LA Noire... Of all the consoles in all the world, you had to walk onto the Switch.
The re-release of Rockstar Games’ neo-noir thriller, which originally debuted in 2011, came as something of a surprise, seeing as how six years have passed. In terms of games, this is all but a lifetime. But more surprising still was the news that, along with Xbox One and PlayStation 4, LA Noire would also come to Switch, a sign not only of serious progress in the most current generation of Nintendo hardware, but also the company’s new content strategy moving forward. You almost never see a Rockstar game on a Nintendo console.
I might have ignored the re-release altogether if not for some of the new tweaks and additions to the mechanics. As a huge fan of the game, I hoped they would make the investigation process a little more illuminating, and thus, accessible to a wider audience. Far and away the biggest complaint about LA Noire is the questioning process employed by lead character Detective Cole Phelps. A late-game change to the system upended the dialogue choices, muddling the original intent of each interrogation scene, and the result is frustrating. Most players end up relying heavily on reloaded case files, trial and error, and good ole game walkthroughs to get by. Originally, the options were Coax, Force and Accuse. These were altered to Truth, Doubt and Lie in the final release, and are now Good Cop, Bad Cop and Accuse in the latest version. My first impression was that this edit would bring the process closer to the original intent, and thus make it easier for the player to understand how it works, maybe resulting in less boredom and rage quits.
So when I fired up my copy of LA Noire on the Switch, this was the factor I was most curious about. Would these changes help the case procedure at all? Or is it back to game Wikias and reloading files?
Replaying the game’s first real Patrol case, I was struck by how good of a tutorial those early LA Noire missions really were, especially Buyer Beware, which teaches the basics of Phelps’ questioning process. It’s been so long since I played the beginning of the game that initially I forgot that the first interrogation scene actually sets the player up to experience every dialogue option so they know what to look for in body language and how to back themselves up when making accusations. Thus, my reactions to the dialogue options, instead of going along the path clearly laid out for me, were organic and honest based on my gut impression.
Despite making an honest stab at interpreting how to approach each questioning scene based on the new descriptors, I failed on every dialogue option. At times, I was bewildered as to some of the conclusions I was supposed to have come to at certain points in the case. For example, while interrogating Clovis Galleta, I was supposed to understand from her body language that she was withholding information about the murder she had witnessed that day. What was difficult was to discern that they weren’t getting at what she had “actually” seen with her eyes, but what additional information she might have as to motive. If pressed, the player is supposed to bring up a receipt from a pair of earrings she bought from the killer, which the game implies would suggest she’s not revealing everything she knows. It’s a leap of logic that only barely makes sense, and (despite the tutorial cues and some advice from your partner) it’s not a good first introduction for this particular mechanic given how heavily it factors into the rest of the game.
The complaints about the procedural aspect of LA Noire are more valid than I originally thought six years ago. It’s true that the game relies too heavily on the player’s understanding of body language and intent. While it’s often easy to tell when a character is lying or telling the truth, it’s not easy to tell when they’re merely hiding something and need a gentle push from Phelps, or should be scolded and shocked into giving up information. There’s still an enormous disconnect between a piece of evidence and what it “proves” in an investigation, not to mention what the witness or suspect is actually lying or telling the truth about. And there’s almost no way to discern, prior to a conversation, if any piece of accumulated evidence will end up relevant in the discussion, severely limiting the actual detective work that Phelps is doing. The player is mostly accumulating material evidence just in case it becomes vital to getting the correct answer in an interrogation scene, and then crossing their fingers, because it’s still just a trial and error process from there.
Even that wouldn’t be so bad if the game had better save file or quick dialogue options. Reloading over and over to replay a section gets boring and laborious, especially for the longer cases that require travel to multiple locations. My advice for playing and enjoying LA Noire, whatever your console of choice, remains the same: check the case page on Wikia first
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.