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The Ultimate Guide to the Best Detective Games on PC: From Noir to Fantasy

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.

L.A. NoireTeam Bondi / 2011Inspired 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.

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The Dame Was LoadedBeam Software / 1996This 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.

Gemini RueJoshua Nuernberger / 2011This 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.

Overboard!Inkle / 2021Veronica 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.

The Painscreek KillingsEQ Studios / 2017Many 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.

Hypnospace OutlawTendershoot / 2019You'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.

KGBCryo Interactive / 1992This 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.

Return of the Obra DinnLucas Pope / 2018The 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.

Strange HorticultureBad Viking / 2022After inheriting a plant shop in a quiet but odd little town, you'll have to identify the unusual plants your customers ask for. I know, it doesn't sound like a detective game, but it really is. Follow clues to find new plants, closely examine flowers, leaves, stems, petals, and bulbs to identify them, and grow your shop's collection. There's a big, mystical mystery at the heart of Strange Horticulture, but just the small act of finding a new plant and figuring out what it is and what it does is supremely satisfying.

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Paradise KillerKaizen Game Works / 2020A 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.

The Sinking CityFrogwares / 2021This 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 HuntCD Projekt RED / 2015Geralt 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.

Disco ElysiumZA/UM / 2019A 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.

Tangle TowerSFB Games / 2019Tangle 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.

FahrenheitQuantic Dream / 2005Before 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 UsKitfox Games / 2020In 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.

Murder By NumbersMediatonic / 2020Part 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 FilesSpike Chunsoft / 2019In 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 ChroniclesCapcom / 2021Set 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.

Aviary AttorneySketchy Logic / 2015Inspired 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.

In the seedy underbelly of Ankh Morpork, private investigator Lewton has been hired to investigate a brutal murder in the city and quickly becomes embroiled in a dark and sinister plot. Fans of the Discworld novels will recognise locations and characters in Ankh Morpork, such as The Palace and the City Watch, but unlike the first two Discworld games, Noir takes on an edge of its own, deviating from the usual tone of the series by swapping wizardry and magic for werewolves and jazz bars.


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