Rockstar Games is an interesting company. Instead of following current industry trends, they tend to set their own. For example, Grand Theft Auto 3 pretty much introduced us to the whole open-world thing, which practically became a genre of its own. Rockstar later brought players to the Wild West with Red Dead Redemption. What sounded like a niche idea that probably wouldn't catch on ultimately became 2010's near-unanimous game of the year. In 2011, Rockstar plans on breaking new ground yet again with L.A. Noire.
L.A. Noire takes an interesting approach to the crime game, drawing influence not only from other video games, but from the film noir crime dramas of the 1940s. In fact, it's so closely tied to these old films that it's actually earned itself a place at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, a first for a video game.
So, what is this film noir thing that Rockstar is so into all of a sudden?
Film noir is a French term that means "black film." It began a cross between the German Expressionist movement (which included Nosferatu, one of the first ever vampire films) and the hard-boiled detective novel popularized by authors Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Film noir also drew from the pulp detective stories that were popular at the time.
As the term suggests, the look of these films is dark, focusing on shadows. Most are filmed in black and white, highlighting the contrast between the lighter and darker images on the screen. A popular element is Venetian blinds, which cast long shadows that can be used to emphasize the shape of a room or to mask a character's face. Great examples of this Venetian blind technique can be found in the 1944 film Double Indemnity.
The plot of these noir films often focuses on crime-solving, backstabbing, plot twists, and a general sense of cynicism. Characters tend to live questionable lifestyles, hang out in seedy parts of town, and get involved in morally compromising situations. The attractive blond female is a recurring motif, and often winds up being the most manipulative character in the mix.
Another element taken directly from the crime novel is a cynical narrator. You know the type. "I keep two Magnums in my desk. One's a gun, and I keep it loaded. The other's a bottle, and it keeps me loaded." (Thanks to Calvin and Hobbes for such a perfect example.) While this type of narration has been so often parodied that it's hard to take seriously anymore, it gave these old films that gritty feel that set them apart from other types of cinema.
The film noir style has been copied many times in the past, with varied rates of success. The cult classic film Bladerunner, starring Harrison Ford, has a visual style that's very much inspired by film noir, right down to the shadows cast by Venetian blinds and rotating fan blades. What modern viewers may not know is that the original cut of the film included a hard-boiled narrative voiceover by Ford. Ultimately, this voiceover was deemed incredibly cheesy, and was later removed from the film. The narrated version still isn't hard to find if you look for it, but I'm compelled to warn you that it's pretty bad when compared with other cuts of the film.
So far, very little of the L.A. Noire footage I've seen has had that shadowed look (although there is a fantastic scene that takes place at night in heavy traffic that fits the bill perfectly), but it sounds like the hard-boiled detective story is a major part of the game. Players will be asked to visit the underbelly of Los Angeles and solve some gruesome murders. The gameplay is heavily focused on solving these crimes, and players will have to interrogate witnesses. In classic noir tradition, expect to be lied to and manipulated. Pay close attention to the facial features of these characters, as many will have a "tell" that lets you know whether they are completely full of bologna or telling the truth.
While I haven't seen enough of the game to know for sure, it looks like there will be the classic attractive blond with whom the main character will become romantically involved. As someone who's seen a fair share of noir films, I must warn you to be careful. I'm pretty sure she's going to end up being something other than she seems.
Hopefully Rockstar will learn a lesson from Bladerunner and leave out the hard-boiled narration, but with so many other great film noir elements to draw from, this could be one knockout of a game. I fully expect a gritty story full of betrayal, lust, murder, and a final plot twist that leaves gamers breathless. Here's to hoping Rockstar delivers yet another video game masterpiece.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*