For those unfamiliar, film noir literally means “black film” and the term refers to movies that are edgier, darker and more sinister types of crime dramas. Some of the main characteristics of the genre include cynical attitudes, a sense of hopelessness and a black-and-white visual style. Additionally, most of these films are set late at night and feature a chain-smoking detective who’s trying to solve some sort of a crime and is having a relationship with a femme fatale.
Below, you’ll find a list with ten of the best noir games you can play in no particular order. Of course, some titles take some liberties with the genre, but that doesn’t make the games included in this article less entertaining to play. For the purposes of comparison, some of the best noir films include The Third Man, Chinatown, Sunset Boulevard and The Maltese Falcon. There are certainly a bunch of noir games available, so did I miss anything? What’s your favorite noir game?
Developed by Remedy Entertainment and released in 2001, Max Payne is one of the grittier and darker games I’ve ever played. In the third-person shooter, you assume the role of Max Payne, an NYPD detective who’s trying to avenge the death of his family. At the time of its release, the game felt unlike anything else, since it used voice-over narration and the story was told via comic book panels.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Not a lot of people are familiar with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and while the action adventure game didn’t set the world on fire, this is probably one of the most unique superhero games ever released. Set in four universes from the Marvel Comics multiverse, Shattered Soldier allows you to play as four different Spider-Men and alternate between their universes to progress through the story. One of those universes is Spider-Man Noir which takes place in the 1930s and uses a unique black-and-white visual style. During the events that take place in this universe, the main character uses stealth and timing to silently defeat all of his enemies which feels like a refreshing way to play a Spider-Man game.
Although some people might find the inclusion of this game questionable, I believe that BioShock Infinite is one of the best noir titles you can play. I know that the visuals are colorful and that it’s full of steampunk references, but this game borrows a lot from noir. In the game, you play as former agent Booker Dewitt as he travels to the floating city Columbia to find a girl known as Elizabeth who’s been trapped inside a lighthouse for most of her life.
Probably the most obvious entry on this list, L.A. Noire lives and breaths film noir. The most notable aspects about this game are the painstaking attention to detail in the recreation of 1940’s Los Angeles and the motion capture technology used to bring the characters to life. In the game, you play as a member of the LAPD and you try to solve different cases that take place in different divisions. This involves investigating crime scenes, questioning suspects and following up leads. If that wasn’t enough noir, there are references to noir films like Key Largo, Chinatown, The Untouchables, The Black Dahlia and The Usual Suspects.
One of the most recent noir games released, Gemini Rue is a classic point-and-click adventure game developed by Wadjet Eye Games for the PC, iOS and Android. Gemini Rue takes place in the 23rd century in an independent star system where you play as two different characters: ex-assassin Azriel Odin and amnesic character Delta-Six. Despite its classic graphic adventure look, the game allows you to switch between the two characters to uncover the narrative.
Quantic Dream’s interactive drama is one of the most divisive games released in the past few years, but that didn’t prevent it from achieving both commercial and critical success. The game, follows four characters that are somehow involved in the crimes of the origami killer and the main objective involves performing a series of Quick Time Events to affect the narrative in different ways. Sometimes that means performing some banal actions, but it also means that you’ll be truly engaged with what’s happening on the screen.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is an interactive graphic adventure released on the Nintendo DS that everyone missed back in the day. In the game, you play as Kyle Hyde and you inspect different environments using the portable console’s touch screen to solve puzzles. The game received great reviews for its well-written dialogues, interactive nature and unique use of the Nintendo DS’ capabilities.
Created by Suda51 (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw,) Killer 7 follows Harman Smith who can become one of the seven different assassins from the Killer 7 elite. Each of these assassins has unique abilities: there’s a luchador, an aggressive Irishman and so on. This is a Japanese take on the noir genre, so it’s definitely way too different to most of the games included in this article.
Snatcher is usually consider one of the first games to tackle the neo-noir genre. Created by Hideo Kojima (from Metal Gear Solid fame,) the graphic adventure follows an investigator called Gillian Seed as he investigates artificial life-forms known as bioroids, since they are killing humans and taking their place. Apart from neo-noir, the game’s also influenced by classic science fiction movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blade Runner, The Terminator and Akira. Snatcher was critically acclaimed by reviewers, but unfortunately, the only way to play this game in English is by getting the expensive Mega-CD version of by playing the PlayStation version and installing an English patch.
Usually regarded as one of the best point-and-click adventure games ever made, Lucas Arts’ Grim Fandango combined elements from different genres, including Mexican folklore and film noir. The game’s visual style evokes classic films like Casablanca, On the Waterfront, Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, so if you have any appreciation for those movies, you should definitely check out Grim Fandango.
Other noir games include Murdered: Soul Suspect, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Contrast, Mad World, House of the Dead: Overkill, Indigo Prophecy, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel without a Pulse, XIII, The Last Express, Policenauts, Blade Runner, Mafia II and Sam & Max, among many others.