There I was, in a shootout outside of a downtown bank. Crouching behind my car I quickly looked around and took in my surroundings. To my left, my partner was poking out and yelling at me to be wary. I ignored him. Behind me, a corner drug store stood deserted, a cheery sign hanging overtop with the slogan “Health is Wealth” displayed on it. I looked at the gun in my hand and swung it side to side examining the virtual movement. I hadn’t started shooting any bad guys yet, but already L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files had drawn me in.
There’s something about simply existing in the world of L.A. Noire: VR that is immediately striking. It seemed like every time I looked around I would discover a new person or monument or something that added to the world I was exploring. Price wise, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files retails for $29.99 USD and of course, you need a VR console in order to play it. The game features seven self-contained cases from the original game and there is a surprising amount of value to be had throughout its runtime. Each case will take you around 45-60 minutes if you manage to breeze through them and not get stuck, giving L.A. Noire: VR around 6 hours of content.
Each case ranges in time but they’re generally bite-sized journeys. One of the missions involved a stolen car that was stripped and left in the middle of a field and I had to explore the scene of the crime, interview a witness, drive to a neighbouring dealership, interrogate the owner, go back to the police headquarters interrogate a diplomat, go back to the scene of the crime, interview the main suspects wife, find the suspect, race him in an illegal race and then run him down and book him. In short, there is a lot to the missions and it feels well crafted. The thing is, the clues aren’t that hard to find. Spending too much time in VR is a recipe for motion sickness and so the majority of clues aren’t that difficult to find. But there are a number of different gameplay mechanics to master which more than for the generally easy to find clues. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend playing the cases back to back.
Overall, the game works best in short play sessions, as any more than that tends to be frustrating and time-consuming, which is not a good combination for VR gaming. There was a mission in which I was searching for clues related to a murder of a man in his house, but I simply couldn’t figure out where to go. My partner wasn’t very much help, as he told me the same prompt over and over again: to look at the scene of the crime which didn’t do much help. Thankfully, I only experienced that frustration in that specific mission and a bit of smaller sequences spread throughout the game.
L.A Noire: VR has a number of different control variations to try depending on what works best for you. Since VR gaming is still in the infant stages of trying to figure out how to curb motion sickness, point and click is the best way to play. You simply look with the headset where you want to explore and then your character walks to it. The trade is that this fast travel does make the game a little choppy as the screen fades to black and then you appear at your destination.
Fast travel also exists when driving your car and it fits perfectly in the game. When you’re flying on a case and feeling good it’s a joy to drive and look out the window as you do, but when you’ve been stuck on the same clue for the past 30 minutes and just want to finish the case, the fast travel is a glorious addition.
Speaking of travelling, the journey of connecting your virtual fist with an enemy’s virtual face is a technically sound and satisfying one. The combat in L.A. Noire: VR makes good use of the control options available on the Vive as fighting is lots of fun and it actually has you taking swings in real life while also ducking and guarding blows. One small misstep in-terms of combat is that if you kneel down in real life the person you’re fighting can’t land any blows on you and you can simply swing at their knees until they fall. That being said, fighting is such an enjoyable exercise and it happens sparsely enough that using the kneeling strategy is all but pointless.
As for shooting a gun in L.A Noire VR? It’s easily one of the standout aspects of the game. Mechanically, you can unholster your gun with either of your hands and then proceed to start shooting at bad guys or random objects. Reloading a shotgun, for example, is a two-hand experience that involves you using one hand to hold the gun and another to reload it in a pump action. That being said, the reloading is also rather cumbersome and I often found myself trying to reload for a good couple minutes before I actually figured it out. Furthermore, as much as Rockstar is the developer behind L.A. Noire the game isn’t Grand Theft Auto and you can only use your gun in certain scenarios, and never against random citizens.
The first one of these scenarios occurs in the first mission, where you’re thrown into a bank robbery and you have to shoot down a number of criminals in order to proceed. The mission does a good job of throwing you into the world of L.A. Noire and, while there is a short tutorial, I found myself learning far more by simply playing the game. That being said, it’s sort of unfortunate that the game throws you into the gun shooting scenario right away because for the rest of the game the shooting is much harder to come by. The good news is that you can replay any of your cases in the menu hub and I found myself returning to the first mission a number of times when my investigation became frustrating.
Interrogations are a key part of L.A. Noire’s gameplay and the experience is highly detailed. The same holds true in L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files. While sitting across from a suspect I found myself studying my character in the mirror to my left and bobbing my head back and forth to see if the game would capture my characters movements. It certainly did capture my movement and they definitely looked silly. The hat that adorns your head throughout the game can be taken off at any time whether it be to throw it at random people or a more cordial action like tipping your hat to a witness who helped you during a case. However, the actual interrogation process is still bogged down by a sense of randomness as there is no real clear sense of whether you should act like a Good Cop, A Bad Cop, or simply accuse the person you’re talking to. As a result, this led to a couple frustrating moments that involved me choosing the wrong prompt and the interrogation starting over from the beginning.
In many ways, the standout aspect of L.A. Noire: VR isn’t the combat, or the driving or the detective work, but the entire package and the world itself. The animations in-game aren’t extremely detailed but the fact that it exists and that you can drive your car and shoot your gun through it is impressive. Overall, L.A. Noire: VR is a showcase of how to successfully bring a AAA title to the platform. It features an engrossing world along with some interesting mechanics that are hurt most by the confines of the current VR technology. That being said it captures the feel of the original game quite well and if you own a VR system then this is a game more than worth owning.