It would have been nearly impossible to compile this list just a few years ago, because the entire concept of a detective game had yet to take hold in mainstream culture. There were some notable exceptions, but the closest you could get was an adventure or puzzle game with a detective-y theme, such as Broken Sword or Professor Layton, which were both released in 2012.
Detective games, on the other hand, have developed into their own subgenre over the last decade, as various titles have experimented with new ideas and systems aimed at creating immersive experiences centred on sleuthing. This new breed of detective games is specifically about asking the right questions, seeking out evidence, and, most importantly, piecing together the clues on your own to come up with your own conclusions.
Defining Crimes and Punishments
Despite the fact that Frogwares has been creating Sherlock Holmes games for at least a decade, the vast majority of them have been far too clumsy and idiosyncratic to fully exploit the premise. Crimes & Punishments is an exception to this rule, as it is a superb sequence of Victorian mysteries that require genuine deduction to solve.
Crimes & Punishments represents a significant advancement over previous Sherlock Holmes games in that it allows you to identify clues and piece them together yourself. If you think of Holmes’ own mind as a pinboard, you can connect different pieces of the puzzle and follow the logical conclusions that arise as a result. It’s important to note, however, that those conclusions are not always correct, and you shouldn’t rely on Holmes to do all of the legwork for you.
Crimes & Punishments is a fantastic place to begin your sleuthing adventures, thanks to the combination of a moody and atmospheric Victorian London and some excellent writing. You should avoid the sequel, The Devil’s Daughter, which wasn’t so much a step back as it was a somersault off a precipice of mediocrity.
Discworld Noir is a fictionalised version of the fictional world of Discworld.
Lewton’s trenchcoat is yours in Discworld Noir, a detective game set in Terry Pratchett’s inimitable comic fantasy world. The game puts you in the shoes of Lewton, the Discworld’s first private detective. Initiated by a mysterious woman who goes by the name of Carlotta, Lewton embarks on a search for her long-missing ex-lover Mundy. Nevertheless, in true noir fashion, what appears to be a straightforward case quickly escalates into something much larger, and potentially more dangerous.
As much as Discworld Noir looks like a fantasy Grim Fandango thanks to its blocky 3D graphics and fixed camera angles, the game is a departure from the obscure puzzles of traditional adventure games in favour of a more direct focus on the act of sleuthing. It’s about having pointed conversations with shifty characters while a soft jazz soundtrack plays in the background, all draped in the rain-slick stonework and wry humour of Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork. Discworld Noir is a unique gaming oddity that is still very much worth playing today because it is witty, clever, and thoroughly entertaining.