LA Noire: The VR Case Files always felt like one of those top-end virtual reality titles that just couldn’t work in PlayStation VR, so I was pleasantly surprised when Sony revealed it would be coming to the platform in their latest State of Play. Bringing with it one of the biggest environments to explore in virtual reality, some great action sequences, and some intriguing crimes to solve, it really stands out as an impressive release too, though some technical limitations do hold it back in some facets of its design.
LA Noire: The VR Case Files sees you working across seven cases that appeared in the original game, some of which make up the tutorial as you begin to learn the ins and outs of solving crimes in 1940s Los Angeles. Anyone who played the original game will feel a sense of familiarity as they re-visit crimes that are plucked out from the original selection – in fact, the narrative as a whole may be better appreciated if you played the original game as plenty of details are missed out here. That’s not to say that they still can’t be enjoyed by newbies though, with each one proving intriguing to play through and letting the player take their own approach as far as solving the case is concerned.
Move controllers are required to play LA Noire: The VR Case Files, with each of the game’s movement schemes utilising them in different ways. You’ve got ‘Reticule Navigation’ which allows you to point at a location and teleport there, ‘Highlight Movement’ that allows you to instantly teleport to specifically highlight objects, or ‘Smooth Movement’ which lets you move freely. There are also multiple rotation options in place, with players able to either use snap turning or smooth rotation – typically, I’d go for the latter, but the slow speed of the rotation and the fact that it can see character models appear overly blurry makes snap turning the better option here.
Whilst the controls are all certainly viable, they’re probably the weakest element of the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy enough to get around and you can use a variety of movement styles, but there were a few occasions where I found it awkward to reach out to objects – especially in the smaller environments. The HTC Vive edition of the game supported Room Scale and I could imagine that would be a great way to experience the game, but in the more restricted PlayStation VR headset where you’ve got less space to work with, the controls could be guilty of being a little clumsy in places. Thankfully, it’s more of a small nuisance than a big problem, so it shouldn’t affect your time with LA Noire: The VR Case Files too much.
Each case in LA Noire: The VR Case Files is spread out across three different things: detective work, combat and driving.
The detective work is a whole lot of fun and will see you exploring crime scenes as you look to uncover clues. These could be found in plain sight, hidden away, or even on a body, so you’ll have to pay careful attention to put all the pieces together that make up each crime. Then there are the interrogations, where you have to carefully watch each suspect’s facial movements and reactions to determine their motives or if they’re telling you the truth – it was a system that was clever and unique when LA Noire first came out, and it’s even more impressive in virtual reality. The questioning system has been simplified too, with the player able to choose ‘Good Cop’ if they think someone is telling the truth, ‘Bad Cop’ if they think they’re lying, or ‘Accuse’ if they think they’re lying and have the evidence to support it. It’s pretty much the same as it was in the original game, though the added immersion that virtual reality brings makes them all the more satisfying to partake in. It’s good stuff.
Melee combat is pretty typical for a virtual reality game, with the player swinging out hooks and jabs through motion controls and then blocking by holding their fists up to protect their own face. LA Noire: The VR Case Files doesn’t do anything you wouldn’t have seen before as far as close quarters combat is concerned, but it’s hardly something that needs re-inventing either. It’s fun, plus you don’t have to clench your firsts and can actually slap your opponents if you want, which never stops being satisfying.
Shooting is a bit more interesting, but most of that comes down to the environmental design. LA Noire: The VR Case Files’ shootouts take place in locales that are full of cover, meaning you’re able to dash between objects and obstacles in the environment and duck and weave out of cover as you pick off your enemies. It’s worth noting that during the shootouts you’re better off using the teleportation method of movement – not only do the best cover spots get highlighted as you move between them, but the action is so hectic that manually moving often just makes you an easy target for your enemies.
The shootouts are pretty satisfying and it’s undeniably neat to use weapons like the shotgun, which you have to manually load up and pump yourself. That can also be a bit of a problem at times too, with the tracking sometimes losing its way when having to use both hands. LA Noire: The VR Case Files is one of those games that really requires you to set up your camera perfectly and have enough space to get the most of, and this is most apparent when trying to blast away at enemies when using a shotgun. Thankfully, when it all clicks together perfectly it makes for a very fun experience with each shootout feeling like it has come straight out of an action movie, but it might take some fiddling about with the camera and your position first.
Then we have the driving, which was one of my favourite things about the whole game. LA Noire: The VR Case Files goes for a bit of realism when it comes to driving, with the player having to manually open doors, use the ignition, and grab the wheel with both hands when driving – heck, you’ve even got to manually turn on your siren or grab your radio too, with shortcuts seemingly for wimps when you’re a 1940s detective.
When you get driving though, it’s SO satisfying. You’ve got a little map that shows you where you need to go for your mission (which you can also use to instantly warp to if the driving makes your tummy feel funny) so it’s always easy to get around, but actually drifting around corners, speeding through the streets, and narrowly avoiding other drivers (and pedestrians) in virtual reality is great. Best of all, the map is massive with LA Noire: The VR Case Files offering one of the biggest worlds to explore that I’ve seen in virtual reality, so you could just so whizzing through Los Angeles and take in the sights if you prefer. Sure, your goal LA Noire: The VR Case Files is to investigate cases, but don’t be surprised if you spend just as much time driving through the impressive streets as you do solving crimes.
The PlayStation VR edition of LA Noire: The VR Case Files comes with some new additions: racing, boxing, and some shooting galleries. Basically, they’re simplified versions of what we’ve seen in other virtual reality titles on the platform, but they’re still enjoyable to check out. As mentioned, I loved the driving in the game, so getting to take part in some races with the fashionable old-school cars was actually a whole lot of fun…
Visually, LA Noire: The VR Case Files is one of the best looking games on PlayStation VR, with the city itself full of attractive sights but also being impressive in scale. The character models are great too, as are the faces that the original game was known for – you’ll see every facial movement as your interrogating suspects and it’s hard not to be in awe of just how realistic it all looks. Of course, given the limitations of PlayStation VR, you can expect a few blurry visuals here and there, but for the most part everything looks great. It all performs really well too – the only real hitch came with the loading times which could be long and frequent. It’s not a big issue, but it’s certainly noticeable as you progress through each case.
With its varied gameplay and impressive world, there’s a whole lot to love about LA Noire: The VR Case Files. There really is a lot for the player to do between all of the action and investigating, whilst the clever interrogation elements utilise virtual reality in a mighty impressive way. It’s just a shame that the controls can be clumsy at times, because they’re the only thing that stop LA Noire: The VR Case Files from striving toward utter brilliance.
Fortunately, they don’t stop the game from being worth playing – regardless of whether you’ve played the original game before or you’re a complete newbie to this 1940s crime adventure. LA Noire: The VR Case Files is simply an exceptional PlayStation VR title that’s only let down by the sometimes fiddly controls.
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift