Originally released all the way back in 2011 and strikingly not developed by one of its in-house teams (it was made by the now-defunct Team Bondi), LA Noire remains one of the most curious Rockstar-published games. Coming off the back of 2010’s Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV, the company was on a roll even by its own high standards, and few doubted that this quirky tribute to the stylish crime genre — essentially gaming’s very own LA Confidential — would be anything less than stellar.
But, while LA Noire may have its defenders, it’s hard to ignore the shaky foundations the hugely ambitious project was built on. You followed the career of Cole Phelps, an LA police officer that rises through the ranks as he tackles various cases. Innovative facial scanning technology meant that characters were capable of making life-like expressions, which you would have to read in interrogations and interviews to pick up on tiny faults and hints that they may not be telling the truth. Mix in classic Rockstar staples like an open-world, drivable vehicles, and cover-based shooting and you’d have thought the publisher had its next runaway hit.
LA Noire’s individual elements didn’t always mesh well, however. The unpredictable nature of the interviews could make the game feel more like guesswork than actual investigating, and the open world allowed a police officer to run over civilians and simply receive a lower score at the end of the case rather than, you know, going to prison. It was an admirable attempt to do something new for gaming, but its solutions were inelegant and clumsy.
Still, having thought about it, I actually think LA Noir will be perfect for a VR re-release.
While we may all want Grand Theft Auto VR and Red Dead Redemption VR in the Vive and Rift, LA Noire’s more considered pacing and skew towards investigation makes its an ideal test-bed for Rockstar. Though there are action sequences, something tells us the seven cases selected will be ones that hone in much more on the game’s slower, more investigative side. There’s much less opportunity for the awkward VR simulator sickness here than, say, when you’re base jumping off of a skyscraper in Los Santos.
More than that, though, there are individual elements of LA Noire that directly speaks to some of VR’s key strengths, the biggest of which being NPC interaction. In VR, talking to another person can be a hugely compelling experience. Making eye-contact with someone triggers the exact same emotions you might have when meeting a real person. Being able to artificially construct these reactions is one of the most fascinating areas for the technology right now. Trying to read expressions in LA Noire while feeling like you’re really sitting across the room from the person in question is going to be one of the game’s most interesting offerings.
Crime scene exploration will also be another key feature. I’m really eager to see how this will work, but using your hands to root through objects, inspecting bodies in close detail, and scouting the surroundings for clues feels like the perfect fit for the Vive. If the game supports room-scale locomotion then that’s all the better; many of its environments are on the small side and could be navigated this way.
Then there’s the promise of driving with one hand and shooting with the other. LA Noire isn’t big on action, but when it comes it’s a much more personal affair than most modern shooters, usually confined to a few thugs rather than scores of minions. High-speed chases are something we’re yet to really see in VR (other than The London Heist, where you just do the shooting and not the driving) and could be one of the few ways to deliver truly immersive action right now, and we’ve all enjoyed the core thrills of cover shooting from within Vive at some point.
Ultimately, like some of you you, I’m more hoping that LA Noire: The VR Cases Files leads to bigger and better things than I am looking forward to the actual game itself, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited to try it out. Nailing the VR support will be a tough case to crack, but I’m confident Phelps can pull it off.