L.A. Noire was a pioneering and inventive game when it hit back in 2011. While it might not have lived up to some of the high expectations placed on it, the original release offered something unique within the gaming sphere. Shifting it into VR is a fairly genius idea, as the detective genre theoretically should work well within the VR space. With L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Rockstar has created one of the best VR games of the year, though their ambition is tamped down by a few issues.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files offers players a smattering of the cases found in the original game. Telling not really a cohesive story of its own, the game instead jumps around a bit to give players more and more complex and varied singular plots. You’ll track down murderers and criminals by exploring crime scenes, driving around Los Angeles, and putting together clues from your investigation. Confronting these criminals is the meat of the experience, but there’s a lot more to L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files than many might assume, and it’s a big departure from other VR games.
Most VR titles have tried to limit your choices, forcing you down a narrow tunnel of fun in a desperate attempt to maximize the player’s enjoyment. L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files instead offers players some structured missions and a huge open world that they can explore. Eight square miles of LA’s streets have been recreated here, and while there isn’t much to do across this landscape, aside from the cases, just existing like this is a treat of its own. There’s something magical about hopping into your 40’s style car, turning the ignition key, and driving around LA, looking out your windows at the scenery and locations.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case File is a bold, inventive, and engaging VR title
The cases themselves are standard L.A. Noire stuff, and players who enjoyed the original game will like what they get here, though the surprises will be gone if you actually remember how these cases go. VR does add a lot to the experience of being a detective though, ratcheting up the immersion and making for a less clunky interface as you search for clues. Picking up objects, sifting through evidence, and finding the tiny details that makes the case all works quite well in VR. Players can simply use their hands to pick things up and inspect them, with the game automatically adding details to your handy notebook. And when you are chatting with witnesses or suspects, L.A. Noire’s famous facial animations will look better than ever in VR.
Shooting is also quite enjoyable, with the game having you really act like you are holding a weapon. You reload the shotgun, for example, by grabbing shells and popping them in, before pumping it into the chamber. Leaning behind cover, popping out, and aiming down the barrel to hit your target is endlessly enjoyable. What works even better though is the hand-to-hand combat. It just feels so visceral and realistic, and the mechanics all work to facilitate the player’s enjoyment of the fights. By the end of L.A. Noire: The VR Case File you’ll be asking yourself why there’s no big VR boxing game, but this will certainly do for now.
The confines of VR does add some issues of its own though. Many points in the game require you to read text, which at lower graphical levels can be a bit tough to read. You also need to tap things on papers sometimes, which can go wrong if the game isn’t tracking exactly what you’re trying to do. These are small prices to pay for the much higher level of immersion offered though. You’ll really feel like a grizzled detective as you make your way around a crime scene, digging through the environment to find clues.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case File spends a lot of time and effort building up this immersion, as most VR games do, so its major failures come when it breaks it. Unfortunately it does so a bit more than other VR titles, and in ways that likely could be avoided. You’ll find that L.A. Noire: The VR Case File fades to black and loads far more often than other VR games, likely a consequence of the more open worlds that players can explore. The game also has you reorient yourself quite often, marking your play space when most other titles just let you roam free. And, of course, the movement systems get in the way a bit.
No VR game has perfected movement just yet, but many games have gotten close. L.A. Noire: The VR Case File’s movement system is just passable though, not living up to the expectations set by some other titles. It works decently enough, so this isn’t a major detractor for the game and its enjoyment, but if some changes and additions could be made the game would benefit greatly.
For one, there’s no standard free movement. You can swing your arms to move around freely, but it’s clunky and doesn’t always work as intended. The other methods involve a lot of teleporting, with most players likely sticking to the one that sends them to highlighted areas of interest. This is the best movement system in the game, but the way it takes you out of your character, fades to black, then pops you where you wanted to go is not ideal. Even a more standard teleportation system would be preferred, such as what Valve did in The Lab, though this might not be workable in the engine.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case File is, after all, a AAA gaming experience, which is exceedingly rare within the VR space. It’s a hugely ambitious game, one of the most ambitious and bold VR games I’ve played so far. With this ambition comes risks and rewards, and some of the risks didn’t quite pay off. There’s the aforementioned movement systems, which could be rectified with some additional polish, and there are still some other rough edges. The system specs are a bit higher than other games, but Rockstar promises that updates will bring this down. I’ve encountered some bugs, such as not recognizing when I’ve uncovered clues, or the game not fully loading the environment, especially while driving.
But these flaws come about because of that boldness that Rockstar has infused within all of L.A. Noire: The VR Case File. They didn’t play it safe, and while that does cause the game to stumble here and there, it also allows it to stand above most other VR games out there. This is simply one of the best VR games available at the moment, and anyone who’s been a fan of the medium needs to play it, if just to understand where the platform could be going in the future.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case File is a bold, inventive, and engaging VR title, marking the first tentative steps into the next step in VR gaming. It has its issues, such as immersion breaking loading screens and an imperfect movement system. What it does well it does exceptionally well though, nailing immersion like few other games have. You’ll feel like a true 40’s detective, and you’ll love every second of it. Being able to drive around a realistic take on LA is just icing on the cake, but it’s some pretty sweet icing.