Cole Phelps is one of the most unlikeable video game protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of vaulting over a wall in pursuit of a fleeing perp, or accidentally propelling into the back of a parked Buick while at the wheel of a siren-wailing Nash Super. The leading man of Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, developed by the now-defunct Team Bondi, Phelps is a careerist in all the wrong ways, striving for personal achievement whatever the damage dealt to those around him. His rapid rise through the Police Department of L.A. Noire’s 1947 Los Angeles rubs a whole host of peers and partners up the wrong way, and leaves a similar sour taste in the mouth of the player.
Okay, so Phelps isn’t all bad – but I’d forgotten so very much about his selfish side in the years between this game’s initial May 2011 release (when I played it on Xbox 360) and its recent arrival on the Switch. Had I not picked it up again, in a port bearing some neat touch-sensitive control options for handheld play, I’d have gone about my business remembering only the good times I had with Phelps. The leisurely drives around Hollywood. The lilting jazz that underpinned our quitter moments. All of those light-fingered one-on-ones with the city’s many and varied stiffs. But, here we are; here I am. I’m playing L.A. Noire and, you know, I’m enjoying it more this time, second time around, than I did six years ago.
It’s not just the option to pinch the screen when manipulating a cadaver – the sticks and buttons still work just fine, too. Nor is it the portability of the platform that’s making this playthrough such a… well, I won’t say delight, because L.A. Noire goes to some dark places narratively (and is far from flawless mechanically, too), but it’s certainly fun. More so than those advantages, I think it’s the subdued hype, the relative lack of positives-loaded previews, that’s allowing me to tackle these cases without any great weight of expectation. Six years is an eternity in the wider video games conversation regarding what’s hot and what’s not – and L.A. Noire, as much as it’s one of those decent-enough seven-out-of-tens in my personal book, is absolutely in the “not” category, here in 2017.
I’m not playing expecting anything revelatory – although those MotionScan-captured facial animations are still something special – and as such, I’m able to enjoy the ride that much more. And the same has been true of a good number of other late-shows on the Switch.
Blasting through DOOM on the move is a real treat when you vaguely remember what’s waiting for you, jaws gnashing, around the next corner – but even without the experience of having played it once before, shorn of the usual release-date embargo hoo-hah that accompanies so many Bethesda-published new releases, 2016’s best shooter can really breathe, even on the small screen.
Suitably given its extra-terrestrial setting, there’s no substantial pressure here. The press has long since spoken, and anyone interested in picking DOOM up for the first time on their Switch has a plethora of information to help guide their purchase in the first place, and just as much readily available when it comes to making the most from it, an abundance of guides and walkthroughs.
Okay, so there’s still performance points to address when any “old” game makes its way to the Switch. They can matter – not often much, as in DOOM’s case (yes, it gets a bit blurry, but when a Baron of Hell is chasing your arse around Mars, you won’t really be focusing on anything but self-preservation via full-frontal assault), but just sometimes, that second chance can be wasted. As has been the case with RiME.
What had significant promise pre-release earlier in 2017, only to reveal itself as a polite puzzler with no true outstanding elements, has come to Switch in its worst version yet. It’s a great disappointment, because RiME’s exactly the kind of game that, with some critics lukewarm to it first time around, could have massively benefitted from being seen with greater distance between first-wave hype and at-hand play. But, yes: it’s a mess, sadly. I hope that Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee fares better when it finally sticks its Switch landing, as that could really sing as a portable platformer playground. (So long as nobody begins by directly comparing it with Super Mario Odyssey, of course.)
2017’s procession of great games for the Switch has included a series of known quantities, which have fitted in like this was their most natural home all along. Thimbleweed Park and Oxenfree are outstanding eShop options that I’ve got so much more out of in handheld mode than I ever managed with them running on my home TV, through the Xbox One. Rocket League on the go is dangerous for missing public transport stops, even in its bot-bashing, own-goal-extravaganza offline modes.
I’ve not started Stardew Valley yet, but I know from my Twitter feed that it’s got the makings of one hell of a time-sink. And to have that kind of game – that dip in and out experience, where sessions can be brief or endurance tests – on the Switch is just perfect for those who can’t commit to sitting in the same seat for eight-hour stretches. It’ll be my first time with it – but I know that I wouldn’t be about to play it at all, if it wasn’t for its take-it-anywhere convenience. It’s simply up against too much on PlayStation or Xbox, for bigger-screen play.
Exploring Skyrim again wherever I want to – be that in bed (until the battery runs out, or my hand goes numb, whichever happens first), on a commute or just for ten minutes between breakfast and running out the door of a morning – is immeasurably more rewarding than it was back in 2011. And, again, I think that’s because I knew all about Skyrim before taking on its epic adventuring once more – I’ve walked these roads, albeit in a different order, before; and I’ve read all of the accolades (hell, I wrote a couple of them) and inputted them into my singular barometer for what represents a quality RPG, to me. Turns out: Skyrim still does.
The quality and style with which so many games have made their Switch debuts has made me supremely confident for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’s arrival in 2018 – indeed, I’m yet to buy it for anything else, purely because the example of DOOM illustrates that this kind of port is achievable. I don’t know if I’ll hold out through Christmas, as the urge to step into the shoes of BJ again is pretty significant (the preceding The New Order was a cracker that I only got into earlier this year), but if I only owned a Switch, I wouldn’t be worrying about it being a notably poorer experience compared to other hardware. Different, certainly, but worse isn’t a word I’d be expecting to reach for.
Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight and Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods are two indie games that have long been on my 2017 radar – but that they’re both incoming for Switch (albeit not explicitly, in the latter’s case), and knowing what I do about how Nintendo’s console has changed the way I play games (shorter bursts, but much more frequently), means I’m waiting, patiently, rather than picking them up immediately for any other systems.
They’ll be my first times – but for many others, no doubt, they’ll be playing them through again and delighting in how they’ve been given the chance to see what might have been a favourite, a flawed great, or even something they really expected more from, in a new way. They’re released from the choking atmosphere of Metascore this and Steam charts that, that makes up many a game’s release window, and offered instead a freedom. It’s one informed by precedent, sure, but very much pointing towards the future of a platform that’s only going to become a home for more amazing adventures from the recent, and not so recent, past.
I’m sure we’ve all got our list of what we want to see come over from the previous console generation, so as to provide us with a second helping: an Arkham series set, maybe, or the Mass Effect trilogy. I’d love to see a Dreamcast collection appear, like the one that came out for 360 and PC in 2011, or at least a few individual eShop additions – though I realise that’s very wishful thinking. Look, Sega: just give me a controls-tweaked version of that console’s Daytona, on the Switch, and I’ll be happy. And if you want to sling OutRun 2 on there while you’re at it, I’m not about to complain.
I mightn’t like everything I see in Phelps, and I mightn’t like everything I do in L.A. Noire (uh, those hostage situations are so annoying). But if it wasn’t for the Switch, I’d never have played it again – and the same can be said of Skyrim, and even DOOM. These second chances have greatly added to my appreciation of games that I thought I had pegged a very certain way. And in each case, that assessment has been slightly altered, forming as it has in a way entirely uninfluenced by media previews and blind optimism – and for the better, almost every time.
Which is to say, again: it’s a shame about Rime.