L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Review — Serve Justice in Virtual Reality

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This year, Rockstar Games announced that it would be re-releasing four new versions of L.A. Noire; including one version that was released on the Nintendo Switch. As a fan of the original L.A. Noire, while I was interested in the Switch port, the version of the game that peaked my interest was that seven cases from the original game were being remade for virtual reality gaming. After a delay, Rockstar Games has finally released its first virtual reality title L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files.

Much like the non-VR counterpart, The VR Case Files is set in 1940s Hollywood; players control Cole Phelps, a young detective that’s tasked with solving various cases from homicide to arson. However, unlike the non-VR versions, The VR Case Files has you playing the entire game from the eyes of Cole Phelps and offers an entirely new way to experience this seventh generation gem.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files reimagines seven cases from the original title, and while L.A. Noire was never made with virtual reality in mind, the developers have put a lot of time to ensure this game felt organically VR. Still, just like the original version, this game is not very long, and the game lasts less than ten hours, which is upsetting because I wanted to keep on going after completing the final case.

Visually, the game looks pretty good, which is not surprising given the demanding PC specs needed to run this game. Having run this on two different computers with completely different hardware inside, I did not encounter any hiccups during my playthrough although textures looked a lot better when running it in the above-recommended settings.

Aside from the game switching from a third-person to a first-person perspective, another new addition to the game is that over 500 items from the original version have been redesigned to offer a better examination by the player when conducting an investigation. Some other quirky features introduced include freehand sketching within Phelps’ notebook as well as a new control scheme which is used to brawls as well as making hand puppets.

Some more changes made to the game include the ability to explore Phelps’ office, which allows you to change your physical appearance, scroll through some tunes and examine previous cases. While it is a minor addition to some, I found it to impact my experience massively, and it helps bring that feeling that you are Detective Phelps and that you are experiencing everything from his perspective.

Going back to the game’s modified controls, although the control options were not as in-depth as Fallout 4 VR‘s, The VR Case Files offers simplistic control schemes that help accommodate every type of VR gamer out there. During my playthrough, I opted to use the “walking mode” instead of the teleportation to avoid immersion breaking, although the little time I did experiment with teleportation I found it useful in getting out of sticky situations during gunfights and that was it. Driving in the game has also been improved — although not by much. Cars do not feel floaty by any stretch of the imagination and steering overall has been slightly improved; it could be better, but I did not find it that big of an issue.

With eight square miles available you can spend countless hours roaming the world and exploring what it has to offer, but do not expect much to go on in the world. While the game is massive, I could even go as far as saying its one of the biggest open-world VR titles I have played aside from Bethesda’s VR trilogy. But that does not change the fact that the world, in its entirety apart from the cases feels like an ocean wide, but a puddle deep which may cause some people to feel a bit of buyer’s remorse. I wish there were a bit more substance in the game as it discourages you from exploration and indirectly forces you to tackle the cases.

Turning back my attention to walking mode, requiring players to mimic walking by swinging their arms. The other control option includes the smooth locomotion option, where players use the Vive’s controllers to move Detective Phelps and allow you to roam 1940s Hollywood with ease. While all three options are suitable for every playstyle, the walking option is the most realistic, although it might be a bit tiresome for those having to swing their arms all the time when walking around. Not a major flaw, but it is something you do need to consider when deciding which controls you want to use for movement.

The crown of L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is partaking in the actual cases. Playing the role of a detective, one of the most important things the job entails is interrogating witnesses. During interrogations, players will be able to judge a charter based on how their conversation goes. Unlike the other ports, these situations can alter the outcome of the discussion, such as finding additional clues or even resulting in a physical altercation. The way you speak to each other feels more realistic, and the reactions to specific questions had me forgetting, at times that I was playing a game.

Much like the current-gen re-releases, the interrogations have been changed to offer a more straightforward route; with the options being “good cop,” “bad cop,” and “accuse.” Depending on how you interpret the conversation you can very well change from being the hostile asshole cop to being the kind cop that sympathizes with the witness.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Review -- Serve Justice in Virtual Reality

But its much more than just changing the dialogue and tone, the interrogations in this, but rather the stars of these situations are how the characters express their emotions through expressions and body language and having that headset helps you empathize with them. As video games become more and more realistic things like this often get overlooked by gamers, but as we begin demanding more realism in our games, we must first acknowledge those that are putting in the effort to make even the most minimal things feel immersive.

While the interrogations, for the most part, were by far my favorite, other things you will find in the game include gunfights and motion-controlled fist fights. Gunplay in the game has been revamped and feel fluid as if this was a made-to-VR shooter. While fistfights felt natural, even the way you moved your hands and formed a fist felt realistic that there were times I was slapping the enemy instead punching them square in the face because I found it humorous and it was amazing to see the attention to detail presented.

Overall, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is far from a perfect game, but as a virtual reality title I found it to be an ambitious as well as a good first virtual reality title for Rockstar Games. Sure, the game has flaws, but I feel that Rockstar Games has set the bar high for not just facial animations in VR games but in AAA games as a whole and I hope that whatever AAA developer/publisher decides to bring their IPs into VR carefully examines this game. If you own an HTC Vive plus a high-end PC, this is a title you should consider adding to your VR library.

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