Field Report: LA Noire Touch Edition

Last week, Rockstar Games released a new version of LA Noire with touch controls. But you'd be forgiven if you didn't know about it--it's a touch version created exclusively for OnLive. It's easily the best showcase of OnLive's ability to stream games to Android phones and tablets. However, the experience is marred by many of the same issues that plagued the launch of the service.

It's hard not to be stupefied when LA Noire is running as it should on the phone. After playing Angry Birds Space, it's hard not to be floored by the graphics. Whether on wi-fi or on 4G, my connection provided a clear image that let me appreciate the detailed environments and impressive facial capture technology developed by Team Bondi. This is the complete game experience running on my handheld. "This is the future," I thought.

Whereas previous games ported for OnLive's Android application simply juxtapose a virtual game pad on the screen, Rockstar Games put some effort into the touch adaptation of LA Noire. The game menus are entirely touch-based now. When reading your notebook, simply tap an entry. When in the pause menu, just touch whatever selections you want to make.

Investigating the environment has also been enhanced with touch. For example, when examining a body, you simply tap on the body part you wish to look at. Then, you swipe to manipulate objects, rotating them, or going in for a closer look. When it works, it feels like this is how the game should have been played.

Unfortunately, Rockstar needed to go further in order to make the game truly playable on a touch device. The game still relies heavily on virtual game pad controls. In fact, the first playable sequence in the game is a driving sequence. I was constantly berated by my partner for my inability to drive--but given the controls, it was quite a difficult task to manage. Even worse, instead of offering a big virtual analog stick for driving, you have two tiny left and right buttons on the bottom left of the screen. Thankfully, driving is optional for most of the game, as you can tell your partner to drive you from destination to destination.

Controlling Cole with a virtual analog stick is also not much fun. While it would have dumbed down the game, I would've greatly preferred the ability to simply tap the environment to have Cole look for clues. Simply walking and running around the environment posed enough problems--it should be easy to extrapolate how un-fun getting into shootouts was on the touch screen.

Technical difficulties riddled my sessions throughout last week as well. Whether it was the inability to link my Rockstar Social Club account to the game, or losing "mouse control" of the game, or the stream simply cutting out, there were numerous times where I had to simply exit the OnLive app and give up playing the game. The game consistently struggles with gestures--a problem that makes finding clues incredibly difficult.

OnLive's vision of the future of gaming is truly ambitious, and when it works it's hard not to believe in their mission. Unfortunately, even with its own exclusive version of a Rockstar game, the experience is neither polished nor stable enough to feel more substantial than a tech demo.

LA Noire is now available on OnLive for $39.99. For the purposes of this preview, the reviewer used a Samsung Galaxy S II phone, running on wi-fi and Sprint's WiMAX 4G network. OnLive provided Shacknews free access to the game.