Why L.A. Noire isn’t a precursor to GTA and Red Dead Redemption on Switch
Rockstar surprised us all by announcing L.A. Noire for the Nintendo Switch, but don’t expect announcements for GTA or Red Dead Redemption any time soon.
Admit it, you were surprised. I was surprised. When Rockstar announced L.A. Noire for the Nintendo Switch, it came out of the blue like a shark attack. The biggest predator in the third-party developer sea came up and sunk its teeth into Nintendo’s well-received new console-cum-handheld, blindsiding just about anyone. The game launched on November 17, simultaneously with ports to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
In typical Rockstar fashion, it turned left when everyone was looking right. L.A. Noire is the most unlikely title from its revered catalogue to bring to the Nintendo Switch. You’d think even the likes of Smuggler’s Run, Bully, Midnight Club or even Beaterator would be an easier fit. But surely not L.A. Noire.
Developed right here in Sydney by Team Bondi, L.A. Noire was released in 2011. It’s a sprawling opus that’s complex from a technical, gameplay and storytelling perspective. Set in a huge, open 1930s Los Angeles, its moment-to-moment action seamlessly shifted from melee to ranged combat, driving to climbing and sleuthing to interrogating. In particular, it relied heavily on players reading and deciphering character body language in order to ask the right questions and slowly unravel the mystery.
Huge, complex and niche – not your typical Nintendo fare.
L.A. Noire sold just over six million copies, which is nothing to sneeze at (especially circa 2011) but would be considered something of a failure by Rockstar’s standards. By comparison, Red Dead Redemption sold 15 million copies and Grand Theft Auto V sold a whopping 80 million (and rising).
Yet, despite its complex technology, niche gameplay themes and relatively low brand awareness, this is the game Rockstar chose to make its bow on Switch. Is it just a case of testing the Switch waters before releasing the bigger fish?
Sadly, the arrival of L.A. Noire doesn’t signal Rockstar’s intent to go all in with the Nintendo Switch. Unlike most Rockstar titles, L.A. Noire was not developed by one of its internal studios. In fact, Rockstar came to the party late, two years after Team Bondi had first begun developing the game in 2004.
Therefore, L.A. Noire was not built on the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), which has been the middleware used by the company since 2006. Instead, L.A. Noire was built on the Havok Engine. I got in touch with Rockstar, who confirmed that L.A. Noire on Switch remains on the Havok Engine and is not a remake that uses RAGE.
The Havok Engine is already fairly compatible with the Nintendo Switch's hardware and was actually used by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – albeit just for physics. What this means is that Rockstar could fast-track the process to port L.A. Noire to the Nintendo Switch by leaning on the compatibility work done by the Havok team. It took less time and cost less money. Whereas any port of one of its own in-house titles would require the much larger investment in making RAGE compatible.
For this reason, don’t expect to see any big announcements around the Nintendo Switch and Rockstar titles anytime soon, at least not for those released after 2006. We’re not saying they won’t come, especially GTA on Switch, only that it’s not as straightforward as just following LA. Noire’s lead. We’d like to think that Rockstar is toiling away in the background on adapting RAGE to Switch.
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So why not urge Rockstar to double-down on adapting RAGE to Switch by taking the chance to jump in and enjoy L.A. Noire – it truly is a great game.