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L.A. Noire makes smart use of the Switch’s hardware features

The City of Angels is in your hands

L.A. Noire on Nintendo Switch - Cole holding gun in front of car at sunset Rockstar Games
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Rockstar Games’ remaster of Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire is out today on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, where it supports high dynamic range (HDR) color and 4K resolution (on the upgraded versions of those consoles). But it is also available on the Nintendo Switch, as Rockstar’s first game for a Nintendo platform since 2009’s Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for Nintendo DS.

It’s not just strange to see a Rockstar title on a Nintendo system; it’s surprising because the game in question is L.A. Noire, in which a straight-and-narrow cop in 1940s Los Angeles investigates a variety of crimes — including grisly homicides, where he flips over corpses and examines their often gruesome wounds.

The Switch version of L.A. Noire, which I played for about 20 minutes at Rockstar’s offices last week, feels like a hardware experiment for the company (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Like many game releases early in the life of a platform, L.A. Noire is tailored to the Switch’s unique capabilities. As much as Switch owners may want new games, it’s hard to blame Rockstar for testing the waters with an established title: Before today’s launch of the remaster, the publisher had shipped approximately 7.5 million units of L.A. Noire since the game’s debut on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in May 2011.

L.A. Noire’s rendition of Los Angeles is much more sparse and empty than the setting of a typical open-world experience, and it felt that way even six and a half years ago. The Switch version maintains the 720p resolution of the PS3/360 original when undocked; it bumps up the image to 1080p if the system is docked. I don’t have the last-generation versions available to do a comparison, but L.A. Noire on the Switch didn’t look markedly improved to me. The environments seemed like they had a similar level of detail, and the frame rate was a bit choppy. It did appear that there was less pop-in while driving at high speed through the city, at least.

Of course, the appeal of playing a game like L.A. Noire on the Switch is, well, being able to play a game like L.A. Noire on the go. The Switch port doesn’t compromise on the experience in any way — it offers the original game in its entirety, plus all its downloadable content as well as some bonus items. And there’s a new camera option that zooms out the view by 20 percent to provide a wider perspective of, say, a crime scene.

Most notably, though, the Switch version supports all of the console’s control schemes. You can play with a Pro Controller, or with the Joy-Cons attached to the unit, to approximate the PlayStation/Xbox experience. If you use the Joy-Cons by themselves, you can employ the gamepads’ gyroscope controls to tilt and rotate clues and objects that Cole picks up.

L.A. Noire on Nintendo Switch - Cole examines a corpse’s mouth
You can move his mouth all you want — he’s not going to tell you anything.
Rockstar Games

A more useful option is the touchscreen control method for handheld play. L.A. Noire supports pinch-to-zoom gestures to direct the camera, which I didn’t use as much as the tap controls to move Cole around a crime scene, or to choose which limb of a dead body I wanted to examine. Was I disturbed by using my fingers to “touch” a corpse in a video game? Not especially, although a thought of “this is strange!” did enter my mind.

I can’t imagine using the tap-to-move setup very often in practice, but the touchscreen controls actually worked just as well as the analog sticks for actions like plucking a document out of a dead guy’s inside jacket pocket. You can also use them for navigating Cole’s notebook, although I found that less intuitive because you have to double-tap to select an option. Presumably, this is to avoid stray single taps taking actions you don’t want to take, but it’s just not how people are accustomed to using touchscreens.

I have a retail copy of L.A. Noire’s Switch version in hand, so I’m going to spend some time with it to see how it holds up to extended sessions. As a new Switch owner, I haven’t quite gotten over being impressed that a “full console game” like this is now a portable experience. It is worth noting, however, that the “Switch tax” is in effect: L.A. Noire costs $49.99 on Switch, versus $39.99 on PS4 and Xbox One. Perhaps that price difference is what will make your purchasing decision for you.