Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #8: L.A. Noire & Crime Noir


Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to talk about: the influences of crime noir on the video game L.A. Noire.

L.A. Noire is one of my absolute favourite video games. Set in Los Angeles in 1947, the player takes on the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD officer, who works his way up the ranks and through the various departments. It uses very unique technology, in that each of the voice actors were actually filmed as they recorded their lines, making each character’s face very realistic. The reason for this is that the player, as Cole Phelps, must interview and question various people, making judgements based on their facial responses, expressions and body language.

LA Noire

Influenced by crime noir films and books of the 1940s and 1950s, the developers have made sure this is reflected in everything from the colour palette used to advertisements seen around Los Angeles, from the language that the people use to the songs and radio stations on Phelps’ car radio. Each case that the player must attempt to solve borrows from crime noir film and fiction in various ways, and I wanted to share a few of those bookish influences with you today.

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe #1) by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

Raymond Chandler is possibly one of the biggest influences on L.A. Noire, an infamous crime writer whose noir fiction has been well-loved since publication. The Big Sleep is the first book in his Philip Marlowe series, and like Marlowe, Phelps finds himself embroiled in a lot more than he expected. As well as being an influence on the game itself, there is a small tribute to Chandler’s work – the theatre on Sunset Boulevard within the game also advertises a screening of the film of The Big Sleep.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

Although The Maltese Falcon is set in San Francisco, rather than Los Angeles, there is no denying its influence on L.A. Noire. As the author who popularised ‘hard-boiled’ detective novels, the crime noir genre owes Dashiell Hammett a lot. Like The Big Sleep, the developers made a nod to The Maltese Falcon when they made the film one of the hundred film reels that Phelps can collect around Los Angeles.

L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet #3) by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood.

L.A. Confidential is the third in James Ellroy‘s L.A. Quartet, and probably the most famous of the series – as well as being one of the longest crime novels ever written. Although it is set four years after the events of L.A. Noire, the game used similar ideas of corrupt cops and showing the less glamorous side of Hollywood. It is also not the only Ellroy book that inspired events in the game: his account of the real-life events of the Black Dahlia Murder (The Black Dahlia) also influenced one particular case within the game.

I have to say that playing L.A. Noire has definitely made me more interested in reading some crime noir fiction. Thanks to the game, I feel a little more familiarity with the events of the period (and the music, oh the music!) which makes fiction set then more appealing. I also loved how Phelps’ character was built in the game – he is definitely not flawless – and would love to read about more characters like that.

Have you ever played L.A. Noire, or read any crime noir books? What did you think?

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I found a nice shiny new car… and this happened five minutes later. Oops. Bye bye, nice shiny new car.