Of Rockstar’s recent crop of video games, L.A. Noire is perhaps the best fit for virtual reality. Slower in pace and smaller in scale compared to the likes of GTA and Red Dead, Team Bondi’s ambitious detective sim still has plenty of action, though much of your time is spent investigating.
It’s worth mentioning that Case Files isn’t a complete port of the 2011 original, nor is it a shallow bite-sized VR “experience”. What Rockstar has done here is take a handful of cases from L.A. Noire, retooling them for virtual reality to create a crime-solving anthology of sorts. Although you still get snippets of the game’s overarching story, for the complete Cole Phelps saga you’ll need to go beyond Case Files and back to the original game.
After a brief series of tutorials you’ll get to choose from a list of available cases that span Cole’s stint in the LAPD. Cases are comprised of several scenes sandwiched together. They usually start with some light exposition before turning up on the crime scene with your partner, ready to kickstart your investigation. From there you’ll need to employ your cop instincts, interacting with clues and witnesses to gradually fill out your notebook with information.
It’s a linear game though one that only nudges you gently, encouraging you to explore at your leisure, its interior environments often crammed with objects you can pick up and inspect. You’re given a fairly long leash to go around Los Angeles and soak in the atmosphere, however this VR port lacks those emergent events and side missions from the original game. It serves up a fairly basic sandbox, but one in which there’s plenty to see.
Solving a crime requires more than bagging evidence and chewing the fat with NPCs, however. You’ll need to get around the city, both on foot and behind the wheel, with the occasional car chase, shoot out, or punch up.
Controlling Phelps is simple and intuitive with minimal button inputs required. The game uses a hybrid movement system, allowing you to point and snap to a location or walk/run in a way that feels smoother yet more likely to cause eye strain.
Rockstar has struck a good balance between crafting an immersive way of interacting with L.A Noire’s world while not over-complicating how it plays. Your first brush with a vehicle or weapon will feel cumbersome though once you’ve nailed the basics, moving and shooting your way through each case will start to feel more fluid.
The action isn’t quite as involving or over the top as in games such as this year’s Blood & Truth. Set piece chases and shootouts are still fun though aren’t overly dynamic in how they play out, mirroring the original game.
It’s not quite as lavish as other versions of the game (including the recent remaster) though there are obvious technical reasons for that. Still, Case Files is an impressive port of the PC VR release from last year, and one of the best looking games available for PlayStation VR thanks to the lifelike performance capture tech that had our jaws dropping in 2011. Even though it’s standard practice in the gaming industry today, having one-to-one scans of real actors adds a layer of authenticity to Case Files that’s both impressive and uncanny.