Rockstar’s L.A. Noire was an incredibly engrossing game in 2011. It marked the dawn of facial capture’s use in the medium and married the technology to a rich detective story set in 1947 Los Angeles. Players had to scrutinize each suspect’s face during questioning and choose how best to respond. You could play the good cop, bad cop, or go straight for the accusation. L.A. Noire has since been ported to newer hardware, but its move to virtual reality seemed like a particularly good fit. I was finally able to test that hypothesis with this month’s launch of L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files for the Oculus Rift. And while I enjoyed my time in the literal shoes of Cole Phelps, the game’s limited content compared to its conventional releases does keep it from being the definitive version.
L.A. Noire will soon be seven years old, but its presentation holds up remarkably well with the transition to a new perspective. And that may not come as too much of a surprise, as L.A. Noire has always been and remains a game about attention to detail. It’s an incredibly novel experience to actually reach out to, pick up, and examine evidence in a crime scene. Similarly, sitting across from suspects and staring them in the eyes to determine guilt rather than confronting these scenarios from a camera’s cinematic portrait really put me into the mind of being a detective. I even loved the ability to crouch down to look through shop displays. Rockstar has always been adept at filling their worlds with rich subtleties and interesting things to see, and the move to virtual reality allowed me to lose myself in their creation all the more.
Performance was smooth on an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, as well. I had no issues increasing the supersampling setting 50% above the native resolution. Crashes were rare, but they did occur. Thankfully, Rockstar has released frequent patches, and bugs haven’t been too common on my end.
Aside from perspective, controls are another half of what makes or breaks a good VR game. L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is pretty smart on that front. There are three methods of locomotion, all of which are comfortable to use and can work in tandem with each other. The first two involve looking at a point or object and effectively teleporting to them. The third, and the one I primarily used, is similar to free movement but with a few welcome tweaks. Instead of moving by pushing the Touch controller’s analog sticks, I could propel myself by holding the A button and swinging my arms. Faster swings meant a faster walk. That simple motion did a wonderful job at limiting the awkwardness my body felt from sudden changes of in-game velocity. Better still, turning my head would cause my character to turn as I walked. It felt surprisingly natural.
Intelligent controls translate over to the shooting mechanics, too. Firing off a gun in VR is generally pretty satisfying. Physically loading shells into a shotgun and taking aim, for example, is a blast in L.A. Noire. But in some games, my hands can get soar constantly holding the grip triggers. Rockstar solved that problem by implementing sticky triggers. I only had to press a trigger once to pick up and hold weapons and items.
Every now and again you’ll be tossed into a fist fight, and these also feel good if not a little silly. Blocking is done by raising your arms in front of you, similar to boxing. And it was fun – room permitting – to throw my own punches. That said, these fights are easy to cheese through quick, cartoon-like strikes. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds, particularly as enemies seem to have iron jaws.
When you’re not investigating, interviewing, shooting, and punching your way through L.A. Noire, you can drive around the entire city. Sitting down – the screen goes to black and presents the option to sit or stand so as not to disorient players – and driving between destinations is a neat though floaty feature due to the lack of anything concrete to hold onto. I eventually adapted, but more often than not I chose to rely on the warp-to-destination option instead. There’s little wasted time if you just want to move a case along.
As fun as the mechanics are to play with, the game comes across as disjointed. It cuts between scenes, locations, and even perspectives often. That keeps everything progressing quickly, but the frequent shifts and then black screens asking me to stand up, sit down, stand up wore me out. Furthermore, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files isn’t particularly long. In fact, several of the seven available cases are just quick tutorials. Before you know it, you’re back inside a virtual office selecting a new case from a menu.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is a slim package. That begs the question: who is this for? If you’ve already gone through the full game, the VR port is an interesting new way to explore Rockstar’s rendition of 1947 Los Angeles. It’s a neat, smart experience. And yet I would recommend first-time players check out L.A. Noire on a traditional platform. You’re still getting an immersive game, but with far more cases to solve, content to digest, and cinematics to enjoy.
[Second Opinions: Dennis Patrick]
L.A. Noire was an incredible looking video game when it first hit the market and even today, I still find the visuals of the characters to be appealing. However, it was a bit surprising to see that the game would be tweaked and released again but now within the VR format. Currently, there are not too many heavy AAA hitters for VR and as such, I was definitely interested in seeing how the game handles.
Unfortunately, my experience was a bit jarring, though it’s not too surprising as the game does require some beefy PC specs to meet the recommended system requirements. With that said, the game was still very much playable, however, I just can’t help but think that the whole overall experience could have been more seamless if I made a jump from a GTX 1060 6GB graphics card to one of the latest and greatest, GTX 1080.
One of the issues I kept running into with L.A. Noire was actual movement. I simply couldn’t get my protagonist to make a straight line walk by swinging my arms and as I result teleportation movement was my mainly my go to when commuting around the level.
Likewise, it seems that this game really benefits from three sensors to capture movement from behind instead of the standard two sensors. Oftentimes, my sensors had trouble picking up some movements when I kneeled down to collect evidence.
While I can see how the developers sought to make a seamless VR experience, the game still handles best as a standard title on a console.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided for review.