There’s nothing quite like donning your period-appropriate hat and coat and hitting the streets in search of a criminal at large. From London in the 1800s to Los Angeles in the 40s to modern policework, the best detective games are thematic, puzzly and provide a sense of adventure.
A couple of years ago, there really weren’t many to choose from, but a slew of recent releases has provided a veritable smorgasbord of options. Taking advantage of modern technology and game design, there are some cracking detective games out there today.
So put on your thinking cap and follow me into the world of the murder mystery. We have some criminals to catch!
The original detective game – it still holds up well today. You can’t beat Sherlock Holmes for a detective theme and the game does a great job of providing you with the freedom to investigate any avenue you like.
Each case provides some backstory and then you visit locations and read from a book to see what you can learn from that location. It’s not very interactive, but you keep following leads, collecting information from suspects until you can piece together a solution and present your case to Sherlock Holmes.
You’re trying to complete your theory visiting as few locations as possible. Holmes gives you the solution at the end and makes you feel bad by solving it with far fewer leads than you needed! There is even a period-appropriate newspaper to read before each case that might provide additional clues.
Unusually for a detective game, this one isn’t co-operative. Instead one player plays the “chisel” who is attempting to thwart the detectives’ attempts to solve the crime.
As a detective, when you interview a suspect, the chisel selects from a number of possible responses to show you. These vary from being very helpful to outright lies. If you think the suspect isn’t being helpful, you can challenge them. If you’re right, you get the truth out of them, but if you’re wrong (and they were already being honest) then the chisel gets leverage over you, which makes your life harder during future interrogations.
It’s a neat system that works well and provides a human element that often isn’t present in other detective games. The theme (Film Noir L.A. in the 40s) is implemented perfectly. Competitive sleuthing isn’t for everyone, but if you fancy something different, they’ve done a great job with this one.
Most of the Exit series provide a fantastic series of puzzles with a thin veneer of theme pasted on top. Dead Man on the Orient Express provides a much greater sense of story though and makes you feel like an actual detective. I love Agatha Christie’s novels and the theme is right on point.
Like the other Exit games, the focus here is on moving from location to location (as prescribed by the game) solving puzzles. However, in this one you’re also trying to work out “whodunit”. There’s no freedom of choice, but the overarching mystery keeps you engaged.
I’m also a big fan of locked room mysteries and the train setting captures that well. Can you figure out how the murder was committed and by whom? One of the best Exit games.
The big difference with this one is the innovative use of the app. Set in modern-day London, you have a set of suspects and locations that you can visit and you do so by scanning QR codes (on the cards) with a mobile app.
If you visit certain locations (eg. the crime scene), the app drops you into a VR view of the scene where you have to try and identify clues and useful objects (represented by cards). You can then ask any suspect in the game about any object or individual by scanning the appropriate QR codes.
It’s a little clunky at first, but once you get used to it, the big advantage is the freedom it provides you as a detective. You really can ask anyone about anything. Sometimes you have a employ a bit of lateral thinking (in terms of how you use the cards) to ask the question you want, but the overall experience is really satisfying.
The Granddaddy of all detective games, this is much heavier than most of the other games due to the sheer amount of information you are provided with. It’s similar to Chronicles of Crime in terms of the theme and the basic premise, but they use cards instead of an app to provide a way for you to ask questions.
As well as a booklet of information for each case, there’s a fake criminal database website that you use (eg. with a laptop). There is a lot of information to take onboard with this one and you really need a dedicated note taker to keep track of all the people and clues. The game even uses real people and places from history that you might need to research on Wikipedia, for example.
The game has a nice time track to focus your investigation. There are far too many possible leads for you to explore them all so you often have to make tricky decisions about which avenue to take next. If you’re happy with a heavy 3+ hours of focussed concentration, this will make you feel like a real detective more than any other game out there.
Which is your favourite detective game? Have I missed any corkers?