Released on May 20th, Rockstar’s latest is influenced by films of the 1940s, with its nods to everything from The Thin Man to The Maltese Falcon coupled with the corruption and hardboiled edge evident in much later movies, including Chinatown and LA Confidential. The game represents the most recent in a long line of titles from developer Rockstar to appropriate cinema. As Grand Theft Auto plundered everything from Scarface to The Godfather, so last years Red Dead Redemption took its themes from Leone’s groundbreaking Italian Westerns of the 1960s and an aesthetic from more recent movies such as The Assassination of Jesse James. Its setting was similarly reliant on contemporary sources, most notably HBO’s Deadwood, which charted the dog days of a West whose wild had been undone by the creeping technological change of the telegraph and railroad.
Of course, the majority of video games are even more closely associated with film than these examples, as Paul Mackman, producer of the Alien vs Predator license, explains. “We had a whole bunch of production photos from the movies, of set and costume designs - you name it. HR Giger's designs of the Alien itself were key, and we took elements from Stan Winston's amazing work on both Aliens and Predator. Obviously we created many of our own bespoke sounds, but also had access to Fox’s sound libraries, so the pulse rifle, motion tracker, the Alien’s screams and clicks of the Predator are all direct samples. It’s fair to say our key references were those classic movies, though we also looked at all four corners of the AvP universe; from films to the comic books and the games in order to capture the spirit of the thing.”
Although many developers have aspirations to cinema, these are rarely translated into anything other than production design and a cast of two-dimensional character archetypes spitting clichéd dialogue. “So many games originate from a small number of well-established tropes,” explains Tameem Antoniades, responsible for Enslaved, an exception to the rule, released last year. “Aliens is the standard influence for the marine commando game, post-apocalyptic titles reach for Mad Max 2 and Bladerunner provides the futuristic corporate city environment.”
Inevitably LA Noire is far from the first title to be associated with either the period or the genre, Sony’s Heavy Rain and Mafia 2 both fairly recent examples. Where it does become distinct is the manner with which the game delivers its play. In film noir, the well-established themes of the crime thriller were corrupted to become something far more subversive. Dark forces were at work, reflecting the cultural anxiety of the period, while the writer Alain Silver observed narrative patterns of alienation and obsession where the suggestive qualities of what was shown on the screen were often as important than what was actually being denoted. Subsequent film scholars noted that many of these films followed a detection rather than detective narrative, where mysteries required a form of hermeneutical investigation, one that promised – rather than delivered – explanation. This is all some distance from the typical gaming reward system; those seeking quick kills and instant thrills need to return to Call of Duty.
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