L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Review – Playing Detective Never Felt So Real

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Review

If we are discussing the more criminally underrated games of all time, you’d have to include 2011’s L.A. Noire, from Rockstar Games, in the conversation. Sure, it did get decent reviews at launch, but there has been an air of disappointment hanging over it that probably contributed to it never getting a sequel. If you’re like me, and enjoyed L.A. Noire and have always wished for more, there’s hope in the form of L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, now finally out on PSVR. It’s not a sequel but it does offer the chance to return to 1940s L.A. and relive Detective Cole Phelps’s adventure, and this time in glorious Virtual Reality.

Well, some of his adventure, at least. You see, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is really a selected package of seven of the original cases from the full game, offered as standalone VR experiences. A new rendition of Phelps’s office serves as a Hub that you return to and you pick chapters, one at a time, from a book on his desk (hint: also explore the objects in his office if you get a chance). There isn’t an overarching narrative thread between cases this time, nor are there the cinematic flashback scenes that were a big part of the original L.A. Noire. However, the selection of cases is a nice overview that at least do feel like a kind of progression when done in order.

Trade-Offs in VR

As we’ve seen with many other VR titles, there’s a necessary trade-off of narrative depth for the luxury of VR immersion in L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, and that is understandable. Playing in first-person as Detective Phelps, you may now walk and drive freely in full 360-degree, three-dimensional immersion through 1940s-era Los Angeles, and the entire massive city map is included from the base game. That is pretty impressive and exciting, and honestly I had a lot of fun just driving around town taking in all the detailed and painstakingly-recreated locations and landmarks in my vintage automobile.

But that brings us to one pretty noticeable shortcoming of L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files. While the city is huge and all the buildings are nicely detailed, there’s an unsettlingly-deserted quality to the urban environment that I couldn’t help but be bothered by. Presumably another aspect that had to be pared down for VR, the NPCs walking the streets are few and far between, making for a very lonely experience at times. I often drove down city thoroughfares seeing only one pedestrian on the sidewalk for a span of blocks, making the city environment of L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files seem like a ghost town, and I must say it was often distracting.

l.a. noire: the vr case files

While narrative and visual compromises have been made, some physical details actually have been added to enhance the VR gameplay experience and they’re pretty cool. You use the PS Move controllers to do physical actions like turn the key when you start up your car, hold the steering wheel, pull out your notebook, unholster and shoot your gun – you even physically empty and refill revolver chambers mid-gunfight – all of it making L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files a very immersive experience. The learning curve for controlling every action is a little daunting at first, and the aiming during gunfights was frustratingly-imprecise, but once you get used to everything you’ll feel like you’re a real Detective, doing all the real things.

Other VR-specific aspects of note are the Melee combat and walking mechanics. Melee takes the form of fistfights, in which you hold up your Move controllers and squeeze the Trigger to clench your fists, then swing away at a suspect to subdue them with punches after a chase. You also have to block their counter-punches and wait for an opening to take them down. I found this to always be a fun and thrilling part of a case, and a perfect addition to the VR version of the game. Walking is achieved via one of three options: two teleport methods and a free walk in one direction using the Move trigger. I found all three to be easy and I liked that you could use them in combination without changing settings. Also of note is that I was able to do every action while comfortably sitting, albeit working my arms a lot at times, so there is no need for room-scale space when you play like there was in other versions like the HTC Vive.

Happily, the detective work is still a big part of the game, and it is still as fun as ever. Now, in VR you actually walk around crime scenes, crouching down using the Square button, using the Trigger button to pick up and rotate objects (now given more detail just for this VR version) and moving bodies to examine evidence (and yes, the corpses and gore are even more unsettling in 3D). L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files takes the already-fun evidence collecting parts of the original game and takes them up another level of immersion.

True Detective

Also still a part of the game, and also a bit hit-or-miss, is the interrogation mini-game. The original three options of “Truth,” “Doubt” and “Lie” have been replaced with “Good Cop,” “Bad Cop” and “Accuse,” which didn’t make judging a suspect’s veracity any easier than it was before from what I experienced. In theory, the game’s MotionScan technology should make it possible to accurately read facial cues, but just like back in 2011, in L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files I found it’s still a bit too much of a guessing game, and more immersion doesn’t change that. Plus, I wasn’t always sure what I was supposedly “Accusing” a person of, or what exactly choosing “Bad Cop” or Good Cop” would result in.

How enjoyable you find L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files will partly depend on whether you’ve played the original game or not. Without a connecting narrative thread, the individual cases included in the VR version can seem random, and there are even a few odd references to the Black Dahlia case that will confuse newcomers although not enough to ruin the experience. And unfortunately, even in 3D, interrogations will still be a bit of a chore for some of us. But no matter what, simply playing Detective, looking at clues, and driving through post-war L.A. are consistently thrilling and the VR enhancements make it seem even more authentic – even if those deserted streets feel weird.

** A PSVR game code was provided by the publisher **

The Good

  • Massive open world in 3D
  • Detective work is fun in VR
  • Painstakingly detailed

The Bad

  • Oddly deserted urban streets
  • Interrogations still a bit irritating