The gumshoe detective. The femme fatale. We all recognize the staples of the noir genre when we see them. They’ve become iconic, ingrained into our collective consciousness. This is why they inevitably turn up again and again across the arts, in film, literature and even videogames.
There have been a great many titles over the years that have tried to capture the appeal of the noir genre and market it to a gaming audience. Some successful. Others not so much. Let’s discuss the former category, exploring the games that had us dying to find out whodunit and why. Here’s our list of the 10 most stylish noir games:
10. The Wolf Among Us
I’ll admit, I had never read any of the Fable comics prior to playing The Wolf Among Us. And yet it only took me minutes to become engrossed in its story.
The foreboding atmosphere and grim, urban environments are exceptional at drawing the player in. You never know who to trust and the pressure of solving the case is a spectre that haunts you wherever you go. This gives the choices you make in the game a dramatic weight, as any mistake could potentially lead to missed opportunities and new enemies down the line.
9. Discworld Noir
I first played Discworld Noir as a kid, having picked it out of a gas station bargain bin, because of its connection to the author Terry Pratchett. It’s only really as time has gone on though that I’ve come to appreciate it as an outstanding take on the noir genre.
In the game, interactions are directed entirely by the player, with an intuitive notepad mechanic allowing you to press perps, piece together clues and tease out answers. It’s incredibly rewarding in practice, letting the player define the detective’s thought processes rather than simply speculating on them from afar.
8. Grim Fandango
Grim Fandango is the title most people will call to mind when asked to think of a noir game, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic adventure title that’s shows a clear love and understanding of the genre. One example of this is its soundtrack.
The composer Peter McConnell listened extensively to film noir scores while working on music for the game, including Adolph Deutsch’s The Maltese Falcon and Max Steiner’s Casablanca. These influences can be heard throughout much of the game’s finished soundtrack, appearing most prominently on the tracks “By The Lighthouse” and ‘She Sailed Away”. This attention to detail makes the experience feel a lot more authentic and helps players to better ease into the story and the world that’s been created.
A lot of people will likely only know Hideo Kojima from the Metal Gear Solid Series, but he’s actually worked on a number of great properties over the years — the neo-noir adventure Snatcher is one of them.
Inspired by movies like Invasions of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator, and Blade Runner, the game takes place in a sci-fi setting that’s full of intrigue and suspicion. Navigating the neon-lit alleyways and seedy establishments of Neo Kobe City, the players meets a diverse cast of characters (an amateur surfer, an award-winning actress cum dancer and a freelance taxi driver) while conducting investigations. These encounters form some of the game’s strongest moments, providing a colorful insight into the city’s underworld.
Though it had a relatively small release in the West, compared to in its native Japan, its legacy lives on today through modern games, such as the cyberpunk adventure Gemini Rue by Wadjet Eye Games — a title that just narrowly missed out on a place on this list.
6. LA Noire
Along with Grim Fandango, LA Noire is probably the game that most people have played on this list. Developed by Team Bondi with additional help from publisher Rockstar Games, it became renowned for its use of motion scanning, whereby actors were filmed from 32 angles cameras to capture subtleties in their performance.
This technology presents the player with some interesting gameplay opportunities, such as having to look out for nervous ticks, before deciding whether or not to doubt suspects or accuse them of lying. Fancy yourself an expert on body language? Then LA Noire is the game you’ve been waiting for.
5. Blade Runner (1997)
Blade Runner (1997) takes place parallel to the events of the 1982 Ridley Scott film, with the player assuming the role of a new runner, named Ray McCoy, who’s been ordered to retire a bunch of replicants.
Like the film, you’ll find yourself debating the status of replicants with others in the world, as well as questioning the implications of your actions. This isn’t just an artifice either, as you can actually change the plot in meaningful ways with your decisions and dialogue selections.
There aren’t many movie adaptations that capture the spirit of the original quite like Blade Runner the videogame. It’s a rare treat that doesn’t just decide to trade on a name, instead choosing to capitalize on the possibilities granted by the change to an interactive medium.
4. Hotel Dusk: Room 215
A feature on almost every list of the most under-appreciated Nintendo DS titles, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a game that combines moody noir aesthetics with instinctive controls.
The visuals are presented mostly in black and white, with character animations produced by the process of rotoscoping. This results in a filmic style, which is undoubtedly a nod towards the game’s cinematic influences.
In it, you’ll find yourself taking notes with the stylus and using the console’s additional screen to probe areas for traces of evidence. This feels completely natural and helps you to keep on top of the case.
3. Max Payne
Influenced by a wide range of sources, including Raymond Chandler novels, Hong Kong cinema and film noir, Max Payne is a dark and at times depressing game.
The story opens with the murder of Max Payne’s family and follows his descent into vigilantism. It’s told via a first-person narration as well as graphic panels that pop up intermittently. These are employed to evoke the pessimism and cynicism that are found at the heart of the film noir genre, recounting in detail the many horrors Max has been living through.
A stylized and brooding affair — Max Payne is a videogame that’ll stay with you long after completion.
2. Déjà vu
Made as the first in a series of Macventures, Déjà Vu has been ported to a bunch of consoles over the years, including the Game Boy Color, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Commodore 64.
Beginning in media res, you wake up in the bathroom of a restaurant with no memory of who you are. All you know is the throbbing pain in your skull and the grubby surroundings. Gathering your things, you try to escape, but find a dead body blocking your path. What happened here? It’s up to you to find out.
Déjà vu doesn’t do much in the way of hand holding. You’re simply given the tools to progress and expected to work things out by using logical thought. This is refreshing as it allows you to flex your powers of deduction, instead of just following a straight line from one marker to another.
1. Under A Killing Moon
Under A Killing Moon is a campy point-and-click adventure from the mid 90s. Taking place in the distant future of 2042, the game is about a down on his luck private investigator named Tex Murphy and his investigation into a deadly cult known as The Brotherhood of Purity.
Though the game’s visual have aged terribly, you’ll find there’s still much to love. For example, the acting is delightfully corny and the dialogue system holds up remarkably well.
Giving you three different options to choose from, it leaves some room for error by giving you only a general idea of what you’re about to say. This means you have to carefully read each situation before picking your response. It’s a simple touch that adds some welcome difficulty to proceedings.
When not glued to the latest release, Jack Yarwood spends his time writing and talking about videogames online. You can follow what he’s up to on his Twitter and on his blog.