a single time in my playthrough where I felt I was doing a meaningless task; every single mission I completed I felt added to my understanding of Cole’s psyche. Very rarely do I ever play a game where there isn’t at least one main story mission that feels more like a chore than a key part of the game, but L.A. Noire manages to make every part of the game feel important.
In each case you find yourself surveying crime scenes for clues, interrogating possible suspects, and driving through the streets of Los Angeles. The driving is solid—such is expected from Rockstar—and the clue hunting is good, but where L.A. Noire separates itself from every game I have ever played is in the interrogations. I’m a big fan of the Phoenix Wright series and there were certainly some similarities between the two, however, the MotionScan technology used to capture the actor’s facial expressions was able to capture the subtlest of facial movements. This is key in the gameplay to determine whether someone is telling the truth, the whole truth, or some semblance of the truth. While I preferred the options of the 2011 release with ‘Truth’, ‘Doubt’, or ‘Lie’ to ‘Good Cop’, ‘Bad Cop’, or ‘Accuse’, they at least were still straightforward and easy to pick up on.
The interrogations were by far my favorite part of the game, but the new controls for Switch helped add a little extra depth to an already sensory-engrossing game. The gyro and touch screen controls were a nice addition, however due to the way the switch is used, you’re not able to use the touch screen unless you’re playing the game in handheld mode. Even though I liked the additional control options I still felt like the classic controls were much more precise. I tried all play styles multiple times, but I always ended up going back to the classic controls because they felt the most comfortable.
Despite the console-exclusive control options, there were some other console-exclusive issues I also experienced throughout the game. The graphics in L.A. Noire are average—apart from facial expressions—and wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny today if this was a game made in 2017. While much of the pop-ins, heavily aliased shadows, and frame drops are a product of the system the game was running—L.A. Noire is still ripe with technical errors throughout the game that shouldn’t be present in what is being dubbed a remaster.
There was a mission where I had to find and chase down a taxi to grab a suspect for the current case. My partner would not follow me to the car and I could not fast travel because the taxi I was looking for was not a set location. I eventually found the taxi and it was marked on my map with a red car symbol, however, to my surprise nobody was in the taxi and my partner was standing on top of the vehicle. Luckily that arrest was only necessary to get a higher ranking on the mission, but at a later point I had another issue with a cop standing on a car. The audio balance when going from Cole’s present to his flashbacks is some of the worst audio balancing I have experienced in a AAA game. It went from a normal listening volume to blasting out the speakers on my tv or Switch. The worst of all the glitches is that I experienced 3 unexplained crashes while playing this game and oddly enough they were not reported at all in my console’s error history.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for L.A. Noire was provided by Rockstar for this L.A. Noire Switch review.