L.A Noire: Rockstar's bloody battering ram into the mainstream

Opinion: Crime thriller will leave no room for shallow media complaints, says Tom Pakinkis...

Back when I was a tween, I was never allowed to roam around the top-down, crime-ridden, 18-rated world of Grand Theft Auto. (It was so long ago, no-one had even coined the word "tween" for others to casually drop into the start of a column. Which was undoubtedly a good thing.)

Apparently, my parents didn't like the idea of me stealing police cars, committing localised Hare Krishna genocide or sexing hookers in the back of my car. The squares!

I did, however,have enough deviant friends - the sherbet snorters, the M&M poppers - to expose me to Rockstar's original GTA trilogy in my more tender years. That's right: stand-up parenting or not, T-Pizzle was no stranger to the middle-class, suburban ghetto. Ya feel?

Rockstar was one of the first industry names I became familiar with, not only because of the way GTA's taboo content made the iconic [R*] logo all the more memorable - particularly that of the no holds barred, 3D GTA III - but because of the media hoo-haa the company attracted then and ever since.

They never subscribed to the Daily Mail's "evil games!" shrieking - my career would have no doubt been somewhat different if they had - but my parents were by no means alone in their apprehension.

And who could blame them? Not only did Grand Theft Auto of the late '90s and the turn of the Millenium centre around ruthless gangland violence, it rewarded efficient mass-murder by singing "Kill Frenzy!" like a gameshow host and packing your pockets with extra cash.


Rockstar's blackened reputation amongst Middle England got worse before it got better. Have a flick through the publisher's back-catalogue and you'd think it was antagonising parents on purpose; Manhunt was graphic enough to be denied a sequel by the BBFC - plastic bag suffocations and all - and Bully, while nowhere near as horrific in tone, wore its colours on its sleeve and its mantra on its box.

(It might have been one of gaming's great in-jokes - that Bully actually placed you in the role of taking on the school agitators. But that didn't stop Rockstar changing its name to Canis Canem Edit in the UK to appease those who can't read a back of a box.)

Then, of course, there was anti-GTA lawyer Jack Thompson, who wrote a letter to the mum of Rockstar boss Strauss Zelnick pouring shame on her for spawning a violence and pornography-pushing son. Justified? Not at all - but perhaps an extreme illustration of a wider public feeling.

Sooner rather than later, this hectoring of Rockstar even began to affect municipal bodies - like when it was silenced by the Chicago Transit Authorityin 2008. The CTA pulled GTA IV adverts from buses just days after they went up.

Tell all this to someone out of the loop and they'd be forgiven for thinking you were describing some renegade rebel movement. With its latest blockbuster, however, Rockstar gave itself a chance to force a change in the public perception.

We can argue all day about whether or not Red Dead Redemption was just Grand Theft Auto in the wild west but, by placing it's brand of gameplay in such a setting, the craftsmanship of Rockstar San Diego shone through - with comparatively fewer black media clouds to get in the way.

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