To refer to L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files simply as a VR port does it a disservice. In many ways, the game feels like a fresh experience with its new first-person perspective coupled with interactive environments. Despite its truncated length, you get the sense that Rockstar put a lot of work into The VR Case Files. It certainly has flaws, but raises the bar for what a good VR port should look like.
You play as the familiar detective Cole Phelps as he tries to solve several, mostly unrelated crimes within 1940s Los Angeles. Perhaps the biggest difference between The VR Case Files is that it only features seven missions, which provide roughly six to eight hours of gameplay. This is down from 21 cases in the original game and means that you lose the nuances from LA Noire’s overarching narrative. If you’ve never before experienced it in its entirety, it will be confusing seeing a new partner for each mission without any added context. Due to the missions’ very episodic nature, however, it largely still works.
Talking with other characters makes up the bulk of the experience, but you still need to move around the city. The most straightforward method is to hold down the right trackpad and alternatively swing your arms side to side to virtually walk in the direction you’re facing. It can feel a little janky at times as some slight unwanted drifting may occur, but it gets the job done. The second, perhaps more nausea-free way to move, is to gaze at highlighted areas of interest and then press down on the trackpad to teleport.
The VR Case Files has been completely overhauled so that you can pick up a wide variety of highlighted objects in the world. It’s not quite up to the level of Job Simulator in interactivity, but Rockstar does a good job of convincing you that LA Noire was built from the ground up for VR. You can pick up plates, cups, and more and just toss them around as you see fit. Where this added interactivity becomes really impactful is when, for instance, you’re standing over a lifeless corpse examining how the person died. In general, the new first-person perspective bolsters the illusion that you’re a detective by allowing you to pick up and examine clues like you might in real life. It makes you think about evidence in a new light.
Not all these interactions are positive, however. For instance, you may have to hold a match book with one hand and then use your other hand to flip it open to look for additional clues inside. While these occurrences might not be a big deal in the base game where the solution is simply a button press away, the answer isn’t as obvious in VR when you don’t know what objects might have a second layer of interactivity using your free hand. Luckily, these instances are pretty rare.
One the bright side, the new fist fighting mechanics feel like a surprisingly fun boxing minigame. Using room scale, you can get out of the way of punches and throw your own back at opponents. Characters react appropriately when hit, and punches feel very satisfying to land.
In general, the The VR Case Files has a lot of nice little VR touches. When you’re interrogating suspects, for instance, you hold a little detective booklet with all your clues in one hand, and you’ve got a pen in the other, which you use to select your line of questioning. You can even use the pen to write in the notebook. There’s really no meaningful benefit to the added mechanic, but it’s fun drawing silly pictures while you’re interrogating a suspect.
Driving has also been completely revamped. Since the game now takes place in first-person, car cabins are now meticulously detailed. To drive, you use the Vive controller to place your hands on the virtual steering wheel, but before you zip around town, you’ll need to start the engine by turning the key in the ignition. There are a bunch of nice little touches here that really make you feel like you’re sitting in a real car. For instance, you can use your palm to press down on the horn to honk, and you can even manually roll down the windows. The trigger on the right controller allows you to accelerate, and the trigger on the left allows you to break. Driving works as well as you’d hope given this control scheme, and it’s fun trying to weave through traffic as you chase runaway vehicles. You can also drive around the city at your leisure. While there really isn’t anything to do on the road other than to engage in some virtual tourism, it’s nice just driving through a realistically rendered rendition of 1940s LA.
Visually, the graphics and artstyle work wonderfully in VR. While the unique motion captured performances look fantastic in the base game, I had some concern that they might take you out of the experience in VR, considering it’s a new first-person perspective that gives you more movement agency to disrupt the pre-captured performances. Surprisingly, however, Rockstar employs head tracking, so characters will often look your way, even when you’re moving around them.
The VR version isn’t without its flaws, however. While the few shooting sequences are often exciting, and the gun models look and feel accurate based on how you reload them, aiming is often imprecise. Furthermore, even though 99 percent of the game takes place in first-person, there are brief moments when the game switches to a more traditional third-person perspective, which can be a little jarring.
While the game encourages you to physically sit in a chair when the situation calls for it, there’s the occasional bug that makes it look like you’re a super small person with tiny hands when you’re playing seated.
While L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files has its flaws, it excels at making you feel and think like a detective in a way that the base game can’t. The VR version isn’t a replacement for the full game, but it’s a great companion that allows you to play the greatest hit moments from Rockstar’s noire opus in a welcomed new way.