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Editor's note: This week sees the re-release of L.A. Noire on PS4, Xbox One and Switch, and to mark the occasion we thought we'd return to Chris Donlan's piece on playing through the game - still one of the very best things ever published on Eurogamer, he'll hate me for saying - which first went live back in 2012. Enjoy!
Today, I'm going to tell you about the time my grandfather shot a man in the ass.
The year was 1949. The place was downtown Los Angeles. The occasion was a robbery with violence. A small store, I think: a tailor's, or maybe a family-run grocery market? History has not recorded all of the details.
Samuel Roberts: LA redux
I enjoyed reading Tim's piece on LA Noire's upcoming VR offshoot this week, not least because I can empathise with his sweaty chronicles of punching a man in the face using VR controllers. That aside, the way interacting with other characters works in this revamped game sounds effective, and it's nice to hear they've redone hundreds of objects to make the world feel more vivid. The original is starting to show its age, as nice as the faces look.
LA Noire is one of those games that games journalists love to talk about: it has a rich historical setting, cinematic aspirations and is flawed in a bunch of interesting ways, despite reaching so high. I'm all for another way to experience it.
Phil Savage: IO, IO, it's off to work they go
Right, yes, fine. With almost tedious inevitability, I am excited about the confirmation of new Hitman.
Seriously, though, while I've written about Hitman so much that I'm almost sick of my own opinions about it, it remains brilliant. And the fact that IO gets to make more of it as an indie studio is a rare and heartwarming thing. I look forward to seeing what they come up with, be it a new game or a second season of the existing one. (Although I might get someone else to review it.)
Joe Donnelly: Dressing room dressing down
I spoke about Football Manager 2018 in last week’s high column and here I am at it again. Why? Because I’ve not played anything else this week. In fact I’ve not really done anything in the last seven days, besides reviewing the latest game, chanting football songs at my monitor, and moaning about how my Celtic players don’t respect me as a manager. I’m a bit of a dick, I admit that, but these guys have a serious problem with authority.
FM 2018’s Dynamics system is what's given my squad its newfound backbone—a new feature that forces you to manage 15+ bodies both on and off the pitch. Upsetting the most authoritative players (by dropping them from the first team, for example) often has knock-on effects and can spill onto the pitch. Despite my new disdain for some of my real life heroes, it’s a really cool addition that I’ve enjoying messing around with.
Tyler Wilde: Rocket surfing
Goofiness has retreated from a lot of multiplayer games. We don't get to stand on the wings of flying planes in Battlefield anymore, or fill jeeps with C4. Weird, silly mods like Action Quake 2 are harder to find. The most popular game right now, PUBG, takes place in a grey military sadscape. So although I haven't played much of it yet, I'm excited to see the playfulness of Battlefield 1942 and Team Fortress 2 emerge in Fortnite Battle Royale, where players have been riding on pumpkin rockets and turning themselves into bushes. I want to do that.
Wes Fenlon: Hello Nioh
Hey, Nioh's out on PC! Cool. I haven't played it yet, and I know it's mostly a shameless combination of Dark Souls and a bloated loot system, but dangit, I love my Japanese action games. I'm especially glad to see it arrive on PC because Sony published Nioh on the PS4, which I had assumed meant a PC version was out of the question. I'm glad to be wrong, especially as I've been replaying Team Ninja's incredible Ninja Gaiden Black recently. There may be little left of the team that made that game a decade ago, but I want to believe the action pedigree still lives on in those halls.
Chris Livingston: Hats and dogs
The Sims 4 has finally gotten pets, and they're fun. Dogs will jump in the pool with you, cats will lick their crotches while sitting on the kitchen counter and ignoring you (and ignoring everything else, including house fires) unless they want something, and you can design them, breed them, and dress them up in little outfits. You can even run a vet clinic, which I have been doing with some success, provided you don't spend too much time in the lobby which is covered with dog pee (and, this being The Sims, possibly some human pee as well).
Realistic? No. Cats will obediently climb onto the examination table without screeching, and taking their temperature involves scanning their ear with a laser instead of sticking a cold thermometer up their butts while they try to claw you to death. But who wants realism? I want to put a hat on my cat and have it stay there, instead of my cat shaking it off immediately and then hating me for the next 72 hours.
Samuel Roberts: Pricey crystals
Who wants to buy £80/$100 worth of loot crate crystals? Not me. Obviously this is the big issue in blockbuster games right now, and I'm even a little bit tired of passing comment on it. But the idea of spending that amount of money on an in-game currency rather than buying, say, two full games at retail price is completely alien to me and probably always will be.
But hey, I'm sure they wouldn't list it as an option unless they believed someone was going to buy it.
Phil Savage: Missed Call
I genuinely wish I cared about Call of Duty. Few other releases feel like such an event for the people who truly love them, and it's fun to join in on the Big New Thing. But it's been precisely 10 years since I last enjoyed a game in the series, and nothing I've read about WWII suggests it will be any different. That's a shame: the switch in setting had a chance to recall the heyday of military shooters—both the original Call of Duty games and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
Instead, CoD:WWII sounds as if it's more of what CoD's been doing for the last decade. Ultimately, though, it's fine. This is PC gaming, where even if the big new thing isn't to your taste, there'll always be something that is—even if you're looking for a fun World War II shooter.
Joe Donnelly: Nioh more
As Wes notes over the page, Nioh’s Complete Edition came to PC this week. And despite seemingly suffering a bit of a shoddy port, it’s another game that I really want to play. Which means I’ve now got it, Wolfenstein 2, Destiny 2, Divinity: Original Sin 2, the new South Park, and of course Football Manager 2018 on my plate at the moment and I don’t know where I’ll find the time to make a dent in any of them.
I’m normally a bit Scrooge in the run up to Christmas, but the festive period will work wonders on my pile of shame.
Tyler Wilde: Repeated transactional engagement
Take-Two says it wants 'recurrent consumer spending opportunities' in every new game. Yay.
Wes Fenlon: Hollow Life
Hollow Knight, one of my favorite games of the year, has an absolutely incredible vinyl record soundtrack coming out, and it's not in my hands right now. Even worse, I'll have to pay up if I do want it in my hands next year. My wallet weeps, but my record player will be so happy.
Chris Livingston: Torchlife
I was pretty bummed to hear about Runic Games shutting down. During a very stressful time in my life, Torchlight was my go-to game for decompressing and destressing after long, shitty days. Every night I'd spend an hour hacking, slashing, and gathering colorful loot and wonderfully named weapons. For several months it was a near-daily escape. I sunk plenty of time into Torchlight 2 as well, and I've just begun playing Hob which, while quite different than the Torchlight games, still shows the Runic team's excellent world-crafting and animation skills. "You haven't heard the last of us," said Runic head Marsh Lefler, and I believe it.
Three years ago, with the commercial release of VR headsets looming on the horizon, it was possible to imagine that the world was about to change. And it was about to change, but not in the way that I had imagined. Virtual reality hasn’t had the impact I’d hoped, in other words. No one I know owns a headset, and it hasn’t even caused a moral panic in the mainstream press, which is the true indication that something has arrived.
I’m not cynical about the current state of VR or its software. I think we’re doing ok. I understand baby steps, I understand how risk averse most publishers and developers need to be, and how foolhardy it would be to pour millions into VR development this early in its life. It all makes sense, but that can’t snuff the disappointment I feel in VR’s general lack of presence, its seeming inability to make me forget that I’m wearing a headset, and the industry’s focus on bite-sized experiences that serve as gentle tourist-like excursions rather than, say, an alternate life visited.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files isn’t going to change much about that last point: it is, after all, a condensed version of the original game collecting seven missions (or case files) best suited to VR. And yet, it’s easily the most impressive, nay startling, VR experience I’ve had since playing Eve Valkyrie for the first time. It wasn’t because 1940s L.A. was especially impressive, nor was it because punching people in the face with Vive’s motion controllers was cathartic (though it was!). The reason The VR Case Files is amazing is because of the people.
I played the mission Buyer Beware, which has uppity cop Cole Phelps investigating a murder at a shoe shop. Tim gives a blow-by-blow of how this mission plays out in VR, and it’s engaging enough to investigate the sidewalk murder. But everything changed, for me at least, when I entered the shoe shop to speak to Clovis Galletta, the seemingly shifty store clerk.
This was my first encounter with L.A. Noire’s revamped interrogation system, but whether I should act the bad cop or the good cop weren’t huge concerns for me. Instead, my first thought when listening to Galletta speak was this: am I standing too close to her? (If it was real life, I definitely was). Am I invading her personal space? I immediately stepped back and waited for her to react to my body language—an instinctual, barely registered action that we all probably carry out in real life occasionally. But Galletta didn’t respond of course, because she’s a character in a video game.
As she spoke, it felt pertinent to monitor both her face and her body language, in the way we do with real people. And that’s the nugget of L.A. Noire’s interrogation system of course, but the fact that it worked so well startled me. I had momentarily behaved like I would in front of a human, and I’ve never done that in VR before.
The reason it’s so effective in L.A. Noire is due to MotionScan, the motion capture tech used (exclusively, at this stage) in the original game. Galletta’s face was nuanced, her movements subtle and human-like, and most importantly: her dimensions, her height, her width, all felt right. I felt like I was standing next to a person, whereas NPCs in VR can often seem either too small or too large, or else too wooden.
Maybe this is the kind of experience that VR should chase right now. Instead of virtual Pong or horde mode shooters or racing games, perhaps the element that will win people over are the subtle ones that make virtual worlds feel like real ones. VR software doesn’t need to be realistic, but I think most newcomers want to feel shaken. They want to feel as if they’ve stepped into another world. And what I learned from L.A. Noire is that perhaps the best way to do this is to focus on people, life, conversations. I'm usually one to race through dialogue in games: I like driving, and shooting. But in L.A. Noire, I longed for every human encounter.
We all knew VR would need to establish its own styles and genres—that what we play on screens couldn’t possibly make a direct leap over—but how many studios are doing this? The VR Case Files arguably isn’t innovative, but it contains the kernel of something VR can do that, crucially, makes for an experience you can't get on a TV.
Of course, The VR Case Files is a game, and like most VR games it can’t hope to maintain this illusion of reality. Movement is great as far as VR games go, but overall, movement isn’t great in any VR game. Meanwhile, VR’s grainy resolution has a long way to go too, as do efforts to eradicate motion sickness. At the moment, the best we can hope for when donning a headset is that we’ll feel, at least occasionally, that dreamlike sensation of being somewhere else. And by leveraging tech designed to make humans more lifelike, The VR Case Files delivers one of the most effective examples of it yet.
Late last week I knocked a guy out in Los Angeles. Two in fact, and my girlfriend was watching, as were a couple of colleagues. I couldn't see their reactions, but I have to assume it was mostly embarrassment on my behalf, because I'm a man the wrong side of 40 and haven't thrown a punch in anger since high school. Still, I can confirm that despite my fire-engine red face and slightly strained shoulder, punching dudes feels good in VR.
Going into my playtest of LA Noire: The VR Case Files, I assumed that Rockstar would've just stripped out all the action-y stuff and stuck with the interrogation scenes. Not quite so. There's driving, punching, and shooting (though I don't try the gun stuff) in this slimmed down Vive version, which is due out in December following a slight delay. It'll cost $30 via Steam, and there are a couple of new features to ease you into VR and make the interrogations flow a little more naturally. (Or at least how you'd expect an old timey detective grilling a perp to go.)
We begin in the office of Cole Phelps, the cop played by Mad Men's Aaron Staton. This is a new space designed to acclimate you to the VR controls. With a Vive controller in each hand, you use the triggers underneath, or the buttons on the side, to grip objects. Squeezing the triggers also makes Phelps' fingers do a pinching motion. I was easily able to pass objects from one hand to the other, pick up a gun, answer the phone, and throw an ashtray around like my wife had just called to say she'd left me.
Actually, I say easily, but I much preferred using the triggers over the side buttons, and unfortunately once into the actual investigating the game really does want you to use the side buttons. Before hitting the bricks, I try on a couple of suits in front of the mirror. This is done by reaching out and popping on a different hat from one of several on a stand. And holy shit is it eerie staring at yourself and seeing Staton's looking back. Because LA Noire tracks your hand position, it's also possible to make yourself do some pretty weird Mr Tickle-style stuff with his arms. It's probably why Mrs Phelps left.
Having selected a jaunty waistcoat and hat combo, we set off for the patrol tutorial. Here Phelps and his partner chase down some misdemeanor-level wiseguy using one of three possible movement systems. You can either aim the reticle at a spot and beam yourself to it, highlight an object that glows in an obvious yellow and teleport there, or—brace yourself—actually sprint forwards by aiming in a direction and then swinging your arms madly back and forth. That's about as disorientating as it sounds, and I assume even dafter to look at, so I stuck with the yellow highlight option thereafter.
The pursuit culminates in my first punch up. Throwing down works exactly as you'd expect, and I was able to land hooks, jabs and uppercuts, swaying backwards like a fat Neo to avoid his retaliatory blows. Judging the correct distance to swing from takes a little practice, and there's no feedback from the controller when fist meets face, (just as well, considering my baby soft, never-done-a-day's-real-work hands), but I found just whaling on a guy in a realistic 3D environment surprisingly realistic. It probably says something primal about pent-up white collar rage, or just the eternal allure of jamming knuckles into some chump's jaw. Either way: the punching is good.
Somewhat less convincing is the driving. Here you turn the ignition using your right hand, then grip the immaterial wheel as you lurch around the still immaculately recreated streets of 1940s LA. I initially panicked as it felt like the car almost whooshed out from under me (happily I had asked to be seated for this part, so didn't fall on my ass). There's a decent amount of traffic and sure enough I slewed straight into it. Gradually, I got to grips with the feel, and found that if I took the ride grandma-slow it actually felt pretty interesting. The dash-mounted minimap could do with it being a bit more prominent, though, as initially I had no idea what route to follow.
The good news is that even when grappling with the controls I never got nauseous. I think that's partly helped by the fact that if you look down you'll see your feet and legs, which helps anchor you in the world. Once we got into a case proper, the crazy fidelity of Rockstar's six-year old world strikes home. While of course you never truly forget you're in a game, it's still startling how real standing on these streets feels. The developer has up-rezzed 500 in-game objects to help enhance that feeling, and sure enough rummaging through a dead dude's coat for his ID is an uncanny experience.
The crime I'm investigating is a murder outside a jewellery store, and one of seven cases in the game, all of which are culled from the original. The meat of it takes place when I'm interviewing the clerk of the store. It's easy to forget just how astonishingly detailed the faces and expressions in the original LA Noire were, but nothing in the intervening years has come close to replicating the witchcraft that Team Bondi's MotionScan tech delivered. And little wonder, given what a ballache the performance capture was to do, making reshoots prohibitively expensive and impractical. But there's no arguing with the end result, which again is even more impressive when experienced in VR.
Or to put it more plainly: when speaking to the clerk, much as you know it's not a real person standing in front of you, her height, her little facial tics—eyes darting this way and that, subtle mouth movements—all conspire to make your lizard brain react as if someone is right there. The idea of the uncanny valley is that we're hardwired to reject simulated people the closer they resemble but don't quite replicate reality, but that isn't what I found. I would say that I was fascinated by what I was seeing. So much so that I found it hard to concentrate on the specifics of the police work.
In terms of how you progress these interviews, Rockstar has ditched the old 'Truth', 'Doubt', 'Lie' options on the basis that doubt was a pretty nebulous concept, and you couldn't be sure what Phelps would do if it was selected. Now you pick between 'Good cop', 'Bad cop' and 'Accuse' as the three possible lines of questioning. I still managed to mess up by being too much of a hardass on the poor clerk when she'd already ponied up all the information she had. But overall it seemed a little more intuitive.
In this instance, there's no doubt. After finding the murder weapon in the trash outside, and taking a trip to a gun shop to trace the serial number, I'm soon confronting the clearly guilty suspect. Sure enough another chase sequence ensues, ending with more fisticuffs. "You can also punch him in the nuts," the Rockstar rep offers helpfully, and she's not wrong. In fact my only lingering disappointment is that your feet aren't tracked, so there's no putting the boot in. And that, ladies and gents, is how police brutality is born.
Shaun has more thoughts on LA Noire's face tech and the implications it has for VR which we'll be publishing soon, but for me this game has gone from something I wasn't sure needed to exist, to one I'll actually dust our Vive off to spend more time with.
Initially slated for a November 14 release, LA Noire's new VR component will now launch in December, according to Take-Two's most recent earnings report. In case you didn't know, Take-Two is Rockstar's parent company.
After discussing the imminent release of new versions of the base game for PS4, Switch and Xbox One, the statement offers this:
"Following these in December, 2017, comes LA Noire: The VR Case Files, featuring seven select cases from the original game rebuilt specifically for a virtual reality experience on the HTC VIVE system."
A specific date for December wasn't given. But in other, less surprising, news from the earnings report, 2K has a new blockbuster game coming out next year: whether it'll be Bioshock or Borderlands or something entirely else, is yet to be seen.
Rockstar s first foray into the uneven world of virtual reality isn t a GTA spin-off, or a brand new game, but instead VR version of Rockstar and Team Bondi’s 2011 detective romp, L.A. Noire [official site]. While the current generation of consoles are getting the whole game with added 4K support and the like, over on PC we’re in for a trimmed-down version redone as a Vive exclusive. (more…)
In a surprise announcement, Rockstar has announced L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files—an incoming virtual reality game for the HTC Vive.
Due November 14, The VR Case Files marks the Grand Theft Auto developer's "first steps into virtual reality" with seven "select" case from the original game. As you might expect, these have been rebuilt with VR in mind, however Rockstar doesn't detail the specifics in this news wire post.
Here's Rockstar with the skinny:
"L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files for HTC Vive delivers seven of the original engrossing, self-contained cases from L.A. Noire rebuilt specifically for virtual reality, blending breathtaking action with true detective work to deliver an unprecedented interactive experience."
Alongside The VR Case Files, Rockstar has also revealed enhanced editions of the base game are en route to both Xbox One and PS4. These will come with all additional DLC inclusive, as well as a "range of technical enhancements for greater visual fidelity and authenticity, including enhanced lighting and clouds, new cinematic camera angles, high resolution textures and more."
PS4 Pro and Xbox One X owners can look forward to 4K support—however there's no mention of anything beyond the HTC Vive exclusive starring on PC.
Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: what game would you recommend to a complete non-gamer? We also welcome your answers in the comments.
What if football, but with cars? Rocket League took off precisely because it's so easy to pick up and play, with fast matchmaking, intuitive controls and short matches. Within one game, any player of any skill will get it.
And then the obsession begins. Cars fly overhead in your dreams. You wander through the streets imagining what would happen if that BMW over there did a backflip to score a goal. You haven't spoken to your parents in weeks because you're trying to climb the ladder in ranked. You started playing in January, but now it's August and you've played nothing else, and you've had Prey sat on your hard-drive for months. Maybe you should stop? "I think we should see other people," your partner says. "No problem." you reply. But did you say that, or were you merely selecting a quick chat option in yet another game of Rocket League? You're 80 years old and dead, and you only ever reached Gold II rank.
Anyway, yeah, Rocket League. Great game, regardless of skill level.
Technically Kerbal Space Program is a very difficult game. Just ask the many Kerbals who are stuck endlessly orbiting the various moons and planets I have tried to visit. But, while hard, its difficulty isn't abstract. Kerbal Space Program is difficult because going to space is difficult. By basing itself on real-world, observable concepts, its challenge makes sense. That makes it an incredibly effective starter game. Also the fact that, if in doubt, you can usually just add more rockets.
It's also good because its success is scalable. In sandbox mode, you're never punished for failure. Instead, you're given an opportunity to learn, tweak and reassess. It's a great teacher, not just of the physics of rocket science, but also of how games can support experimentation and play on the path to a greater goal.
Basically prestige TV in game form. A compelling series of mysteries to solve, proper actors bringing the characters to life, and a larger narrative of corruption and scandal to get swept up in. You don't even have to drive anywhere: just get your partner to do it for you. And if you're having trouble with the action sequences—gunfights, car chases, and so on—the game lets you just skip them. It has some problems, sure, but if you don't 'get' games, L.A. Noire will immediately make sense. Everyone loves a good detective mystery, and Rockstar's game presents its varied, mostly well-constructed cases with the lavish feel of a US TV drama.
I know, I know, but probably Hearthstone. I've been teaching my nephew on holiday and they've done a ton of work to make the new player experience more friendly. Until you start getting serious about trying to climb ladder, it's also a free-to-play game that you can genuinely have fun goofing around in without having to drop dollars. Tavern Brawls, Arena Runs, even just administering kickings to the Innkeeper AI are all a fine way to spend a few hours on your PC when you're supposed to be working. I should know.
You don't need any knowledge of game genres or complicated control schemes to play through this fascinating mystery. If you can Google, you can play Her Story. The game is a database of videoclips showing police interviews with a woman—is she a suspect, a witness, a victim? You search for key phrases to bring up new clips containing fresh clues to search for. The format is surprisingly good at delivering twists, and the game is particularly fun if you have friends around to help put the pieces together.
It's bright, it's colorful, it's amusing, and there's just about the most perfect learning curve in a game I can think of, where you're given just enough time to figure how to best use a new plant when a new zombie shows up, and you're just about on the brink of having your home invaded when the final zombie falls. There's also plenty of extra modes and activities that are fun to play around with. It's also addictive as hell, so even if it's their first game it won't be their last.