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Review: LA Noire: The VR Case Files is great but sometimes frustrating

LA Noire is like Rockstar’s Skyrim. We have no idea why they keep re-releasing it but hey, it’s a good game so who are we to knock them for it? It’s 2019 and while no sequel seems to be in sight, we’re still getting new versions of the 1940s detective game.
When Rockstar re-released Team Bondi’s one and only game in 2017, a VR version for PC came shortly after. Now, we’re getting it on PS4 via PSVR and it’s definitely an interesting use of technology but it taints a cult classic. LA Noire was made before VR was even a feasible concept so it was not built with the tech in mind.

So, Rockstar has had to work backward to make The VR Case Files. They had to rework the gameplay and sometimes missions to make VR work for LA Noire. It’s pretty bold and ambitious, which is admirable in of itself. With all of this extra hard work, Rockstar manages to make some of the best moment to moment gameplay beats in a VR game.

This extends beyond just the gunplay, even driving feels great. You can crank the windows down, pull and flick all kinds of levers/switches, and gain real control over the cars you’re driving. When you’re deep in pursuit or speeding through the streets, you feel the speed of the car and the momentum as you whip around corners.

LA Noire The VR Case Files

Rockstar knows that they’ve really crafted some stellar VR gameplay. That’s why with the PSVR version, they added mini-games like boxing, shooting galleries, and races. While they’re likely just something many players will check out one time, they’re well-crafted and a great way to see the ins and outs of these mechanics.

When you’re shooting, driving, traversing, or brawling, the game is at its peak. Most VR games are incredibly linear and confined to things like asylums or you’re put on rails, LA Noire is an open world. Granted, it’s not a super vast one in terms of content but you’re totally free.
This a game that already so accurately depicts the “Golden Age” of Hollywood and now, you can really feel like you’re there with the first-person perspective. The authenticity of LA Noire shines through even brighter than it did ever before thanks to The VR Case Files.

Where the game becomes incredibly frustrating is within the actual core gameplay of the game, the most important mechanics. This is a detective game, so you’re constantly examining clues and crime scenes, talking to witnesses or suspects, and more. Some of these mechanics feel way worse than they do in the main game which is a shame because it’s usually super fun.
Sometimes you hold up a piece of evidence and the game needs you to look closely for a specific detail on the evidence for it to register but the camera needs to be aimed very specifically so the game doesn’t just give you the clue if you don’t really see it.
It can be really aggravating trying to manipulate the clue in your hand as perfectly as possible and the game isn’t clicking the way it needs to. When it comes down to the interrogations, everything you do feels very fragile and easy to mess up. There are no do-overs in these interrogations so if you mess up, it can severely impact the outcome of a case.

These interrogations live and die by you looking through the questions and evidence in your notebook. If you call someone a liar, you need to back it up with proof or you’ll fail. The problem is, the controllers/tracking are wildly sensitive. On multiple occasions, I found myself hovering over the right piece of evidence in my notebook but the cursor would be super shakey and then move to the next piece of evidence as I was pressing the select button so it would select the wrong one.
It’s not exactly satisfying to fail because you pressed the wrong button. It makes what was otherwise the best part of the original game the most clunky and frustrating parts of the VR version.

LA Noire: The VR Case also features a variety of bugs big and small. The biggest one I experienced was during the Reefer Madness mission. Near the start, you go to a house and engage in a shootout. As a massive fan of the original game, I know all the various different paths you can take in just about every mission.

LA Noire The VR Case Files

In this section, you can engage in a firefight from the front yard or sprint around the back and kick the door in. In the VR version, you’re forced to just stick to the front yard as the back door won’t open in this version for some reason. While bizarre, that in of itself isn’t a bug. The bug came after I killed all the enemies in the front yard and the game didn’t recognize that so I was stuck there sprinting around the house with no way to get in.
I ended up reloading a save and doing it all over again, which was annoying and a big buzzkill.

The Verdict

LA Noire: The VR Case Files is a great sample of some of the best missions from Rockstar’s cinematic period piece but it comes at a cost. While it excels in being the best at traditional VR gameplay like gunplay and driving, it fails at what makes LA Noire original and unique. It turns the intimate detective experience that was previously filled with “Aha!” moments into one of frustrating grunting and annoyance due to stubborn mechanics and some poor tracking.
While this isn’t a constant experience, it’s frequent enough to stand out as a true flaw rather than an issue that causes minor headaches. When the game works, you get one of the most immersive VR experiences out there. When it’s bugging out? It’s one of the most frustrating things imaginable for a video game.

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