I was a little irritated with the game. It was noir and I’ve been done with noir since I was twenty. The misanthropy and pessimism that pervade the genre aren’t for me anymore. But then I had a shootout on the Babylon plaza set from Intolerance and it was hard as hell to dislike the film even a little bit.

Noir is a genre of a bygone era. A post-war genre that dealt with all the rage and guilt and horror of our World War 2 vets. The men are steely eyed bastards who have one goal in life–to get their man. Naiveté is as a death sentence in the world of noir.

The women there are all bad. Always. There are no good women in noir because in noir a good woman is a naive woman and a naive woman is dead, or too precious and virginal to ever be sullied by the hands of the hero twisted in war and in the police force by the horrors he’s seen.

I’ve only played about two-thirds of L.A. Noire thus far. I had high hopes for the game, and I must stress that what you see here are only impressions of those first two-thirds of the game. There is no femme fatale for me to compare to Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall yet. I can’t talk about the ending. But I’m headed to E3 next week and I wanted to give you something. A review in progress if you will.

So far I’ve found L.A. Noire to be a slavish love letter to the film noir genre. Played in black and white dark shadows are menacing and even the sunny streets of LA seem a touch sinister. Something’s not quite right in the City of Angels.

There aren’t a lot of woman in L.A. Noire and that’s to be expected. Women weren’t on the police force in 1947. But this means that often times the game plays like a particularly violent episode of Dragnet. It becomes less about the darkness of a city’s soul and more about working the case and finding the perp. There isn’t a siren to serve as a gateway to another, darker world (well there is but at this point in the game she’s something others allude to rather than a character herself). As a player I’ve yet to be drawn in fully to the noirish world Phelps inhabits.

My partners, particularly Rusty Galloway (played by Southland vet Michael McGrady) are, like the genre they populate, products of a bygone era. They’re stereotypes. Galloway is gruff and lazy. The one after him sneaky and crooked. You’ve met these guys a dozen times in film. And the familiarity of it all gives me time to think about other things.

Lately I find myself thinking about the nature of adapting a genre that dates to a specific era. Do you update the genre’s tropes for modern audiences, or do you stay true to the era from whence it came?

I’ve found myself asking this question while watching films related to Arthurian legend, Greek mythology, the American Western, and, with L.A. Noire, the film noir. These genres are as integrally linked to the periods from whence they came as they are to the tropes they operate on. L.A. Noire like last year’s Red Dead Redemption (another Rockstar production) is more concerned with perfecting the genre then adapting it to a new age. Like Red Dead Redemption it’s largely successful.

But like Red Dead Redemption it’s rife with racism, homophobia and misogyny. “We’re staying true to the time period,” is what the developers say. And as a fellow artist I can accept that. You shouldn’t whitewash (poor choice of words!) history. Racism, homophobia and misogyny were very prevalent in the early 1900s and in the late 1940s.

But in the present day their presence is off-putting and I’m left questioning the need for such rabid respect to the details of those societies.

Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire have left me cold. Sometimes they inspire passion. When I watch the flawless movement of a horse or I’m rooting through those aforementioned ruins of Hollywood’s gilded age I feel joy. When I’m beating on a perp? Less so. When I’m hovering over the body of a maimed woman? Then I’m just struck with revulsion.

 

The first dead woman? Interesting and exciting. Four in a row over twelve hours? NOT AS MUCH.

 

When Silence of the Lambs came out in 1991 Betty Friedan spoke out against it. She hated the movie. Thought it was exploitative. “I tell you,” she said, “women are tired of seeing themselves as passive sex objects in jeopardy, whether or not they end up prevailing.”

Though I strongly disagree with her interpretation of Silence of the Lambs I do agree with that particular sentiment. In Silence of the Lambs or The X-Files or even something like Straw Dogs I can move past the fatigue. I can withstand it because I only have to sit with those characters for a few hours.

Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire ask me to sit through thirty plus hours of it. And as I’m a marathon gamer that’s quite a lot of dead women, racial epithets and gay bashing.

For the last few years video games have been trying harder and harder to turn into really long interactive movies or novels. L.A. Noire is the best attempt yet. Unlike previous contenders (Final Fantasy XIII) the game is actually interactive. The camera work is beautiful but unobtrusive. Even the acting is a step above everything that’s come before.

But the game is still asking me to spend hour after hour actually working as a homicide detective.

To root through a woman’s remains and handler her body like a piece of putrid meat.

If the only requirement of art is to force an emotional response from the audience then Rockstar is two for two. But video games, like movies and films and books, are meant to entertain as well. More often than not I am not entertained. I am at work. Earning bounties and solving crimes. I’m a Sim. A cog in the machine. The world happens to me and at the end of the day I feel a little dead inside and I’ve got a shiny new achievement on Xbox Live.


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