In one of her best books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie puts these words into the mouth of her least favourite character, Hercule Poirot: Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.
All detective stories are an attempt to reflect this. Uncovering the truth through clever reasoning, observation and logic is wondrous. You are forced to look at the world anew: a misplaced chair is no longer just a chair, but indicative of a killers escape; a removed lightbulb tells us the killer did not want to be seen. In the eyes of a detective (or a great detective writer), everyday objects are imbued with alien significance. They no longer fit where we think they fit and when we find their proper place, a clear picture emerges. Poirot was a great detective because he obsessed over order and was more sensitive to misplacement. Sherlock Holmes could see tiny stains on a hat and understand the entire life of its wearer.
Whether portrayed through literature, films, TV shows or video games, detective stories ideally invite us to participate in a grand puzzle, allowing us to slot the pieces into place alongside the characters. But sometimes, TV writers deprive us of the opportunity to do so. A classic example is when our detective flourishes some evidence he obtained from his almost magical sources. In the Sherlock Holmes TV adaptation Elementary, for example, Sherlock has access to a hacker group who can simply obtain necessary info. There is no way for the audience to have done that we are held at bay, as though we were a magicians audience rather than the detectives companion.
In video games, though, the player has to solve the mystery themselves; there are no cheap parlour tricks here, and that necessitates some especially clever techniques when it comes to design. Detective games are sometimes sourced from the greats of literature, such as The ABC Murders, based on the book of the same name by Christie but not always. The Bafta-winning Return of the Obra Dinn is a self-contained black-and-white mystery set on a merchant ship whose crew is long dead, and is one of the best detective stories around. Since Gabriel Knight in the 1990s an endearingly trashy series of adventure games about supernatural investigators fighting evil games have been refining the art of a great mystery story.
Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games (2002-21), made by an independent Ukrainian studio, are for me the epitome of detective games. They are full of brain-testing puzzles themed around everything from picking locks to chemical solutions to plant properties. Every story gives you the requisite clues and evidence for you to solve the crime but you are at liberty to figure out the true criminal, how the crime was carried out, and what the punishment should be, and you can interpret a single piece of evidence in a way that leads to a wrongful arrest. In a murder case about plant poisoning, is the main suspect the angry son of the deceased, or does the fact the son knows nothing about plants rule him out?
These games let you wander Sherlocks mind palace, where the evidence is summarised, allowing you to make connections between suspects and evidence and reach your (sometimes incorrect) conclusions. But making mistakes is a key part of puzzle-solving. Being given the freedom to make a wrong deduction is part of what makes these games so interesting.
Frogwares reuses some of the same detective mechanics (including the mind palace) in its open-world Lovecraftian game The Sinking City (2019). Unlike in the Sherlock Holmes games, its possible to miss clues entirely during an investigation in this creepy fictional 1920s Massachusetts, and that can change the conclusions you reach. Players take on the role of a private detective, Charles Reed, whos plagued by visions, nightmares and headaches since the disappearance of the USS Cyclops, the ship he served on during the first world war (a real ship that vanished without trace).
The Sinking City creates an incredible, creepy atmosphere that captures what it is like reading a Lovecraft story and many of Lovecrafts main characters were investigators, even if they werent specifically detectives. In the story The Call of Cthulhu, Thurston is piecing together notes left behind by his great-uncle, and a large portion of the action is dedicated to a detective, Legrasse; in The Horror at Red Hook, the main character is Detective Malone.
The Council, from 2018, meanwhile, is set in the late 1700s and features occult and secret societies as well as classic detective adventures. Players take on the role of Louis de Richet, who discovers that his mother has been missing for some time since arriving on an island owned by a shady lord. Like your classic Christie setup, there is a small, quirky cast of characters who all have some excuse to be there, and some motivation to have committed the crime the detective is solving.
Judgment is a 2018 Japanese genre piece set in the fictional Tokyo district of Kamuroch, and places you in the white shoes of Takayuki Yagami, a private eye investigating some grisly gang murders. In this game, solving the crime is only the beginning of a hardboiled and gruesome story involving plenty of brawls, alongside analysing clues and interviewing witnesses. Though its detective mechanics are not as refined as those of Frogwares, Judgments choices still matter and the clues are real stepping stones towards a conclusion, not magicians parlour tricks.
Detective games are as varied as their characters, but they all tell a story pieced together by some clever person and with help from the games writers and designers, you get to be that clever person. A great detective game balances the satisfaction of a logic puzzle with the interpersonal drama of the best stories from screen and page. When they get it right, theres no better way to experience a mystery.
- Wordle creator overwhelmed by global success of hit puzzle - The Guardian - January 15th, 2022
- 11 NEW Puzzle Games of 2022 - Gameranx - January 15th, 2022
- 'Relicta' is the next free game on the Epic Games Store - NME - January 15th, 2022
- Become a plant detective in this occult botany shop puzzle game next week - PC Gamer - January 15th, 2022
- Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon review - once it clicks it really clicks - Eurogamer.net - January 15th, 2022
- A Storm is Brewing as the SeaRing Team Sets Up the Release of the Demo to their Debut Title SeaRing on Steam Today! - Tech Times - January 15th, 2022
- Daniel King's Power Play Show: Beautiful games in the Kalashnikov - Chessbase News - January 15th, 2022
- Valve and Geico team up for a Portal-themed insurance ad - PC Gamer - January 15th, 2022
- SwitchArcade Round-Up: 'Deathsmiles I-II', 'Pawn of the Dead', Plus Today's Other New Releases and Sales TouchArcade - Touch Arcade - December 31st, 2021
- The Epic Games Store is giving away Moving Out - For The Win - December 31st, 2021
- What is Wordle? The viral word game - Polygon - December 31st, 2021
- Murder mystery games a hit in China but Japan missing the fun - Japan Today - December 31st, 2021
- The best rhythm games on PC - Digital Trends - December 31st, 2021
- How to Make Money Playing Games - Small Business Trends - December 31st, 2021
- Review: Cosmic Express - Movies Games and Tech - December 31st, 2021
- Northern Ireland TV and film industry booming despite pandemic challenges - BreakingNews.ie - December 31st, 2021
- NYT Crossword Answers: M.L.B.'s first Rookie of the Year (1947) - The New York Times - December 21st, 2021
- Puzzle and Game Industry Works to Meet Holiday Shopping Crush - NBC10 Boston - December 21st, 2021
- Jigsaw Puzzles - Puzzle Games on the App Store - December 21st, 2021
- Ever Forward Review Diamond in the Rough (PS5) - PlayStation LifeStyle - December 21st, 2021
- Indie games on the horizon Borneo Bulletin Online - Borneo Bulletin Online - December 21st, 2021
- Murder he shuffled: How the world's most difficult puzzle went viral - The Irish Times - December 21st, 2021
- Marshfield boys hoop morphing into a different kind of a team than last year - Wicked Local - December 21st, 2021
- The Cleaning Up Of Trash, Explained By Its Creative Director - Kotaku Australia - December 21st, 2021
- 10 newb-friendly games to gift to the non-gamers in your life - Destructoid - December 8th, 2021
- Puzzle Games for Kids Online | Play Free Fun Kids Puzzles - December 8th, 2021
- Ever Forward brings Portal-like puzzling to Xbox, PlayStation and Switch - TheXboxHub - December 8th, 2021
- What if Breath of the Wild had an air dash - Polygon - December 8th, 2021
- The biggest new video games coming out the week of 12/6/21 AIPT - AIPT - December 8th, 2021
- How a 1993 puzzle adventure became Apple's 2021 Game of the Year - Cult of Mac - December 8th, 2021
- When We Made... Bonfire Peaks: "In my opinion, storytelling is not really a strength of the medium of games, or what excites me most about... - December 8th, 2021
- New PS5 & PS4 Game Releases - New PS5 & PS4 Games Releasing This Week (December 6-12) - PlayStation Universe - December 8th, 2021
- KITERETSU Has Launched the First VR Game in ZOOKEEPER Series, "ZOOKEEPER: Blast Quest" and Is Now Available on Meta Quest Store - Business... - December 8th, 2021
- Free Games On Epic Games Store - Current, Upcoming, And Past - TalkEsport - TE - December 8th, 2021
- Ty's Time: Ty Jerome's Bench Ascension and the Puzzle Pieces yet to be Placed - Sports Illustrated - December 8th, 2021
- Terrifying Co-Op Puzzler Forces Duos To See A Different Version Of The Game - Kotaku - November 20th, 2021
- SwitchArcade Round-Up: 'Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl', 'Nerf Legends', and Today's Other Releases and Sales TouchArcade - Touch... - November 20th, 2021
- Top toys of 2021: Games, puzzles and activity kits are the standouts - theday.com - November 20th, 2021
- Puzzle Games - 40 Best Puzzle Games To Play In 2021 - November 7th, 2021
- A Battle Royale Mode Is Coming to the Puzzle Game Superliminal - COGconnected - November 7th, 2021
- Say goodbye to your mortal shell with this gorgeous, ghostly puzzle game - PC Gamer - November 7th, 2021
- Unpacking: the meditative puzzle game thats all about organising - The Guardian - November 7th, 2021
- Top toys of 2021: Games, puzzles and activity kits are the standouts - The Union Leader - November 7th, 2021
- Unpacking Might Have The Worst Video Game Boyfriend Of The Year - Kotaku - November 7th, 2021
- Itching to code? These are the best games to learn programming skills - TechRadar - November 7th, 2021
- New Games You Should Play This November: Get Lost in a Puzzle Box, Jump Your Way Out of a Cult, and Craft Your New Life on an Island - TheStranger.com - November 7th, 2021
- Steam Deck could be the PS Vita 2 Sony will never give us - Tom's Guide - November 7th, 2021
- The Top 10 Mobile Games List of October 2021 - mxdwn.com - November 7th, 2021
- 'Unpacking' Is a Lovely Game About the Power of Seemingly Mundane Objects - VICE - November 7th, 2021
- New VR Games November 2021: All The Biggest Releases - UploadVR - November 7th, 2021
- New on Switch: Unpacking, World War Z, Just Dance 2022, A Boy and His Blob, Demon Turf, The Smurfs, Popeye, more - Games Asylum - November 7th, 2021
- Buzzy Puzzles: 5 Spelling Bee Games to Use in the Classroom - The New York Times - October 26th, 2021
- Tandem: A Tale Of Shadows review: pleasing puzzles but short on character - NME - October 26th, 2021
- This new Kickstarter puts a tiny Game Boy-shaped system on a keychain - and it works - SYFY WIRE - October 26th, 2021
- Review: Out of Line - Movies Games and Tech - October 26th, 2021
- Total Mayhem Games on the evolution of Games with Gold success story, We Were Here - TrueAchievements - October 26th, 2021
- How Beatrix Potter and a fear of open water inspired the surreal, Limbo-like horror puzzler Silt - Rock Paper Shotgun - October 26th, 2021
- Happy Halloween on RPS! Have a load of horror-themed writing to celebrate - Rock Paper Shotgun - October 26th, 2021
- The Biggest Console Flops Of All Time - Looper - October 26th, 2021
- Among the Sleep is a horror game freebie on the Epic Games Store - Destructoid - October 26th, 2021
- Xbox Game Pass Oct 2021: Backbone, The Forgotten City, And More - Kotaku - October 26th, 2021
- Award-Winning Game 'Where Cards Fall' For PC and Switch Gets Release Date - COGconnected - October 15th, 2021
- The best hidden object games on PC and mobile - Polygon - October 15th, 2021
- Eye of the Temple review: Spelunking like Indiana Jones - Android Central - October 15th, 2021
- How to clear the mist on Tsurumi Island: Every Perch puzzle and feather location in Genshin Impact - Gamesradar - October 15th, 2021
- "Midnight Protocol" alluded to: The spirit in the machine - Market Research Telecast - October 15th, 2021
- Piece Together The Truth Of A Mysterious Cube - Gamasutra - October 15th, 2021
- Zookeeper World is a glimpse at life without free-to-play restrictions - Destructoid - October 15th, 2021
- Penn State Trying To 'Complete The Puzzle' In Run Game Ahead Of Iowa Showdown - Onward State - October 15th, 2021
- Singaporean Game Knight Crawlers Brings Whimsical Ragdoll Physics to Action RPGs - IGN SOUTH EAST ASIA - October 15th, 2021
- Challenge your mind with Immortus Temporus on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch - TheXboxHub - October 15th, 2021
- Two Player Mobile Game, Get Together: A Coop Adventure, Will Be Available To Play Tomorrow - mxdwn.com - October 15th, 2021
- Best Wii U Games: Many Of These Games Walked, So Their Switch Ports Could Run - GameSpot - October 15th, 2021
- 5 games that look (and play) better on the Nintendo Switch OLED - NME.com - October 15th, 2021
- Aspyr 25 Anniversary Celebration Starts with Big Sales and More - But Why Tho? A Geek Community - October 15th, 2021
- Plant with Care is a laid-back puzzler about growing ingredients that's heading for iOS and Android this month - Pocket Gamer - October 15th, 2021
- PC Building Simulator is free on the Epic Games Store - The Verge - October 15th, 2021
- Get boxed in with Catty & Batty: The Spirit Guide on console - TheXboxHub - October 15th, 2021
- Play Pass celebrates its 2nd birthday with 12 new games including Very Little Nightmares - Chrome Unboxed - October 15th, 2021
- SwitchArcade Round-Up: Reviews Featuring 'Underland' and 'Antonball Deluxe', Plus the Latest News, Releases, and Sales TouchArcade - Touch Arcade - October 15th, 2021