There are few things more enjoyable in a work of fiction than a good mystery. Those impossible crimes that make the gears in your brain churn. Inexplicable murders, mysterious disappearances, and perplexing riddles. And while reading or watching such stories in novels, TV shows, or movies is a lot of fun, games let you go one step further and take part in the investigation yourself, experiencing the satisfaction of cracking a case first-hand. The following games are the best examples of virtual sleuthing that you can play on PC today.
Westwood Studios / 1997
A rookie blade runner hunts for rogue replicants on the rain-soaked streets of a future Los Angeles. The story mirrors the film a little too closely, but McCoy does a lot more detecting than Deckard. Much of the game is spent scouring the city for clues and interrogating suspects, and the atmosphere is absolutely incredible, perfectly capturing the dark, melancholy mood of the movie.
Team Bondi / 2011
Inspired by pulp detective fiction and film noir, this lavish crime thriller is a slow, methodical game of clue-hunting and suspect interrogation, set in a stunningly authentic recreation of late '40s Los Angeles. The city is an elaborate film set for a variety of compelling interactive cases, from brutal serial murders to stolen cars and arson. Richly atmospheric and absolutely enthralling.
Perfect Entertainment / 1999
Based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, this is a fun send-up of hard-boiled detective fiction. It's mostly a game about talking to people, leaning on them for clues, and opening up new lines of investigation to edge closer to the truth—which actually makes it a truer detective game than most. And the shadowy city of Ankh-Morpork is incredibly atmospheric.
EggNut / 2021
This gorgeous, atmospheric side-scrolling adventure game stars Howard Lotor, a weary, trenchcoat-clad detective in the classic Philip Marlowe mould—who is also a raccoon. Why? Why not. There's some neat detective stuff here, like making you actually draw conclusions from the evidence you collect, rather than the game just picking out the relevant information for you automatically.
LucasArts / 1998
Set in the Land of the Dead, Grim Fandango sees struggling salesman Manny Calavera getting twisted up in a shady conspiracy. Think Glengarry Glen Ross meets Casablanca, but with Tim Schafer's trademark sense of humour. It’s not a traditional detective game like some of the other games here, but the visuals and atmosphere are so steeped in film noir imagery that it feels like one.
The Dame Was Loaded
Beam Software / 1996
This old '90s FMV game features some truly heinous acting and the difficulty is punishing, but it's a clever take on the detective genre. The clock is constantly ticking as you play, and missing certain events can close off leads, making the case unsolvable. Frustrating, but it brings a real sense of urgency to your investigation as you hunt for clues with a deadline forever looming.
Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon
Access Software / 1994
With its sleazy jazz soundtrack, gritty monologues, and trenchcoat-wearing hero, Under a Killing Moon is unashamedly an homage to film noir—but set in San Francisco in the future of 2042. Murphy, a booze-soaked PI down on his luck, suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of a doomsday cult. Its combination of 3D environments and live-action FMV is extremely 1990s.
Joshua Nuernberger / 2011
This cyberpunk adventure is set in the far future, taking place on a distant planet in the Gemini system. In a rainy Blade Runner-inspired urban setting, it follows cop Azriel Odin as he searches for his missing brother. And eventually his story becomes entwined with another, very different playable character. This is another entry that isn't strictly a detective game, but has the feel of one.
Sam Barlow / 2015
In this stylish FMV adventure you take a non-linear path through a mystery by searching a fragmented archive of video clips—and the story becomes clearer with each one uncovered. This unique freeform structure, combined with understated and believable police interview clips, makes it a bold narrative experiment. And piecing together the story really makes you feel like a detective.
Inkle / 2021
Veronica Villensey has murdered her husband in cold blood, and you're going to help her get away with it. This is the devilish premise of Overboard, a superb interactive fiction game from Inkle, the studio behind 80 Days. Cleverly, it's a detective game in reverse. Rather than solving a murder, you're covering one up, and helping Veronica get away with the crime is incredibly satisfying.
Osmotic Studios / 2016
In the dystopian Orwell (what else would it be with a title like that) you’re a government agent who’s been given permission to pry into people’s personal lives, digging through private chats, emails, and social media profiles to pin crimes against the state on them. It's a spiralling conspiratorial thriller, and throws in enough twists and surprises to keep things interesting.
The Painscreek Killings
EQ Studios / 2017
Many games on this list are really good at simulating being a detective, but cult favourite The Painscreek Killings is one of the few where you actually have to be one. Set in an abandoned American town in the 1990s, you play as a journalist investigating a series of murders, and you really have to use your mind, intuitively piecing clues together, to get any kind of resolution out of it.
Half Mermaid / 2019
In this follow-up to Her Story you're given access to an archive of secretly recorded video calls taken from the laptops and mobile phones of four very different people. These troubled souls are complete strangers to you, their lives a total mystery. But by the end of the game you'll know them intimately, and will have uncovered a series of shocking truths about their lives.
Variable State / 2016
In this stylish, minimalist adventure game you play as an FBI agent investigating a disappearance in rural Virginia. It's a series of short first-person vignettes, stitched together with snappy TV-style editing. The game is completely linear, often to a fault, but the compelling way the mystery unravels and the strength of the characters makes up for it—and all without a single line of dialogue.
Sam & Max Hit the Road
LucasArts / 1993
This adventure follows freelance detectives Sam (a dog) and Max (a rabbit) as they track down a bigfoot who’s gone missing from a carnival. The case takes them across the United States, and it’s genuinely funny throughout. Our heroes are detectives by trade, Sam & Max is more in line with other LucasArts adventures from the era, with absurd item puzzles and wild leaps of logic.
Tendershoot / 2019
You're an internet detective, tasked with hunting down illegal content on the GeoCities-inspired Hypnospace. This garish (and hilarious) simulated internet, inspired by the golden age of the web, is hiding all kinds of illegal content, and you really have to work to find the offending material, infiltrating hacker collectives, locating hidden pages, and cracking passwords.
The Darkside Detective
Spooky Doorway / 2017
This reference-heavy adventure game is pretty traditional when it comes to point-and-click puzzle design, but the funny writing and great characters make it. You play as Francis McQueen, and along with sidekick and foil Dooley, you solve cases with a hidden supernatural element, like a goofier X-Files. FTL composer Ben Prunty also provides an excellent, atmospheric soundtrack.
The Last Express
Smoking Car Productions / 1997
Set aboard the Orient Express in 1914, The Last Express is a superb crime thriller with a unique real-time structure. You have limited time to solve a variety of mysteries on the train, including the brutal death of a passenger—who also happens to be your friend. There’s never been another game like it since. The time element can be stressful at first, but it's worth persevering with.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
Frogwares / 2014
A classy, understated period detective game, and one of the best examples of the genre on PC. Clues gathered from the game's wonderfully detailed, atmospheric crime scenes can be pieced together in Holmes’s mind palace—and the conclusions you draw from these connections might not always be correct, meaning you can pin the crime on the wrong person if your deduction is flawed.
Cryo Interactive / 1992
This fairly obscure adventure game, renamed Conspiracy for its CD-ROM release, sees you working inside the KGB at the end of the Cold War, trying to root out corruption. A very different take on the detective genre, and brutally, punishingly difficult thanks to its real-time structure. If you play the CD-ROM version you get FMV cutscenes starring Donald Sutherland as your father.
The Flower Collectors
Mi'Pu'Mi Games / 2020
Inspired by Hitchock's Rear Window, this neo-noir adventure game takes place entirely in an apartment overlooking a plaza in Barcelona in the 1970s. You play as an ex-cop in a wheelchair who witnesses a murder and takes it upon himself to crack the case. It's a compelling mystery, and teaches you a little something about the history and politics of post-Franco Spain in the process.
Return of the Obra Dinn
Lucas Pope / 2018
The crew of the Obra Dinn has mysteriously disappeared, and you've been sent to investigate. You can revisit the exact moment of a person's death, and through these vignettes you piece together their name, how they died, and who (or what) was responsible. This is an immensely satisfying detective game because it trusts you to solve each mystery yourself with no hand-holding.
Kaizen Game Works / 2020
A wildly original detective game with a killer soundtrack, where you're free to investigate on your own terms. You explore a vivid and deeply strange tropical island at your own pace, pick up clues in any order, and create links to solve a brutal mass murder. This makes exploring extremely rewarding, and a single piece of evidence can completely change your perception of the case.
Wadjet Eye Games / 2018
This supernatural adventure from genre veterans Wadjet Eye Games sees you joining the Unavowed, a paranormal police force. It's a classic point-and-click game, but with some light RPG elements, such as choosing from one of three backgrounds for your character. The shadowy streets of New York make for an evocative setting, and the game mixes the magical and the mundane brilliantly.
Access Games / 2010
Taking its inspiration, at least on a surface level, from cult TV series Twin Peaks, this is one of the strangest games on PC. It’s the tale of an FBI agent hunting a serial killer in a small American town, and a semi real-time structure means you have limited time to investigate crime scenes and grill suspects. It's incredibly janky, but depending on who you ask, that's all part of its charm.
The Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games / 2013
This episodic adventure from Telltale has a distinct film noir feel. It’s set in a world where fairy tale characters are real, living in secret in New York. The severed head of a girl on the doorstep of Bigby Wolf triggers its mystery. But like any good noir story, The Wolf Among Us can't be solved. The finale satisfyingly resolves the plot, but there is no right choice, and there is no winning.
The Sinking City
Frogwares / 2021
This Lovecraft-inspired open world detective game is from Sherlock developer Frogwares. It borrows some of Holmes' excellent investigation and deduction systems, but adds a supernatural, cosmic horror twist. It's not entirely successful, let down by poor writing and tedious combat. But there's some great detecting in here, and the urban setting is wonderfully gloomy and atmospheric.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt RED / 2015
Geralt of Rivia is basically a fantasy gumshoe, who begins most quests by using his witcher senses to look for clues. He even has the gruff voice and weary manner of a film noir detective. Solving murders, rooting out corruption, and exposing liars are just a few of the dick-like activities he indulges in. Take away all the fantasy stuff and some quests are just straight-up detective mysteries.
ZA/UM / 2019
A police RPG of improbable depth. Your fatally hungover detective peels himself off the carpet and begins the laborious process of piecing his broken mind back together, while simultaneously attempting to solve a gruesome murder and untangle an elaborate conspiracy. Gorgeous art, superb writing, and an inky black sense of humour make Disco Elysium a true modern classic.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
Sierra Entertainment / 1993
A classic adventure is set in New Orleans. Knight is investigating a series of voodoo-related murders. He’s no detective—he’s an author researching a book—but that doesn’t stop him from studying crime scenes and interrogating suspects as he hunts for the truth. The game was inspired by Alan Parker’s brilliant neo-noir film Angel Heart, which dealt with similar themes.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
Revolution Software / 1996
A tourist is almost killed when a clown blows up a Parisian cafe, and he takes it upon himself to find the culprit. Broken Sword weaves real-world history with a gripping tale of cults and conspiracy. It's a globe-trotting adventure, whisking you away to memorable locations including a Syrian marketplace to a Irish country pub, and its balance of mystery and humour is pitch perfect.
Wadjet Eye Games / 2006
The Shivah features the unlikely hero of a middle-aged Rabbi. It’s short, but it’s remarkable in its lack of hand-holding. A former member of his synagogue has been murdered under mysterious circumstances, and he takes it upon himself to find out why. It’s a mature story that deals with issues of faith and morality, but with a few jokes too. Make sure you play the enhanced Kosher Edition.
SFB Games / 2019
Tangle Tower is a point-and-click puzzle game that follows Detective Grimoire and his partner, Sally, as they investigate a murder case of a painting that apparently killed its creator. It has a great mystery with lots of fun twists and turns, Grimoire and Sally make a perfect detective duo, and the art is gorgeous. The light-hearted tone and absorbing mystery make this a real pleasure to play.
Terrible Toybox / 2017
Federal agents Ray and Reyes investigate a murder in the remote town of Thimbleweed Park. A body is found lying under a bridge on the edge of town, but none of the locals seem to know anything about it, or even who the victim is. It strikes a delicate balance between giving you clues and making you do the legwork, which makes solving a tricky puzzle enormously satisfying.
Whispers of a Machine
Clifftop Games / 2019
A point-and-click detective adventure with a Nordic noir vibe, set in the near future. You play as an investigator who can use augmentations to help her solve a string of mysterious murders—including the ability to sense when someone is lying or knows more about something then they're letting on. The story is great, the world is well realised, and the high-tech detecting is a lot of fun.
Shadow of Memories
KCET / 2002
This forgotten Konami game (called Shadow of Destiny in North America) sees you traveling between time periods, trying to solve the mystery of why someone keeps murdering you—and why you keep waking up afterwards unscathed. A bizarre curio with some really interesting ideas. It has fun with the time travel premise too, like freaking out medieval peasants with your cell phone.
Quantic Dream / 2005
Before it goes all indulgent and supernatural at the halfway point, Fahrenheit is a brilliantly tense crime thriller. The opening scene where you cover up a murder scene as one character, then investigate it later as a homicide detective, is a highlight. A confused mess of a game, but one with a few standout moments. Also features a soundtrack by Angelo 'Twin Peaks' Badalamenti.
Lucifer Within Us
Kitfox Games / 2020
In this unusual detective game you play as a digital exorcist whose job is to root out sinners and banish demons. These demons force people to commit terrible crimes, including murder, which is where the detective bit comes in. It's over too quickly, but this is a fun detective game with some cool ideas, like witness and suspect testimonies being presented as an interactive timeline.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Spike Chunsoft / 2016
Students think they’ve been invited to study at an elite school, but have in fact become unwitting pawns in a sinister game. Trapped in the school, the only way to escape is to kill another student and get away with it. And when students start dying, it’s up to you to search for clues, interview people, then make your final case in court. Pin the crime on the wrong person, everyone dies.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Capcom / 2019
In this trio of funny, bizarre visual novels you play as an attorney who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. You spend much of your time outside of the courtroom snooping around crime scenes for clues, interrogating people, and constructing a case. And once you've pieced everything together, taking your evidence into court and assaulting the suspect with the cold, hard facts is a thrill.
Murder By Numbers
Mediatonic / 2020
Part crime drama, part picross anthology, Murder By Numbers is a surprisingly effective blend of mystery visual novel and puzzle solving. It features sharply dressed characters, garbage ex-husbands, prickly detectives, glitzy award shows, and cute robots. It's fun, flashy, and has decent puzzles. Think Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but with more murder and a lot more maths.
AI: The Somnium Files
Spike Chunsoft / 2019
In this lavish near-future visual novel you play as detective Kaname Date, an investigator on the trail of an elusive serial killer who gouges victims' eyes out. As well as searching crime scenes for clues, you can also journey inside people's dreams. Some of the humour is a little crass, but the moody atmosphere, vivid art direction, and twisting story makes this worth investigating.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Capcom / 2021
Set in Meiji era Japan and Victorian London, this collection of two Ace Attorney prequels is one of the most relentlessly fun detective games on our list. It features a vibrant, funny script, incredible character designs and animation, unpredictable cases, and hectic courtroom battles. You also hang out with 'Herlock Sholmes', a bumbling detective who isn't as clever as he thinks he is.
Sketchy Logic / 2015
Inspired by the Ace Attorney games, this quirky bird-based courtroom battler also features a fair amount of crime scene investigation. Set in Paris in the 1840s, you must gather clues, build a defense, then present it in court. But, interestingly, it's possible to fail horribly and have a case thrown out, which adds some enjoyable (and occasionally stressful) peril to the game's tight, fun trials.