The last few months have been packed with exciting new blockbuster games — yet here I am, playing a pair of titles that originally came out six years ago. This week, two of the biggest games from 2011 are launching on the Nintendo Switch: Rockstar’s 1940s detective drama LA Noire, and Bethesda’s sprawling fantasy epic Skyrim. Both are games that don’t look especially impressive up against current titles like Star Wars Battlefront II or Horizon Zero Dawn. But in the shift to the Nintendo Switch, they’ve gained something notable. It turns out that being able to take a huge game on the go can help you look past its flaws.
The two games are very different, and on the Switch I’ve found myself playing them in very different contexts. Skyrim is a massive role-playing game, which by their nature necessitate a lot of busy work. In your quest to find and defeat an ancient dragon and save a magical fantasy realm, you’ll spend lots of time fussing about in a menu upgrading your magical abilities and finding just the right armor to wear. There’s lots of repetitive combat as you delve into dark dungeons and underground crypts, clearing them of undead soldiers and giant spiders. Getting the most out of Skyrim means paying attention to the small details, and not being afraid to get your hands dirty.
This structure is a great fit for playing on the go. RPGs are about incremental progress, as you slowly complete smaller goals in order to become stronger and capable enough to tackle challenges later in the game. This means that, while a game like Skyrim can take dozens of hours to complete, you can still make progress in short sessions. Over the past week I’ve spent real-world train rides exploring quaint Skyrim towns and chatting with their residents, and slowly chipping away at dungeons while waiting for my kid to get out of dance class.
LA Noire, meanwhile, is a much more straightforward, story-driven game. As a new detective in 1947 Los Angeles, you’ll solve a number of grisly crimes. Each one is divided into multiple beats. Sometimes you’ll investigate a crime scene, searching for clues and talking to witnesses. After that you may need to chase down a suspect, and there’s lots of driving to and from various locations, and even a few fistfights. One of LA Noire’s defining features is its interrogation system, where you carefully analyze suspects and then chose whether to play the good cop, the bad cop, or present evidence to press them on a lie.
Whereas Skyrim has been great for getting in some dragon-slaying action on my commute, I’ve found myself playing LA Noire in bed, curling up with it like a good detective novel. It’s the kind of game I like to give my full attention to, carefully analyzing the body language of suspects, and searching crime scenes for every possible clue. It’s best experienced over long sessions, as opposed to small bites. In the dark, quiet of my bedroom, I can really focus.
The great thing about playing these games on the Switch is the flexibility. I’ve mostly played both in portable mode, but it’s nice to also be able to switch it up and play on a big TV when I’m able to. Unlike the recent Switch port of Doom, these releases aren’t really compromised in any way. Since they’re older titles, there’s no downgrade in visuals or performance. This also means that they show their age. Skyrim’s world looks beautiful from afar, but messy when you get up close, while Rockstar’s rendition of Los Angeles feels surprisingly empty and sterile. Sometimes animations can look awkward, and I’ve seen characters walking aimlessly into walls. Even on new hardware they still look and feel like games from six years ago.
There are a few new features: both games have added motion controls, though I’ve found them largely unnecessary, and LA Noire also features some smart touchscreen integration so you can use your finger to analyze clues or flip through a notebook. (Disturbingly, you can also poke and prod at murder victims with your finger.) In Skyrim, meanwhile, you can unlock Legend of Zelda gear if you have the appropriate Amiibo figures.
But really, it’s not the new features or upgrades that make these games worth playing again — the shift in platform is change enough. In a different context, an older game can find new life.