Rockstar’s detective game feels at home with room-scale VR.
LA Noire: The VR Case Files goes the extra mile to adapt Rockstar and Team Bondi’s 2011 detective game to room-scale VR on the HTC Vive. While you’re still solving a disconnected selection of the same cases from the original version, just about everything you interact with has been rethought to be hands-on in an interesting way.
(Note that it does work fine on Oculus Rift, but only if you use the homebrew fix to bypass the hardware check.)
Searching around a crime scene and reaching down to pick up a piece of evidence off the ground or a shelf feels great, and while not every object can be interacted with, many of them can. Investigating crimes in lived-in homes and businesses from this new first-person perspective lets you appreciate the work that went into recreating 1947 Los Angeles.
LA Noire’s centerpiece interrogations work pretty much the same way here: using collected clues and cues from the captured performances of actors, you decide when to be good cop, bad cop, or accuse them of lying. The biggest difference between this and the recent PS4/Xbox One/Switch versions is that here you can doodle in your notebook while you catch people in their webs of lies. While the seven-year-old character models have begun to show their age, coming face to face with these still-impressive facial animations makes them stand out. Also, full confession: I found it nearly impossible to resist sticking my fingers up their oblivious noses.
Swinging your arms to walk is goofy, but fun.
There are three different ways of moving, including a couple of simple point-and-click warps for those with an aversion to smooth motion. It’s a little disorienting at first to see your character walk out of where you think your body is and toward the objective you’ve chosen (for a while I thought it was my partner suddenly walking through where I was standing) but it’s a good way to get where you’re going quickly. The more innovative – if slightly silly – method of movement is where you hold a button and swing your arms back and forth as though you’re walking to move smoothly. (If Rockstar was trying to make us look as absurd as possible while playing, this is a leap forward in that technology.) It’s imprecise and frustrating to move short distances, but hard not to love otherwise.
And, if you look down, you see a virtual body powered by inverse kinematics that does a decent job of guessing where your legs should be based on where your head is. You can even take off your hat – that’s some cool attention to detail.
LA Noire isn’t much of an action game, but it does include the occasional opportunity to shoot some bad guys. It’s pretty simple shooting gallery stuff, but respectable thanks to some nice touches like reloading shotgun shells one at a time and the ability to steady your aim by grabbing the gun with two hands. Fistfights are interesting at first because you have to block and wait for an opening to punch back – it felt as though Rockstar might be onto something for a boxing game. However, I soon figured out how easily exploited they are and they became a joke. It’s a pretty funny joke, though: you can hold your fists in front of their faces and spin them around each other to hit the bad guy repeatedly like in an old-timey cartoon.
Similarly, driving is done by gripping and turning an imaginary steering wheel and, like the walking, it’s imprecise but goofy fun to pantomime. There are no consequences for collisions or even running people down, so it wasn’t too frustrating when it proved difficult to reliably control, even in the forgiving car chase. My arms did start to get tired after a while (you’re holding them out in the air, not resting them on a physical wheel like in a real car), but it’s easy to skip straight to your destination when you’re bored of steering. Before you do, though, you should take a moment to play with all the things to manipulate in the car: the ignition, the window crank, the radio, the e-brake, and more are all made to be fiddled with.