107: Blackmailers Don't Shoot

Blackmailers Don't Shoot

"Noir, at its heart, is about atmosphere. An atmosphere described by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader as "fatalistic, hopeless." Protagonists often find themselves betrayed (Double Indemnity), murdered (The Killers) or usually some combination of the two. Yet for all the corruption and death, noir often remains astonishingly low on violence."

Anthony Burch examines the gritty, yet surprisingly non-violent roots of noir.


First and foremost, i think the most important argument in this article is not that noir is underserved, its that the adventure genre is.

noir is a highly exploitable genre, and has been since its inception. So where is noir now (i'm picking up the Max Payne thread and trying to run with it now)? let's look at three examples from three different forms of media.

1.) Max Payne 2

This makes it all the more tragic, then, that the aesthetics are the only noirish thing about the game

i would disagree. Just because Max uses bullet time and racks up a large body count does not mean this game is exiled from the genre. I would say the endless barrage of mooks brings a new audience to noir. While it is not quite noir in a traditional sense, the feel of the game is pure noir, and that brings more people into the fold, not a bad thing in my opinion.

2.) The Black Dalhia
I had the displeasure of renting this recently. It is a modern film take on noir. And as in all things that get filed under "Almost, but not Quite..." I think it fell flat on the storytelling, especially in the explaining of the storyline as it progressed in cheesy "voice over flashback to resummarize the plot" style.

3.) The Yiddish Policemans Union
A fantastic novel by Michael Chabon, this may be the glaring example that noir is changing. From all accounts that I have read, the author initially intended it to be a celebration of the genre, from the detective's first person and all (you can even notice passages in the book that kept the tone). But the editor (and most likely, publisher) felt it was not ready for mass market, and changed the narritave (sp?) to third person. Its still a great book in the noir feel, but clearly the publisher's objective was to downplay its noir heritage.

My point is this: noir is still here, and while we wait for our good translations in the form of adventure games, taking from the genre and using its atmosphere is not a bad thing, not for games or for noir itself.

The Last Express is a wonderful game, but it's not noir. Like the detective anti-heroes of noir, Robert Cath uses his wits, but that's where the similarities end. The brightly lit and vividly colored train cars of The Last Express belong in another genre, that of detective fiction as written by Agatha Christie. The use of intelligence to solve problems is not unique to noir, nor is it the only characteristic of noir.

First, referring to Grim Fandango as an RPG is a poor slip.
Second, I believe saying "X defines noir" whether X is the use of little violence, the backstabbing characters or nighttime action is debatable.
Third, how would you rate the Blade Runner game in the Noir Scale?

What about Sin City? There is a lot of violence and gore there, even moreso than intelligence or detective work. But I would call the comic books/movie as noir as it gets. One of the points of this article was that noir is about the atmosphere, the ambience, the characters, in short - the big picture. I agree, and I also think that violence, if presented in a way that matches and fits with the atmosphere, can be an integral part of it. What makes games like Max Payne half-noir, in my opinion, is the monotony and repetiveness of the violence, not just the amount of it. As well as the fact that 99% of the characters you meet (== kill) are your routine, run-of-the-mill bad guys that die as soon as they appear - no character development or psychological interaction.

Sorry but I don't get the point of the article.

Max Payne isn't noir because it involves a LOT of shooting and goon killing. Well it's a 3rd Person Shooter with bullet time. That's what players expect from a shooter.
According to your noir definition no shooter can ever be a true noir game - except there are not more than 9 enemies to kill.
The game has a very noir story and really good atmosphere. I think that's more important than the body count. Max Payne isn't Sam Spade. Maybe times have changed since the ladder was double-crossed the last time?

I agree that adventures suit noir stories far better, but unfornately the adventure genre is quite dead. They don't sell very well.

But a combination of FPS and adventures might work. something like Deus Ex or Troika's Vampire:Bloodlines.
The first half of Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of Earth feels like playing an First Person Adventure.
Penumbra: Overture even more. Maybe that's the way to go to revive the adventure genre.

First, moderators, if you see this, ignore the report I filed. I was looking for reply and accidentally hit report.

Second, Noir is often seen more for its style rather than its substance. It's similar to the screwball comedy in that way. Noir paints a particular portrait of the world. The absence of exaggerated violence or extreme body counts in early Noir has to do with the time and place they were made. However, I agree that it's a Noir heroes skills that make him an attractive tool for the femme fatale. Sometimes those skills are brutish (Sin City), but more often than not, it's the wits he developed at his job. I would love to see a great Noir adventure game. Btw, whatever happened to LA Noir? I haven't heard anything since it was announced.


Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
Register for a free account here