Towards the end of last year, Bethesda doubled down on VR as a platform, giving us ports of Skyrim and Fallout 4, as well as a dedicated experience in Doom VFR. While these were impressive, there was a large part of me wondering if Rockstar could one-up them when it came to their first foray into VR with L.A. Noire: The L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected, but it introduces some very cool ideas in how people experiences VR, while also highlighting the limitations.
Those hoping there will be a unique case for L.A. Noire will be disappointed, as the L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files includes 3 of the opening Patrol missions that served as the tutorial in the main game and 4 full cases from various points in Cole Phelps’ career. While it’s disappointing that the 26 cases have been reduced to just 7, they do at least take a case from each of the four departments Phelps works at, even if the famous Black Dahlia murders aren’t directly referenced here.
Still, the effort to port those cases in their entirety is impressive. Built from the ground up, the visuals have been reworked so that it puts you in Phelps’ shoes, even showing the brim of his hat on your head. It’s no different to the original release beyond some mild texture upgrades and a dramatically increased framerate, meaning you still get those industry-leading facial features, but also the warts of last-gen visuals that can take you out of the experience.
The biggest caveat is that there is requirement for not just Room Scale VR, but a minimum play area of 2 metres by 2 metres, which may be impossible for some households. This may not sound like a big deal, but considering particularly UK and Japanese households have smaller living spaces in affordable housing, this could be a struggle for some. If you do have that space, and a chair handy, this VR experience actually justifies Room Scale VR.
In almost all sections of the game, the player will need to navigate around a room. The easiest way is to hold the right trackpad down and swinging your arms. This is a bit unnerving at first, but I found that stepping with my feet at the same time alleviated the mental distortion. This isn’t perfect though, as there are moments where turning your head doesn’t turn your character, threw me off balance. Alternatively however you can look at objects and press the right trackpad to move to that location, though this is a bit fiddly.
Where The VR Case Files really shines is when it comes to investigating and interrogating, which suddenly makes some of the original game’s mechanics make much more sense. Searching for clues on a cadaver or the surrounding area is as simple as picking it up and looking it over until Phelps comments on it. As for interrogating, you can use the notepad to ask questions and observe faces up close for anyone’s tells when trying to lie. This is unchanged and includes the weird expressions, but at least you can try and write in your notepad.
For me, the most impressive part of The VR Case Files is how well the fist fights have been translated into VR. Movement is one to one, meaning when you punch an assailant in the stomach or face, they react appropriately to where they are hit. Dodging and blocking makes sense and it actually feels like you’re in a proper fight, which makes it much more intense.
Driving in L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files depends largely on the car you’re driving, though the fundamentals of turning the ignition, applying the handbrake, acceleration and braking, and most importantly steering are all the same regardless of the car driven. In VR, the Patrol car is hard to see out of, while any car without a roof becomes much more manageable. Those used to driving with a SatNav will be used to how navigating works, however you can just warp to a locations if you don’t fancy driving.
My only real major gripe with L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is when there are guns involved. Moving to cover and poking out isn’t a problem, nor is reloading with the use of both hands and some intuitive actions. Aiming, on the other hand, is slightly too jittery and feels imprecise as a consequence. Given that you have to lean and shoot while wielding say, a shotgun, with two hands, this is ultimately far more cumbersome than it needs to be.
Space will likely be the issue that prevents users from experiencing L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, but while it isn’t a perfectly controlled VR experience, it’s impressive that we’re seeing a VR game that utilises Room Scale VR in ways that make sense. To actually be part of this crime drama, investigating crime scenes and apprehending criminals, was more enjoyable in VR. Here’s hoping the next time we see something like this, it’s a dedicated experience.