The lights are on
In anticipation of L.A. Noire's release next week, we decided to take a look back at some of the gaming mysteries that have enthralled us over the years. Some of the following titles stick strictly to noir standards like dark tones, wordy inner monologues, and dames in distress, while others import investigation sequences into other varied genres. Check out our list of old and new games alike and add your picks in the comments.
This early Macintosh adventure game is one of the first noir-inspired titles out there. It's quite rough to revisit these days, as you always have to adjust the size of the inventory windows and there are numerous instant deaths and ways in which to paint yourself into the corner. But private eye Ace Harding's quest to regain his memory and clear a trumped up murder charge is straight out of the pulp novels.
Tex Murphy Series(1989-98)
Private eye Tex Murphy got his start in the late '80s with Mean Streets, set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco full of mutated humans. Four more games followed with the franchise eventually fully embracing live-action, full-motion video actors instead of animated characters. The pinnacle of the series, Under a Killing Moon (above), remains an adventure classic.
Gabriel Knight Series(1993-99)
Mildly successful New Orleans-based writer Gabriel Knight debuted in Sins of the Father as he got pulled into investigating the voodoo murders as part of some research for his next book. Gabriel's sexual tension with is assistant/partner Grace blends well with revelations about his lineage and connections to the murders. The trilogy starts with classic point-and-click adventuring, then moves to FMV, and finishes off with a 3D polygonal look.
This gaming take on the classic sci-fi noir film actually did the source material justice somehow. Rookie Blade Runner Ray McCoy hunts replicants during the same time period and locales of the movie. In addition to traditional adventure-style investigations, players can also perform a Voight-Kampff test on suspects to determine if their human/replicant status. Multiple choices throughout the game lead to several different endings in which McCoy is or isn't a replicant himself.
So Manny Calavera isn't a private eye or a detective, but his role as a travel agent through the Land of the Dead takes him down a similar path. Set over four years (the time it takes a sinner to reach the Ninth Underworld for rest), Manny uncovers corruption in the afterlife and aids damsel Meche Colomar. This LucasArts/Tim Schafer classic still holds up visually, unlike many other titles from this era, due to the simple and distinct art style.