While it can be entertaining to watch detectives in movies, TV, and books work tirelessly to ‘crack the case,’ there’s a certain kind of satisfaction in solving a mystery firsthand. A multitude of potential suspects, witnesses, evidence, and events form a tangled web that can be tricky to make sense of at first. Detective games take this a step further by letting you investigate for yourself while gently guiding you down the right path.
Here, we’ll be highlighting the best detective games to check out next time you’re in the mood to do some sleuthing of your own. Make sure to check back as we continue to update this list with new games and while you’re here, consider reading through our other curated lists:
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Developer: Team Bondi | Rockstar Games – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch
Set during the late 1940s, L.A. Noire is an interactive crime drama in which you play as Cole Phelps, a patrolman turned detective looking to work his way up the police force without compromising his morals. The game sees you inspecting crime scenes for clues, questioning witnesses, and chasing down leads until you’ve narrowed down the list to one or two suspects.
L.A. Noire’s defining feature is its highly-detailed facial rendering technology, which allows for subtle facial expressions that may indicate when a character is lying. Although learning how to interpret these facial cues is a challenge within itself, the feature adds a lot of immersion to the overall experience. Combine this with a strong atmosphere and the flair Rockstar games are known for, and you have a charming yet authentic detective noir game.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Developer: The Astronauts – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter puts you in the shoes of Paul Prospero, a private investigator with the ability to visualize crimes long after they’ve taken place by analyzing clues in the environment. Played from a first-person POV, the game sees Prospero investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young boy in the picturesque town of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin.
Using Prospero’s supernatural powers, you’ll piece together evidence and recreate key moments that paint a much different picture of Red Creek. The best part is how much freedom the game affords you, allowing you to explore the entire valley from top to bottom as you build your case. It also does a great job of incorporating elements of horror and the paranormal without getting too carried away.
Developer: Bloober Team – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | macOS
Observer is a cyberpunk-themed detective game from the same team behind the horror adventure series Layers of Fear. In it, you play as Dan Lazarski, a specialized detective known as an ‘Observer.’ In this world, Observers can tap into the minds of others via a neural link device, using any info they uncover to further an ongoing investigation.
However, this power is a double-edged sword, as Lazarski’s mind begins to deteriorate over time due to constant exposure to the unfiltered thoughts and emotions of his suspects and witnesses. Things only get worse when Lazarskian gets tasked with investigating a case of murder in a run-down housing unit whose inhabitants suffer from mental illness and PTSD.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Developer: Spike – Platform: PC | PS4 | Vita | Android | iOS
Eager to study at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a group of teens quickly realize they’re all pawns in a sinister game concocted by an evil bear named Monokuma. Now trapped in the would-be school, the students are forced to play by Monokuma’s rules, where the only way to escape is to murder a classmate and get away with it.
One-by-one, students start getting killed, prompting you to search for clues, interview key witnesses, and interrogate potential suspects before arriving at a conclusion. The catch being that if you accuse the wrong person, everyone dies and the real culprit walks free. However, if you manage to persevere, the murderer will be the only one punished and everyone else will get to ‘graduate.’
Grim Fandango Remastered
Developer: Double Fine – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | Android | iOS
Grim Fandango is a traditional point-and-click adventure game that greatly benefited from a remastered version with updated visuals, sounds, and controls. The game takes place in an alternate world called the Land of the Dead, a place where all dead souls end up. However, to get there, they first have to travel via various modes of transportation contingent on the number of good deeds they committed during their life.
You play as Manny Cavelera, an afterlife travel agent who discovers his boss has been rigging the system for years. Wanting to set things right, Manny sets out across the Land of the Dead in search of evidence that will prove his boss’s corruption. Each chapter sees you transported to a different environment filled with vibrant and humorous characters.
The Darkside Detective
Developer: Spooky Doorway – Platform: PC | Switch | macOS
Blending contemporary pixel art design with classic point-and-click gameplay, The Darkside Detective is a comedic adventure game with excellent writing and interesting characters. The game sees you playing as detective Francis McQueen, joined by his cop partner Dooley, as the two solve a series of bizarre cases caused by supernatural powers.
McQueen is a bold detective who’s not afraid to speak his mind, even when it comes to complaining about how underfunded his department, the Darkside Division, is. This contrasts nicely with the Dooley, who is much less serious about his job and willing to poke fun at his surroundings. If you’re a fan of detective shows and pop culture, you’ll definitely enjoy the onslaught of references to series like Twin Peaks.
The Wolf Among Us
Developer: Telltale Games – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Android | iOS
The Wolf Among Us is a dark and gritty detective thriller based on the award-winning Fables DC comic book series written by Bill Willingham. Set in an alternate universe where fairytale characters have adapted to modern civilization, the game has you play as Bigby Wolf, aka the big bad wolf. In this society, Bigby holds the title of Town Sheriff, entrusted to keep the streets of Fabletown clean and its citizens safe.
Following the murder of a mysterious woman, Bigby sets out to investigate the crime only to find himself diving deeper and deeper into a pool of conspiracies taking place right in Fabletown. The game takes place over the course of five acts. Each decision, whether verbal or physical, permanently affects the story and will determine whether Bigby rises above his troubled past or succumbs to his inner rage.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku – Platform: PS4
Set within the Yakuza universe, Judgment is an action-packed detective game that includes numerous references to the Japanese beat-em-up along with cameos from well-known characters. The story follows lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami after he’s assigned to a murder case involving a killer who gets joy from removing victims’ eyes.
The game tasks you with searching the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho in search of clues while assisting in smaller cases and sometimes getting yourself in alleyway brawls with thugs. While it may not be the greatest in terms of gameplay variety, Judgment will keep you hooked with its captivating story and excellent cast performance.
Return of the Obra Dinn
Developer: Lucas Pope – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch
Return of the Obra Dinn is a fascinating detective game that manages to create a strong sense of atmosphere despite the limitations of its monochromatic 1-bit visuals. In it, you play as an insurance adjuster tasked with figuring out why the crew of the Obra Dinn mysteriously disappeared. To complete this task, you have your trusty magical pocket watch, called the ‘Memento Mortem.’
This device allows you to replay the moments leading up to a person’s death, allowing you to hunt for clues and determine if and how they died. While it can take some work to get going at the start, you’ll quickly feel delighted by your ability to recall and connect details about characters, events, and even parts of the ship.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
Developer: Frogwares – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One
We would be remiss not to include at least one entry from Frogwares’ adventure mystery series centered on the world’s greatest detective. Crimes & Punishments, in particular, is a great example of how to adapt sleuthing to an interactive medium like video games. Clues aren’t just handed to the player, but instead earned by searching carefully through every nook and cranny of the crime scene.
Once you’ve gathered enough evidence to build a case, it’s still possible to be wrong in your deduction since the game will often withhold critical details from the player. Although the game isn’t realistic enough to be a full-on detective sim, its close enough to the real deal while still finding clever uses for its source material.
Developer: ZA/UM – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | macOS
Disco Elysium is a story-driven RPG that sees you playing as a detective sent to investigate the murder of a man found hanging from a tree. Set in the fictional city of Revachol, the remnants of a failed communist revolution, the game offers a commentary on the lasting effects of political turmoil while serving as a backdrop for the mystery you’re trying to solve.
Hunting down clues and potential leads involve a lot of dialogue, giving you plenty of opportunities to poke and prod around NPCs’ personal beliefs and biases while dealing with your own insecurities. This is where the game’s RPG mechanics come into play, allowing you to acquire an array of unique skills suited for different playstyles.
Developer: Tendershoot – Platform: PC | macOS
In Hypnospace Outlaw, you play as an Enforcer: an internet detective in charge of monitoring the world wide web for criminals looking to pirate music, hack into websites, and spread viruses. Inspired by the golden age of the internet, the game drops players into a sea of janky webpages cluttered with low-res gifs and lines of flashing text.
The actual detective work can sometimes feel tedious, especially after scouring through multiple webpages looking for illegal activity. However, you’re rewired for all your hard work with virtual currency used to purchase various vaporwave-inspired music, wallpapers, and screensavers. There are also a bunch of built-in apps to mess around with, including a sound synthesizer and a virtual pet sim.
Blacksad: Under the Skin
Developer: Pendulo Studios – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | macOS
Blacksad: Under the Skin is a video game adaptation of the Eisner-winning Spanish comic series created by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido. In it, you play as seasoned detective John Blacksad as he tries to solve the suspicious murder of a boxing club owner. The case takes Blacksad deep into the corrupt underbelly of New York City, the perfect setting for a detective story.
Gameplay is divided into crime scene investigations, puzzles, quick-time events, and dialogue choices that affect Blacksad’s character development and the outcome of the story. While Under the Skin has been criticized for minor issues with its controls and visuals, it’s ultimately saved by the quality of its writing. The characters you’ll come across have distinct personalities, stories, and relationships that unfold in some truly interesting ways throughout the game.
Developer: Terrible Toybox – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | Android | iOS
Inspired by classic point-and-click adventure games like Maniac Mansion, Thimbleweed Park tasks you with investigating a small-town murder from the perspective of two FBI agents. Things eventually expand as new persons of interest are revealed and become playable, allowing you to gain further insight on each character’s personality and ulterior motives.
This is another game that’s heavy on references, including nods to Twin Peaks and just about every LucasArts adventure game. Its vibrant pixel art visuals are further complemented by excellent writing brimming with off-beat jokes, dry humor, and the occasional gag. There are also a couple of exciting twists and turns in the overarching mystery that may catch you by surprise.
Developer: Dontnod Ent. – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One
Twin Mirror will see Life is Strange developer Dontnod back at the helm with an original story focusing on a new cast of characters. You play from the perspective of 33-year-old Sam, a man struggling with depression that becomes much worse upon returning to his hometown for his best friend’s funeral. One morning, Sam wakes up in his hotel room to find his shirt bloody, and his memory wiped.
Unable to recall events from the night prior, Sam sets off to investigate where he was and what happened from the time he left his hotel room up until he woke up. The murder mystery aspect appears to be only part of what Twin Mirror has to offer, with the narrative ultimately focusing on Sam finding redemption in the face of bitterness and loneliness. The game is expected to release sometime in 2020.
Developer: EggNut – Platform: PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch
In case you were craving more detective stories featuring anthropomorphic animals, Backbone is an upcoming point-and-click adventure about private eye Howard Lotor. Described as a ‘smart yet stubborn raccoon stuck in his ways,’ Howard finds himself at odds with the authoritative regime in power and systemic inequality that’s plaguing society.
Presented in gorgeous 2.5D pixel art, the game will see you navigating Howard’s day-to-day life in addition to solving cases using stealth, exploration, and branching dialogue mechanics. The full game won’t be out until 2021, but you can get a taste of what Backbone has to offer by playing the first act for free through Steam.