L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Preview: Detective Fantasy

Virtual Reality is an interesting beast. While initially touted as the next generation of interactive entertainment, the technology has recently found itself stagnating rather than innovating, and a lot of consumers continue to remain on the fence due to the steep price point and lack of killer apps. Since the PlayStation VR’s launch, though, things have started to pick up, and this year has seen some gems release on the market for those able to afford one of the big budget headsets for their living room.

Rockstar’s first foray into VR comes by the way of L.A. Noire, Team Bondi’s 2011 sleeper hit set in a dark, sprawling Los Angeles. More specifically, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files.

The VR Case Files is, out of namesake, not the full L.A. Noire experience, so don’t go in expecting to cruise through the original game’s 20-hour campaign. What’s included here, instead, is seven missions picked from five of the game’s ‘desks’, ranging from homicide to vice. These are all pulled from the main game, so those who’ve played much of L.A. Noire prior should be able to recognise what’s going on pretty quickly.

Previewing the game on the HTC Vive — the only VR tech I hadn’t used previously — was a breeze. The VR Case Files opens up with a quick tutorial giving you a rundown of the basics, like how to grab items, move around, interact with crime scenes, and interrogate suspects, and from there you’re free to take on any of the seven available case files that take your fancy.

The first thing I noticed when working my way through the 30-minute demo was that The VR Case Files handles especially well on the Vive. Each interaction felt smooth and I didn’t feel any sickness whatsoever. Further, the eye for detail here is staggering from the get-go, as the game’s central hub, your office desk, has hundreds of items to interact with. I was able to pick up a pen and toss it across the room, inspect records and play them on my record player, and really dig into the nitty gritty of what my revolver looks like. It was all a very cool experience, and immersed me all the more.

Following on from a quick look into the contents of my office, I embarked on one of the case files.

While obviously using assets from a six-year-old game, I was still taken a back by how great L.A. Noire looks in VR. It does look a bit dated, of course, but everything has been replicated and produced extremely well to fit the system, and it didn’t take all that long for me to feel properly immersed within the game’s universe.

After a quick cutscene, I was placed in downtown Los Angeles and attended a crime scene where a man was shot right in front of a store. Having played a good chunk of the game back in the day, I quickly remembered what had happened in this instance and what to do.

The new interactive tools afforded by VR were on full offer here, with the Vive’s controllers allowing me to pull and move the body, open the victim’s jacket to inspect items, as well as being able to inspect other little bits and pieces sprawled across the crime scene. And it was because of this new sense of interactivity that the game felt new and fun — detective work was enjoyable and fully interactive, and it was a nice change up to what the game offered on console and PC.

When it was time to move to another area, The VR Case Files gives you a handful of options: the first being the look-and-click method, where you look towards an area and click to teleport there, another being the point-and-click method, allowing you to move to any specific area of your choosing, and also the movement method, which tasks you with swinging your arms side by side to emulate an actual walking routine, which will then move your character in varying speeds and directions.

I found that each method was intuitive enough, with the latter being a fascinating way of tackling character movement in Virtual Reality. For the most part, though, I stuck with the look-and-click method and found myself teleporting across the place.Having inspected the body and found some clues, I then headed into the store and begun interrogating one of the suspects.

L.A. Noire was a pioneer in the use of motion capture and animation work for characters in games, and this is on full display in The VR Case Files. If anything, having the headset on made small character tells even more noticeable and subsequently made the experience of trying to figure out if the person I was questioning was telling the truth or not quite enjoyable.

The reworked versions of L.A. Noire have done away with the game’s original Truth/Doubt/Lie system in favour of a Good Cop/Bad Cop/Accuse choice-based system instead, meaning you’re now able to hone in on what you want to push for rather than be faced with ambiguous choices. This is, of course, also present in The VR Case Files, and choosing an option was as simple as looking at the option I wanted to go with and pressing the thumb-pad on the Vive controller.

Following on from some detective work and discovering who had been involved in the murder, it was time to drive across town. Instead of just teleporting you across to the next area to continue on with the game’s story, the VR Case Files allows you to drive your car across L.A., operating the ignition, holding on to the steering wheel, while also making use of the handbrake and the shifters as well. It was all a very cool, interactive experience and while I struggled to maintain a vehicle with no power steering, I appreciated the level of interactivity afforded in the VR Case Files — it makes the experience all the more immersive.

Finally, having found the perp and chased him through his shop, it was time for a fight. Making use of the environment was key here, with blocking and retaliating with gut punches and a couple of crackers on the noggin’ an important part of taking the crook down. It was all very hands-on, if a little tiring (and a little bit sweaty!) in the end, with the use of the Vive’s tracking technology on full display. Moving around the area, ducking and weaving punches and retaliating with a few of my own was an experience in itself, and it was a nice change up to the other activities the VR Case Files had me doing prior.

Having arrested the criminal, that concluded my time with one of the seven case files on offer in the game. Coming away from it, I was thoroughly impressed with what Rockstar has managed to do with The VR Case Files. Every little sequence seems to have been dabbled over with a good amount of thought in terms of how interactions can work and what that means for the player, and I appreciated the amount of immersion that’s on offer in a title like this. Perhaps the only gripe I have with it, and that’s more or less aimed at what we’re working with in terms of hardware, was that at times the tracking was off or a little bit finicky, but it wasn’t all that bad. Another thing is that there are only seven cases to mull over in VR, meaning you’ll probably be done with the game in a couple of hours.

Be that as it may, what’s on offer here is still premium-feeling VR content that a lot of adopters are crying out for, and that can only be a good thing. More of this is what’s needed, without a doubt.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is a fascinating first expedition into VR for Rockstar, and it’s shaping up quite nicely. For early adopters of the HTC Vive and fans of the noir crime genre, this is something you should keep an eye on. It’s not without its faults, of course, but the VR Case Files is certainly a step in the right direction for the technology.

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