Best Detective Games 2021

If you like playing as a detective and solving mysteries, you'll love our list of the best detective games to play in 2021.

While it can be entertaining to watch detectives in movies, TV, and books work tirelessly to identify key suspects, witnesses, evidence, and events to form a tangled web.

However, there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes with solving a mystery for yourself and cracking the case wide open.

In this list, we’ll highlight the best detective games to play in 2021, including the best detective games on Steam, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.

We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any games!

Related:Best Single-player Games 2021Best Lovecraftian Games 2021Best Walking Simulators 2021

Table of ContentsShow

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.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter puts you in the shoes of a private investigator who can 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 your 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.

Observer is a cyberpunk-themed detective game from the same team behind the horror adventure series Layers of Fear.

In it, you play as a specialized detective known as an ‘Observer’ who can tap into others’ minds using a neural link device, using any evidence to further an ongoing investigation.

This power proves to be a double-edged sword, as your mind will start to deteriorate due to constant exposure to the unfiltered thoughts and emotions of suspects and witnesses.

Things only get worse when you’re tasked with investigating a case of murder in a run-down housing unit whose inhabitants suffer from mental illness and PTSD.

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.

Should you accuse the wrong person, everyone dies, and the real culprit walks free; however, if you guess correctly, only the murderer gets punished, and everyone else gets to ‘graduate.’

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.

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.

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 is.

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 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.

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, with each decision made impacting the story and determining whether Bigby rises above his troubled past or succumbs to his inner rage. 

Set in the Yakuza universe, Judgment is an action-packed detective game that includes numerous references to the Japanese beat-em-up and cameos from recognizable 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 is a stand-out title for both its bold, 1-bit monochromatic art style as well as its ability to take you on an engaging, atmospheric adventure.

You play as an insurance adjuster, tasked with determining how the crew of a mysterious ship met their demise.

To complete this task, you’re given a ‘Memento Mortem,’ a pocket-watch that replays the moments before a character’s death.

The game offers little in terms of tutorials and hand-holding, encouraging you to make discoveries on your own by paying close attention to clues you encounter along your journey.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 in the seedy underbelly of New York City.

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.

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 into 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.

Twin Mirror sees Life is Strange developer Dontnod back at the helm with an original story focusing on a new cast of characters.

You play as 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.

You Might Like These Too

best games like amnesia
Best Games Like Amnesia
Justin Fernandez
Justin Fernandez

As a fan of both indie and triple-A games, Justin finds joy in discovering and sharing hidden gems with other passionate gamers. In addition to reporting on the latest and greatest titles, he manages GamingScan’s social media channels.

More About Justin Fernandez