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(Pocket-lint) - The original L.A. Noire was released back in 2011 - by Rockstar, well known for the Grand Theft Auto franchise - which, in this fast-moving world, feels like a lifetime ago. When launched it was the game to show-off just what was possible with facial animation - something that, to a degree, still stands up today - which set the bar high and has benefitted the gaming fraternity ever since.

In more recent years we've seen the L.A. Noire re-release for Nintendo Switch, alongside 4K remasters for PC and console. Which is all well and good, but it was when we heard about the virtual reality version that we could barely contain our excitement.

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Sure, we were slightly worried a VR version might end up being a messy port, but L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is an edited version of the original game, breathing new life into the classic. So whether you're looking to head on down nostalgia road or are new to the title, in VR form there are plenty of treats in store for newcomers and established fans alike.

Our quick take

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is everything we hoped. This isn't a hashed-together VR port, rather it's the remastering of a classic into the virtual reality universe.

The facial mapping that L.A. Noire was known for somehow shines so much more brightly in VR than it ever did before. Fighting, shooting, driving and investigating are much more enjoyable in true first-person and provide a more immersive experience.

On the downside, there are a handful of bugs and user-experience niggles. Plus the VR version is a cut-down version of the original, so there's less longevity here.

If you're a fan of the original game or simply want to try an awesome VR Police simulator, then L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is well worth a look. Some (but not all) aspects have delivered the most enjoyable VR world we've experienced to date.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is currently available for HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. It is available to buy on Steam or via Amazon.

L.A. Noire The VR Case Files review: Criminal investigation has never been so much fun

L.A. Noire The VR Case Files

4.0 stars
For
  • Brilliant movement mechanics
  • Fantastic graphics
  • Superb fighting and shooting fun
  • More than just a VR port
Against
  • Some bugs and frustrations with user experience
  • Reloading your pistol can be a bit fiddly

When a port is not a port

It's been a few years since we played the original game, but the VR version is immediately familiar. To double-check how close it is to the original, we booted up the old game and, yep, it has the same levels, same characters and same voice over/script as the original game.

The difference? The VR version is cut-down, featuring just seven missions - which considerably less than the original game - making for around eight hours of playtime in total.

But calling the VR version simply a port wouldn't really do it justice. The original game is a third-person, mission-based experience, whereas The VR Case Files is very much a first-person virtual reality experience (the clue's in the name, eh?). This makes for an obvious difference, as you're much more directly involved in the action.

You won't be surprised to hear that the graphics have also been improved and enhanced since the original, too. On the default settings it looks great and, if you have the power, you can turn the visuals up even further.

If you've played the original game recently, you might remember the missions and know how to get through them. But if, like us, you've not played it for years then it's like playing a new game - and it's a thrilling experience.

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The original L.A. Noire's key sell was its use of facial capture technology, used to create realistic facial expressions for life-like in-game interactions with suspects, witnesses and colleagues. Almost like an interactive movie, if you will. This same design has been carried through into the virtual world, making for a really immersive experience when you're questioning criminals or just enjoying their grimacing and gurning faces as you engage in a spot of fisticuffs. 

This facial mapping allows you to read the expressions and emotions of the people you're talking with, meaning you can suss out whether they're telling the truth or just stringing you along. This worked so well in the original L.A. Noire, but in VR it's even more fantastic - and doesn't seem to have aged like you might expect.

It probably goes without saying: controlling the world around you in VR feels very different to a third-person game, too. Driving, for example, puts you right in the front seat, with your in-hand controllers becoming the steering wheel. The side triggers on the HTC Vive's controllers operate the grip function to pick up items or interact with objects (it's a toggle grip, too, so pressing the buttons once allows you to hold the steering wheel and set off with ease). The result is a driving experience that's well implemented and hilarious fun - that is until you take your hands off the wheel to put the siren on and accidentally crash into another car or run over some pedestrians. Hard cornering feels like it'll tip the car over, but that's no surprise for 1940s classic cars - these aren't modern vehicles with traction control and ABS.

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Another great feature is that if you don't like the driving or get bored commuting through the Los Angeles traffic, then there's a "WARP" button in the car to skip right to your destination (if only there was such a thing in real life!). Alas, it doesn't actually engage a hidden warp drive tucked under the bonnet, but it does get you right back to the actual detective work - which is where L.A. Noire really shines.

Driving isn't the only thing to love, either. Shooting also feels much more immersive than in the original game, particularly when you're holding a gun in your virtual hands and watching the impact of the shots. When we were given the call to attend a bank heist and had to shoot it out with hoodlums to fight our way in through the front doors with a shotgun, we thoroughly enjoyed watching walls, pillars and scenery explode as shots connected; all the while dodging back and forth between cover to stay out of danger. Later on in the game, shoot-outs in a soup factory and a metal works are just as much fun.

The classic 1911 Colt .45 handgun is tricky to reload, but it feels satisfying to do so - drop out a mag, pull the slide, then pump rounds into villains who don't want to come quietly. That's VR at its best.

Pocket-lint LA Noire VR Case Files Review screenshots image 2

Fighting is so much more enjoyable when you can watch the punch connect right before your eyes, too. Actions in real-life translate into the virtual world with gusto in this game: raising the controllers to your face blocks incoming swings from scallywags who dare pick a fight with the law, while swiping out returns a punch for a classic one-two. You can opt for an open-hand slap, an uppercut, or a sweet right-hook - whatever works. However, we were disappointed to find that when an opponent was blocking we couldn't sneak in a cheeky low-blow, but you can't have it all. 

The tremendous joy and hilarity of movement

Getting about in VR games is generally a sticky business. Different games handle it in different ways. Some opt for "beaming" or "teleporting" - think of it like throwing a virtual stone ahead of you and then reappearing there in first-person perspective - while others throw in smooth locomotion that allows you to control movement with the trackpad. Some use a mix of the two.

L.A. Noire, however, offers three different modes for getting about - and one of them is really special. 

Rockstar Games LA Noire The VR Case Files review Crime investigation has never been so much fun image 4

The first mode involves simply looking at the scenery and when something is highlighted yellow in the direction you want to go you simply click to beam there.

Alternatively, the second mode means double-tapping the trackpad brings up an aiming reticule that you can move with your head, clicking again to teleport you to where it's pointing.

The third mode is our real favourite - that special one. This movement mechanic mimics real life: by holding down the trackpad and waving your arms about like you're walking you'll start to do just that. You can also hold the trigger to run while you're doing it - which is equally as fantastic as it is hilarious and exhausting. We love this movement style, though, as it feels natural (even if, to onlookers, you'll look hilarious).

Other movement within the gaming world is also magnificent. Whether slapping criminals, waving an accusatory finger at suspects or simply waving your arms about like you're trying to control traffic - there's something enjoyably flexible about L.A. Noire VR's movement system that makes it a sheer delight to play. 

Rockstar Games