Rockstar stole gaming headlines recently with a surprise announcement that the acclaimed 2011 detective thriller L.A. Noire will be coming to current gen consoles, the Nintendo Switch and the HTC Vive. While this alone isn't confirmation of further developments, could it be indicative of more Rockstar titles coming to Nintendo's hit console, and even to VR.
In the past, Strauss Zelnick has discussed both new platforms at events or during investor calls, and his opinions boiled down to being favorable with the Switch but skeptical of VR. Hence, the news of a Switch port, while still completely unexpected, was less surprising than news of VR version coming as well.
Rockstar has a massive library of IP to draw on, but what's more, a large number of popular games with immense recognition that are ripe for the remastering. L.A. Noire, which wasn't a huge hit, or part of a franchise, or even particularly well remembered, was deemed a worthy investment for porting.
Let's get the obvious out of the way - with the massive hype around the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2, making a port of the previous game for the Switch would be a massive money maker. It was released in 2010, so it isn't too new a game to be able to run on the Switch hardware, which runs ports of newer titles (L.A. Noire being one of them).
However, it's mostly known that due to the game's troubled development history, the code of Red Dead Redemption is an unworkable mess and any porting or remastering efforts would likely require much of it to be built from the ground up, which isn't particularly viable.
However, Rockstar has another jolly joker in their hand - GTA. Grand Theft Auto games have been ported to newer platforms time and again, with the 3D era titles available on a massive range of consoles in addition to PC and Mobile. If a mid-range smartphone can run GTA: San Andreas, you can bet the Switch can do so happily too.
Since the games have already been ported to mobile, making the jump to Switch with a new coat of paint would most likely be a grand success, and easy too. The prospect of being able to play fan favorite GTA games on the go without having to make the concession of poor mobile controls and a massive drain on the battery of your primary communication device would motivate most Switch owners to buy ports of titles like San Andreas or Vice City.
Bully recently joined the 3D era GTA games on mobile platforms, making it another logical title to take over to the Switch. Bully was always a niche title with a cult following, meaning it is more likely to find success on the Switch, which amounts to a core gaming platform, as opposed to the mobile market which is as mainstream as they get.
However, all this discussion of porting successful GTA games to the Switch brings with it the question - could a mobile GTA game be developed for the Switch exclusively, like GTA Advance was for the Gameboy and the beloved Chinatown Wars was for the DS?
Rockstar was once a top supporter of the portable gaming scene, with the "Stories" line of PlayStation Portable games, as well as titles released on mobile and Nintendo's other handhelds. However, this trend recently dropped away, and even though Take-Two recently acquired a dedicated mobile developer, there has been no news about Rockstar courting smaller screens in the near future beyond the announcement of L.A. Noire for the Switch.
However, considering the company's leadership was ready to warm up to the Switch from the get-go - with NBA 2K18 appearing in the console's announcement trailer - there is a good chance they might plan on bringing their other major franchises to the Switch.
The Take-Two label owns a number of highly popular titles which wouldn't over-tax the Switch's hardware, and many of these have already received mobile ports. 2K's sports games and XCOM come to mind, beyond the Rockstar lineup.
Rockstar's multiple studios are all working on various projects, so it's clear that Red Dead Redemption 2 isn't the only upcoming title, even if it is the only one we know about. A new mainline GTA game is almost certainly in the works, and rumors speak of a possible sequel to Bully, however that still leaves resources for other games in the pipeline.
While it would be too optimistic to assume one of those is a GTA title developed specifically for the Switch, considering the history of Rockstar Games, it wouldn't be out of character. Following the middling success of the Wii and Wii U, the Switch took the gaming market by storm and ended up being a runaway success, with Nintendo often struggling to meet demand. However, to this day its games library is undersaturated, with few truly major titles being released in the vein of Splatoon 2 or Breath of the Wild.
Rockstar is quite averse to competition, as proven by their dislike of sharing the spotlight with other developers at large gaming events, and the Switch provides the perfect opportunity to get in without having to worry about competition. Amid so few games in general, and few major contenders, any Rockstar title, even if it is just a port, would dominate the market.
VR, however, is another matter entirely. While L.A. Noire is making the jump to the platform, Zelnick was correct in his assumption that it will remain a niche way of enjoying games. Few people have VR setups, and thus the market, the profits and the potential gain of putting out VR games is low.
This is likely why instead of reworking the whole game for VR, only 7 of the independent, self-contained investigations are being converted for the HTC Vive. Porting an entire game, especially one that isn't first person by default, would be a tall order that might not even break even, let alone bring enough of a profit to be a viable venture.
And then there is the question of developing a full VR game. One might ask, if low-funded indies are doing it, why can't a massive company like Take-Two fund a massive developer like Rockstar to do it?
It's precisely the size of these companies, and the amounts of money going into projects, which would keep them away from a full fledged VR GTA game. It would have to live up to the brand name, and juggling that with the obviously small user base and profit margin of the current VR market would be impossible, hence we shouldn't expect anything on that front. We'd definitely love to see a dedicated VR GTA game, but it will likely remain a dream for a very long time.
Normally we'd say that even if there is something in the works for the Nintendo Switch, be it further ports of older Rockstar Games or even a newly developed title, we wouldn't hear of it for a long while. But then, this L.A. Noire announcement came out of absolutely nowhere, so at this point we're prepared for anything.
The new versions of L.A. Noire will be available on the 14th of November. As for any news on other potential remasters or ports, keep an eye on our front page.