Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective and CW Riverdale might have revived interest in slow-burn detective stories on TV, but in the video game world these stories have never stopped being popular.
Games that had players gather evidence and solve criminal mysteries were always at the centerpiece of many genres – from point-and-click adventure to action titles. The thrill of piecing together elements of the puzzle leading to the final revelation of the culprit made these games all the more exciting and tested the players’ perceptiveness and logical thinking skills.
Best Detective Games
|1. Max Payne||action-adventure||2001||Remedy Entertainment||Buy|
|2. L.A. Noire||action-adventure||2011||Team Bondi||Buy|
|3. Detroit: Become Human||interactive drama, action-adventure||2019||Quantic Dream||Buy|
|4. Her Story||interactive drama||2015||Quantic Dream||Buy|
|5. Fahrenheit||interactive drama, action-adventure||2005||Quantic Dream||Buy|
|6. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars||point-and-click adventure||1996||Revolution Software||Buy|
|7. Condemned: Criminal Origins||FPS, survival horror||2006||Monolith Productions||Buy|
|8. The Wolf Among Us||urban fantasy, adventure||2013-2014||Telltale Games||Buy|
|9. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter||adventure||2014||The Astronauts||Buy|
|10. Deadly Premonition||survival horror||2010||Access Games||Buy|
|11. Gemini Rue||adventure||2011||Joshua Nuernberger||Buy|
|12. The Last Express||adventure||1997||Smoking Car Productions||Buy|
|13. Return of the Obra Dinn||puzzle||2018||Lucas Pope||Buy|
|14. Hypnospace Outlaw||simulation||2019||Tendershoot||Buy|
|15. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc||adventure, visual novel||2010||Spike||Buy|
|16. Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive||adventure||1996||Access Software||Buy|
|17. Blair Witch||survival horror||2019||Bloober Team||Buy|
|18. Batman: Arkham Asylum||action-adventure||2009||Rocksteady||Buy|
|19. Heavy Rain||interactive drama||2010||Quantic Dream||Buy|
|20. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments||adventure||2014||Frogwares||Buy|
In this list we will take a look at the best games, that featured elements of detective storytelling and mechanics, to give the player a chance to feel like the best fictional investigators of the world.
|Developer/Publisher:||Remedy Entertainment, Gathering of Developers|
Max Payne is a third-person shooter video game, where the player controls the titular character – an ex-NYPD cop and a DEA agent, hunting down the ones responsible for his family’s death.
Throughout the game Max encounters many enemies, from street thugs to well-armed mercenaries, whom he will have to deal with using a variety of weapons – from pistols to shotguns and assault rifles. A characteristic mechanic of MP is bullet-time – the player can slow down time while performing lunges and jumps and continue shooting at enemies.
The detective elements of the game concentrate around the storytelling. Max Payne doesn’t feature many mechanics typical to the genre, like solving puzzles and collecting evidence. However, the story and the way its told bring to mind the neo-noir films of the 80s and 90s, such as L.A. Confidential and Black Rain. The main character narrates the action throughout the gameplay as well as in the graphic-novel inspired cutscenes.
Max Payne received positive reviews from the critics, who praised the title’s atmosphere and level design while criticizing poor cutscene graphics and mediocre voice acting.
|Developer/Publisher:||Team Bondi, Rockstar Games|
L.A. Noire is a TPP action-adventure game, where the player controls a young police detective Cole Phelps.
Phelps, a World War II veteran joins the police ranks after returning from the Pacific front, quickly earning a reputation for himself for solving a series of major cases, including one relating to illegal trafficking of morphine into the states, which ties to Phelps’ past in the military.
Throughout the game the player will be solving criminal cases by collecting evidence, questioning witnesses and confronting suspects. L.A. Noire’s unique mechanics allow the player to read subtle changes in the faces of questioned individuals and decide whether they are being truthful or not. The game’s story will lead the player through several cases each with a different department, earning them ranks from a patrol officer to the Vice detective.
L.A. Noire was met with positive reception, with reviewers praising the crime-solving mechanics, facial performances and the atmosphere of 1940s Los Angeles.
Detroit: Become Human
|Genre:||interactive drama, action-adventure|
Detroit: Become Human is set in the futuristic version of Detroit. Motor City was revolutionized by the introduction of androids – synthetic servants who took over many of the humans’ tasks. However, recently the machines started rebelling against their masters committing acts of vandalism and even murder.
The story of the game is told from the points of view of three androids – Kara, Markus and Connor. With a war between humans and machines all but inevitable, these three characters will decide the fates of both races.
The game features mechanics familiar to those who had played previous Quantic Dream games. The player makes several choices throughout the game that will influence its ending. Unlike previous games of the French studio it is possible that one of the player characters dies, locking out their branch of the story.
The detective aspect of the game is the most prevalent in Connor’s branch of the story. As an investigator android, his task is to examine crime scenes and collect evidence, reconstructing the crime that had occurred.
The game received generally positive reviews from the critics, who praised solid storytelling and excellent graphics while criticizing the heavy-handed message of the title.
Her Story follows the unknown protagonist examining a series of interviews of a British woman, named Hannah Smith. Hannah answers questions asked by an unknown interrogator – the content of these questions is similarly oblique.
To solve the game’s main mystery – the murder of Hannah’s husband, Simon – the player has to piece the whole story from the pieces of information provided by the woman’s answers.
Her Story’s mechanics focus on watching fragments of the interviews and piecing together information about the case. The interviews are transcribed for the player and they can review videos by entering words from these transcriptions into the database search engine.
The game receives critical acclaim for its storytelling, with reviewers pointing out to the fragmented videos leaving the player with more questions than answers and the strongest point of the title.
|Genre:||interactive drama, action-adventure|
Another title from Quantic Dream on our list is Fahrenheit, known in the US as Indigo Prophecy.
The game is set in 2009’s New York City and follows the story of two protagonists. Lucas Kane experiences a series of disturbing hallucinations and trance-like states, during which he had committed a murder. Carla Valenti is an NYPD detective assigned to the case. Together they solve the mystery behind what controlled Lucas’ actions – something related to an end-of-the-world prophecy of an Indigo Child, who can grant immense power to those who learn its secret.
Fahrenheit was the first game from QD that followed their now-trademark gameplay mechanics. The player interacts with the environment and characters pushing the plot forwards. Several dialogue options are available, each leading to different results. The game has three endings, dependent on the player’s action throughout the story.
Fahrenheit received positive reviews and was praised for its storytelling and cinematic gameplay experience.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
|Developer/Publisher:||Revolution Software, Virgin Interactive|
The first true classic on our list. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars tells the story of George Stobbart, an American tourist who witnesses a murder committed by a clown on the streets of Paris, and Nicole Collard – a photojournalist investigating similar murders.
Following the clues, they discover a plot masterminded by the ancient Templar Order, who plan to use a mysterious treasure to gain power over the world.
The Shadow of the Templars features traditional point-and-click adventure gameplay mechanics, where the player interacts with different items and solves puzzles by piecing them together, using them on the environment or giving them to specific NPCs. Unlike many of its contemporaries, the features the protagonist death – the player character can be killed, forcing them to return to the last checkpoint.
The first installment of the Broken Sword series received positive reviews from the critics.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
|Genre:||first-person perspective, survival horror|
|Developer/Publisher:||Monolith Productions, Sega|
The story of Condemned: Criminal Origins follows FBI investigator Ethan Thomas, who works on cases involving serial killers.
Framed in murder by one of them – an elusive Serial Killer X – Thomas must investigate the condemned buildings in the fictional city of Metro, facing their deranged inhabitants and gathering evidence from crime scenes to clear his name.
Criminal Origins features two distinct gameplay mechanics – combat and crime scene investigation. During combat, the player can use an assortment of melee weapons, combining strikes into combos, as well as blocking and evading enemy attacks. During the crime scene moments, the player uses a variety of tools to determine the events that took place. Investigating crime scenes allows the player to progress to previously unavailable areas.
C: CO was met with solid reviews. Critics praised the gameplay mechanics, especially the crime scene puzzles, and brutal melee combat.
The Wolf Among Us
|Genre:||urban fantasy, adventure|
Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us blends a solid detective narrative and interactive adventure gameplay features.
The action of the episodic game series is set in a fantastical version of New York where, creatures known from the fables live among normal humans. Bigby Wolf, the Sherrif maintaining order among the Fable creatures of Manhattan is tasked with investigating a series of murders committed in the area, which could disturb the fragile balance between humans and Fable beings.
TWAU focuses on the player’s choices throughout the game that have a lasting effect on the progress of the story. The game features quick-time events, never letting the player rest to enjoy the story on the screen.
The Wolf Among Us was met with positive reception. Reviewers praised the film noir atmosphere of the game.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a story of Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator, who receives a letter from a young fan, Ethan Carter, inviting him to the boy’s hometown in Wisconsin.
Upon arrival, Paul finds that Ethan has gone missing, and begins a search, discovering signs of paranormal activity in the town, as well as its violent past marked by dead bodies.
TVoEC is an open world game, in which the player can explore the town of Red Creek Valley, gathering the clues as to the whereabouts of Ethan Carter and the mysteries behind the town’s paranormal nature. The player can investigate the deaths of the boy’s relatives by recreating the events that occurred. The game features side quests, which need to be completed to unlock the true ending.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter received positive reviews from the critics, who praised the open-world environment, story and paranormal atmosphere of the game.
|Developer/Publisher:||Access Games, Rising Star Games|
In Deadly Premonition, the game’s protagonist, FBI agent Francis York Morgan investigates a ritualistic murder of a young woman in a sleepy town in Washington.
As he finds more clues to solve the case, more murders are committed in a similar fashion and a mysterious Raincoat Killer takes Francis as his next target.
The game includes both paranormal and psychological horror aspects making for a truly unique experience. The game’s plot deals with dualities, of good and evil, life and death, and so on. The title features open-world mechanics, such as interaction with NPCs, playing minigames, etc.
Deadly Premonition came out to a solid reception, with reviewers praising the atmosphere and unique narrative style of the game.
|Developer/Publisher:||Joshua Nuernberger, Wadjet Eye Games|
Set in the 23rd century in a Gemini star system, Gemini Rue follows the stories of several characters, whose fate intertwine as the game progresses.
Azriel Orin is searching for his brother Daniel, Charlie, a prisoner in a detention facility whose memories have been wiped for unknown reasons, Sayuri, Charlie’s fellow prisoner and Kane, a friend of Azriel’s and a spaceship pilot.
Gemini Rue harks back to the classic adventure games of the 90s with its graphics style and gameplay mechanics. The player controls one character at the time interacting with the environment and NPCs to push the plot forward. Additionally, the game features rudimentary combat mechanics, with the player able to fire and duck behind cover.
Gemini Rue received positive reviews and was praised for its story and retro design.
The Last Express
|Developer/Publisher:||Smoking Car Productions, Brøderbund|
The Last Express takes the player on an unforgettable ride full of suspense and mystery. Set on board the Orient Express, making its last ride between Paris and Constantinople before the outbreak of World War I, the game tells the story of Robert Cath.
The doctor on the run from French and British police hides among the passengers of the most luxurious train in the world. When his friend who invited him onboard is found dead, Cath will have to find clues leading to the murderer.
The Last Express features traditional adventure game mechanics – player interacts with objects and NPCs to solve puzzles. The events in the game occur in real-time, which influences the behavior of NPCs. The AI characters within the game follow their own goals, which can change due to the player’s actions, causing non-linear scenarios to unfold.
The Last Express received positive reviews from the critics.
Return of the Obra Dinn
|Developer/Publisher:||Lucas Pope, 3909|
Return of the Obra Dinn is a first-person perspective puzzle game, where the player acts as an East India Company’s insurance adjuster, tasked with determining the events that had occurred on the Obra Dinn ship, which went missing in 1803, and has washed up four years later with members of the crew missing or dead.
The game mechanics allow the player to explore the ship in search of the clues to solve the mystery. While investigating, the player can use several items: a journal, the ships logbook and a Memento Mortem watch, which allows experiencing the moment of the sailor’s death, as well as the circumstances surrounding it, like for example the persons present at the scene.
The game was met with critical acclaim and received several recognitions, including the award for Best Art Direction at The Game Awards 2018.
|Developer/Publisher:||Tendershoot, No More Robots|
Hypnospace Outlaw allows the player to feel like a true internet warrior, policing the content of the world wide web, known in the game as Hypnospace. As the “Enforcer” – a web moderator for Merchantsoft, the creator of Hypnospace, the player’s task will be to seek out troublemakers and excise them from the cyberspace.
Aside from hunting down trolls, copyright infringers, and other online criminals, the player will be able to indulge in the bountiful content of the internet, downloading screensavers, GIFs and MiDi files, while minding the viruses that will try to invade the player’s space inf they’re not careful enough.
The game received positive reviews and was praised for how faithfully it has recreated the early stages of the Internet.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
|Genre:||adventure, visual novel|
|Developer/Publisher:||Spike, Spike Chunsoft|
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes the player to an elite school where the student court rulings decide on the life and death of their peers.
As Makoto Naegi and his classmates are thrown into a killer game hosted by Monokuma, a horrifying black, and white bear, their only choice is to participate and survive. The rule of the game is simple – the only way to escape is to kill and not be discovered.
Trigger Happy Havoc features to core gameplay areas. In-School Life, the player interacts with NPCs, either in a friendly or investigative manner, as well as collects important clues and evidence. Both of these activities are necessary to win Class Trials, during which students debate on the identity of the murderer through a series of minigames.
D: THH received positive reviews from the critics.
Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive
The Pandora Directive is the fourth installment in the Tex Murphy game series. This time the detective takes on a mission of locating a missing friend of Gordon Fitzpatrick.
As it usually is, the case is more complicated than it initially seems, as Tex is attacked while investigating the missing man’s hotel room. What other misadventures await him? You’ll have to play to find out.
The Pandora Directive was the first game in the series to introduce 3D graphics, based on Under a Killing Moon engine. Another novelty was the introduction of branching plots and multiple endings. The endings depended on the player’s actions and moral code presented throughout the game. The gameplay mechanics remained similar to the other installments – the player interacted with items and characters to solve puzzles and push the storyline forward.
Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive was for its time a critical success, selling in 120,000 copies worldwide, and receiving many positive reviews.
|Developer/Publisher:||Bloober Team, Lionsgate Games|
Blair Witch is an FPP survival horror video game from the creators of the Layers of Fear series. In the fourth game set in the Blair Witch universe, Ellis, a former police officer, arrives in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to investigate a missing child report.
As he and his dog, Bullet, travel further and further into the woods, the reality around them begins to change, the malevolent presence nearly palpable. With his sanity faltering, Ellis will have to find the boy quick or join other victims of the Blair Witch.
Blair Witch features gameplay mechanics familiar to those who had played other survival horror games made by Bloober Team. The player explores the Black Hills forest, finding various collectible items and interacting with puzzles to clear the path forward. Bullet, the player’s canine companion, can be called to access certain areas, and find items hidden within, or to indicate the direction where the player should go. Other mechanics involve using a camcorder to play two types of cassettes, either turning back time or pushing the story forward and cellphone, on which the player will receive calls. Whether they answer or not may affect the ending of the game.
The game received solid reviews for its atmospheric setting and sound design but was criticized for underdeveloped gameplay mechanics.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
|Developer/Publisher:||Rocksteady, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment|
The Dark Knight had to wait long for a game that would unlock the true potential of the character, but thanks to Rocksteady the wait is over. Arkham Asylum takes the player to the infamous psychiatric hospital for Gotham’s most dangerous criminals.
When the Joker takes over control of the facility, releasing all of its inmates, only Batman can put an end to the Clown Prince of Crime’s schemes.
The game combines several aspects of gameplay, creating an explosive mix that will suit the tastes of any fan of the Dark Knight. Arkham Asylum’s Batman can fight, sneak and solve crimes thanks to an array of gadgets at his disposal. The game’s free-flow combat allows taking on entire groups of enemies in a spectacular fashion. The developers didn’t forget about Batman’s gallery of rogues – Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Bane, among others, appear in the game as bosses.
Arkham Asylum received universal critical acclaim, won several awards from various outlets and started a highly popular Arkham game series.
|Genre:||interactive drama, adventure, single-player|
With Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream raised the bar when it comes to blending cinematic and gameplay experiences.
In HR, the player controls one of three characters who are in some way connected with the case of Origami Killer. Ethan, Madison and Norman’s stories intertwine at various points of the game, and the player’s choices throughout the story will decide on the protagonists’ survival.
Heavy Rain features all of the gameplay mechanics the fans of QD games are used to – exploration and interaction with items and characters push the story forward, and player’s choices have a real influence on the relationships between the characters and the outcome of the story.
Heavy Rain was met with solid reception from critics and players alike. Reviewers praised the interactive gameplay mechanics, they were however critical of the game’s story and voice-acting.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
No list of detective games would be complete without the greatest detective of all! Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are the main playable character in this adventure game, focusing on solving a series of independent cases, tied by an overarching plot of a looming terrorist attack.
The gameplay of Crimes and Punishments has the player investigating crime scenes and obtaining clues, which can be then pieced together on the “deduction board”. How the player decides to connect the dots may be a key factor in solving the case or failing to do so. After the culprit is discovered the player can choose to absolve or condemn them, which will affect the story’s progress.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments received critical acclaim, with reviewers praising the game’s improvements over the previous installments in the Sherlock Holmes series.