Games. Culture.

Was L.A Noire the Right Game to Remaster?

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In case you didn’t know, L.A Noire, a Rockstar published 1940s detective game from 2011, was remastered and released on the PS4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch(!) just a few weeks ago. It’s a remaster that does exactly what it should: reintroduce people to L.A Noire. I’ve been playing on the Switch and can confirm it runs well. It’s exactly the same game as before with some softer textures but overall the same experience. I will say that the persistent joy con issues do hamper the enjoyment so it’s best to probably pay the game with a Pro controller or in handheld mode. It’s sort of a blessing though or you might be compelled to try the motion controls which are just various ways of exerting your wrist rather than just pressing a button. Of course, neither of these things complement the already existent issues that have carried over from L.A Noire’s initial release. It’s open world is still a farce, it’s shooting is still incredibly stilted and it still has textures that just pop in whenever they see fit. For better or worse, you’re getting the same game that you got six years ago.

Remasters are the gift that typically keeps giving. While often reserved for games that are classics in quality and age, the gap between release and re-release has become increasingly short in recent years. The Last of Us graced the PS3 in 2013 and 13 months later, it came back out on the PS4. Minor visual upgrades aside, it was the same game but re-released to introduce a whole new swath of console converts to what was deemed “the game of the generation”. The context for that re-release makes it understandable that they made the jump so quickly. Also, it can’t be hard to sell “the game of the generation”. This context is usually what precedes a re-release. There’s always a financial incentive to re-releasing a game but first it needs to be beloved enough to warrant the remaster. You can’t just release any old game and expect it to sell like mad. It’s why when God of War was seemingly going to end back in 2010, God of War and God of War II were remastered and packaged together for the PS3. Those games carved out a legacy of successful, ridiculous action games for a whole console generation. It made sense to get them back out there. Which is why I have a very simple question.

Did we need this L.A Noire remaster?

On it’s face, it’s a decent move. There’s definitely an adoration and appreciation for L.A Noire, it just always seemed to me to be one of the lesser Rockstar titles. It’s the most different and it’s bad for it. Whereas in-house Rockstar games feel spacious to provide a playground, L.A Noire has always felt really tight. That’s because there isn’t actually much to do in the game outside of its story. There are optional cars to collect and side jobs that are petty crimes you usually resolve with a chase or shootout. That’s…it. The shootouts aren’t even satisfying to play out because your character, Cole, is pretty slow to move and fire. When he points his gun in a direction, it feels less like a soldier is behind the gun and more like a prospective gun owner on a range for the first time, minus the excitement. It’s not that he bumbles his way through encounters, but he isn’t exactly the most graceful gunman. This all adds up to make a game that really only did one thing well, which was place you in the shoes of a detective.

The game is mostly carried by it’s decidedly different gameplay which involves examining crime scenes for clues and using those to dismantle or uphold the stories that suspects feed you in interrogations. What the game is most known for is how you do that, which is based on the facial reactions of the suspects. Team Bondi, the now defunct developer of the game, sunk a tremendous amount of time and money into implementing a technology known as MotionScan that would more realistically realize faces in the game, therefore providing a way of allowing the player to discern truth from falsehoods. Then it was up to you, the player, to decide. The technology was “revolutionary” at the time but I question whether or not it’s really had an effect. For the most part it was used to accomplish this game and then left alone. The thing that it sets out to do is good, but far from revolutionary. Have you felt the reverberations of this facial capture?

For that reason, I think L.A Noire is more of a tech demo or proof of concept that this stuff works more than it is a tremendously successful game. Which is why I don’t believe it’s necessarily deserving of the remaster treatment.

Remasters are the only real method of preservation the industry has. We’ve done a crap job of ensuring that the greatest works of this industry are recognized and preserved for the world to witness. Some of it is the fact that the outside world doesn’t give a damn about games because we marketed them as toys. Some of it as that some people think they are abhorrent and would like to see them wiped off the planet. Another factor is the physical constraints of the early years of gaming. Eras of games relied on physical media to be able to experienced and as we very well know, physical media doesn’t hold up forever. It’s for that reason that you see so many remasters of classic properties. Remasters are impermanent solutions to a long term problem we’re facing head on. A remaster of a game from the dawn of the digital age for a quick buck seems antithetical to the core ideology of remastering: preservation and continuation.

Of course, this is the least industrial thing I could possibly say. L.A Noire sold quite a few million copies in the last few years of the last generation of consoles. There’s absolutely reason to try and get it out on fresh new systems and double down on those easy sales. It’s just also lazy. The game has gone relatively untouched, both in good and bad ways, which is what makes it a good game to bring back but also a bad remaster. I just believe there are games more deserving of a remaster, games that better exemplify what it is to be a game, and games that should be preserved and passed on.

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