Preview: L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files – A Deep Exploration of Personality

L.A. Noire on HTC Vive is the way the videogame was meant to be played.

Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire originally launched for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC way back in 2011, and this month will receive an updated re-release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. In addition however, a brand new vision for L.A. Noire, known as L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, is coming to HTC Vive. VRFocus was recently invited to Rockstar Games’ UK headquarters to get hands-on with this very unique experience.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is a comprehensive slice of the original L.A. Noire specifically adapted for virtual reality (VR). Players are still cast as Cole Phelps, a rookie beat cop working his law up the law enforcement ladder in 1940’s Los Angeles. Taking seven cases from across the five desks of the original videogame – Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson – each has been chosen by the compatibility with VR. L.A. Noire’s central theme was always interpretation of a character’s motives, and L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files harnesses that with an experience that only truly comes into its own thanks to the new medium.

LA Noire Screenshot VR (3)

During VRFocus’ time with L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files we were able to experience three different elements of the videogame across the tutorial and a single case file. The case files begins with an exploration of a crime scene, in which the player interacts with specific objects (in this case, a dead body, a purchase receipt and empty bullet cases) in order to ascertain some clues as to what happened. While the examination is conducted in first-person with motion controllers, this process is essentially the same as in the console and traditional PC versions of L.A. Noire.

The next stage of the case file offered in this preview build however, showcases L.A. Noire exactly as it should be played. The MotionScan technology used for facial animation in the original videogame was impressive back in 2011 and remains so now, however in VR it takes on a whole new meaning.

It’s frequently been suggested that one of the biggest jumps in immersion VR can bring is that of interaction with characters. Being in that space opposed to looking through a window into their world is a huge leap forward in believability, and despite L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files’ occasionally questionable texture quality, the characters featured in the videogame are arguably the most lifelike that have been seen in any interactive experience.

LA Noire Screenshot VR (4)

In the sequence VRFocus experienced two characters appeared for questioning; the first, a very nervous witness, visibly displayed trauma in her jaw movement; the second, a gun shop owner, was gruff but provided no reason for doubt. As with the original L.A. Noire, the way in which the player responds to a character’s story can change the outcome of a conversation.

Perhaps even more impressive than the visual cues on the characters in a conversation is the subtle attention to detail of surrounding characters. During the scene with the gun shop owner the player was accompanied by his partner, who visibly reacted to the comments offered and even showcased a series of entirely believable idle animations such as blinking and wetting his lips. If nothing else, the detail on the virtual people sharing your space is a huge aid to the suspension-of-disbelief required for truly immersive VR.

In addition to the crime scene examination and questioning/interrogation sequences, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files will also include driving and shooting gameplay. The latter of which was not available during VRFocus’ preview time, however the driving – still conducted in first-person – is a comprehensive rendition of being in control of a 1940’s car. Players must turn the key in the ignition, grab the steering wheel and use the motion controllers to pilot the vehicle upon its route. The entirety of L.A. Noire’s free-roaming map is available to explore and collisions with buildings will simply see a fade-to-black and respawn a few inches away from the brickwork. However, it is entirely possible to wreck your car and instead have to rely on footwork to get to your destination.

LA Noire Screenshot VR (8)

In regards to that movement, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files has a range of different options available to allow for the most comfortable experience. Different teleportation systems – highlighted object and player defined – see Phelps’ model run out ahead to the desired location and a quick fade to place the player at that position, however a free movement option is also available. Simply by holding up on the HTC Vive’s right motion controller the player will slowly move in the direction they are facing.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is due to release exclusively for HTC Vive in December 2017, and as it stands Rockstar Games are looking set to take a leading position in AAA VR development. The depth of detail in the character animation and the huge variety of gameplay opportunities is second-to-none in within VR software at present. While there are many areas in which the visual fidelity appears to be lacking – character models aside, of course – L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is undoubtedly a VR experience of the highest caliber.

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