Playing L.A. Noire this week has reminded us of two things: 1) There is nothing more badass than a hard-boiled detective solving crimes while wearing a freshly pressed suit, and 2) The closest we'll ever get to being that cool is by playing videogames based on said characters. Besides, we look terrible in suits. But Rockstar was far from the first developers to put noir detective stories in an interactive context, so grab a fedora and pour yourself three fingers of rye as we take a look at our favorite noir videogames of all time.
We're initially skeptical of any adult whose preferred nickname involves numbers, but Suda51, the creator of No More Heroes and Killer7, has definitely won us over. His stylized, heavily Japanese take on the noir genre involves a man named Harman Smith whose unique (i.e. "made-up") form of split-personality disorder allows him to become one of seven different assassins, each with their own distinct talents and quirks. Without getting into detail about each assassin, I'll just leave you with the most important fact: in this game you can play as a Mexican Wrestler named MASK de Smith who just might have the ability to headbutt bullets. Despite its wild, cell-shaded visuals and the inclusion of a group of power-ranger ripoffs known simply as "The Handsome Men," Killer7 is an intense tale of conspiracy and betrayal that shows off videogames' unique ability to take a well-tread concept like film noir and expand it into new (and insane) areas of narrative.
Quick, what's the first thing you think of when I say film noir? Wisecracking arachno-powered superheroes clad in bright red & blue spandex, right? Me too. Luckily there's a video game for people with our kind of brain problems: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Here, Spider-Man exists in four dimensional flavors, all of whom are teaming up to battle the same threat. One of them is Spider-Man Noir, who lives in a shadowy, desaturated 1930's universe where his major villains are all noir staples like freaks, mobsters, & thugs. Unlike the other colorful universes where Spider-Men like to go in with web-shooters blazing, this leather-clad 1930's webhead prefers to stick to the shadows, placing a greater emphasis on stealth and strategy. Like Arkham Asylum, but with cooler goggles.
Unlike most films, the limitations imposed on film noir are what make it truly great. The first noir films were black and white out of necessity, but the resulting mood and tone established as a result of these restrictions greatly helped to solidify the genre. These same limitations are what make the early Macintosh game, Deja Vu such a classic entry into the catalogue of noir videogames. When it was originally released in 1985, the macintosh interface could only handle a sparse black and white color scheme. This stark tone might have limited other games, but for a point-and-click adventure about a hard-boiled 1940's detective named "Ace" it works out juuuuuust fine. Deja Vu also serves as one of the first examples of amnesia, a common noir trope, being used as storytelling device within a videogame context. This device would later go on to be used in the story for every Japanese RPG EVER MADE.
Fact: it's hard to make a videogame based on a movie, let alone a good one, especially when you're making the game roughly 15 years after the movie came out. Throw in the fact that the film in question is frakking BLADE RUNNER and you're basically up shit creek without a spinner. However, despite all odds, Westwood Studio's 1997 adventure game adaptation passes the Voight-Kampff test for being an awesome game. Instead of trying to retell the convoluted story of Deckard, this game instead tells the equally convoluted story of rookie Blade Runner Ray McCoy, who is similarly tasked with tracking down a series of rogue replicants. Perhaps the game's most impressive feature were the thirteen possible endings a player could achieve, which is only two or three more than the actual movie if you count all the definitive cuts and re-releases.