Everyone loves a good mystery, and even more so if they're the one who gets to solve it. The detective genre has evolved a great deal since its point-and-click adventure game roots, and this list proves how much things have changed. In fact, the games that we're including in this list range from typical noir detective fare to the kinds of games that you'll probably tell us "don't count as detective games" in the comments!
Here's our reasoning, though: A detective game is about more than just a hard-boiled police guy in a trench coat and hat, who loves to grumble about grisly murders in the rain. Detectiving can be done by anyone with a need to uncover, discover, and answer questions, and many of the games we've chosen are about just that: Normal people, pulling threads until the whole thing unravels.
Whether you're a fan of detective work, or you devour mysteries of any kind, or even if you're a total investigation rookie, there are plenty of games on this gigantic list to suit your tastes. Let's get these cases cracking!
We'll start off this list with a slightly more typical detective romp, as Unavowed draws on the '90s point-and-click style of game to offer something that's familiar, yet different. Developed by the kings of the modern point-and-click, Wadjet Eye, Unavowed is all about waking up after One Hell Of A Night with zero memories, and using your detective skills to figure out what happened.
And, as it turns out, that "One Hell Of A Night" is more literal than metaphorical, because you didn't get black-out drunk... you got black-out possessed by a demon, and now you have to retrace your steps and figure out what's going on with the help of the Unavowed, the supernatural detectives of the underground. With some light RPG elements, like choosing your own party to adventure out into the field with, Unavowed is an incredibly well-made, polished, and modern take on an old genre.
Perhaps one of the all-time greats in the modern detective oeuvre despite only being a handful of years old, Disco Elysium is more than just a mere detective game. Your character wakes up with a cracking headache, unsure where he is, who he is, or how to stop throwing up, and quickly you start to piece together events with the help of your stylish, intelligent, and infinitely patient sidekick, Kim Kitsuragi. And you'll soon wish you had just never gotten out of bed in the first place.
Disco Elysium can at times be intimidating, steeped as it is in its own deeply thoughtful political and philosophical leanings — but through its dry sense of humour and its utterly gorgeous, wholly unique palette-knife-painting aesthetics, it will win over just about anyone in the end.
Paradise Killer is the answer to the question: "What if there was a community of avant-garde, vaporwave drag queens who were prone to murder?" No one has ever asked that question, of course, but the answer is a searing neon murder-mystery set in a strange paradisiacal purgatory in which the rulers have been brutally killed... and it's up to you, Lady Love Dies, to find out whodunnit.
The game is presented as a non-linear, open world game, which means you can do things in any old order at any old time. If you wish, you can even start the murder trial right away! But this no-strings investigation style is both freeing and a little scary, with all the responsibility of investigating resting squarely on your shoulders instead of being gently poked along by the game design. We super believe in you, though.
The first of the Dan Gum Rompy games, Trigger Happy Havoc is an excellent start to the series. Set in a school/death camp operated by a maniacal teddy bear, THH is all about trying to survive a brutal killing game by trying to avoid being murdered by all the other students.
It's got elements of Battle Royale and the Zero Escape games, as all the students try to bump each other off to win the great big prize (their freedom), plus more than a bit of Saw in the way it leans into gore and gruesome deaths. Much like Ace Attorney, every murder also winds up in a Class Trial, which sees all of the students try to figure out who did the crime, and sentencing the culprit to yet another horrible death. Basically, you can murder as much as you like... but don't get caught!
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Arguably better in some ways than the first Doggone Romper game, Goodbye Despair takes the "teens murdering each other" plot to whole new places — including the setting itself, which is now a tropical island. Also, this time, all the girls are in bikinis for a significant chunk of the game.
Plenty of shocking twists, violent deaths, and confusing minigames await you in Goodbye Despair, from a weird snowboarding minigame that makes you steer into the answers to questions (because???) to the irritating Hangman's Gambit, which is about playing hangman with a mind-gun (don't ask).
Now, Return of the Obra Dinn is technically not a detective game. It's an insurance claims adjuster game. But describing one of the greatest detective games of all time as "an insurance claims adjuster game" will make precisely no one want to play it, and everyone should play it.
From the mind of Lucas Pope, the developer of Papers, Please, Obra Dinn is a game that can sound terribly dull on paper: A man boards a ship that has been missing for years, and has suddenly washed into port, only to find that the crew is all dead or missing. But with the help of a magic watch, he can witness their last moments of life in order to identify each corpse by name in his Big Book Of Sailors. And all this is done in the name of figuring out how much insurance to claim on the boat. Sure!
Buuuuut Obra Dinn is so much more than its story: It is a beautifully monochrome, gorgeously soundtracked series of vignettes that takes you to weird places, and asks you — wordlessly — to make incredible leaps of logic to figure out who is who on this strange, cursed boat. It's a must-play.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir & Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (Switch eShop)
We'll group these two surprising remakes together, not because they're bad on their own, but because the bumper pack is really the best way to witness these games.
Initially released on the Famicom as Japan-only narrative games, it would take over 30 years for the Famicom Detective Club games to be localised and remastered for Switch, which is the version we have here. Although the two FDC games show their age with their obtuse lack of signposting and puzzle solutions that make no bloody sense, they're surprisingly still a lot of fun to play through.
You'll be investigating two stories: In "The Missing Heir", it's the suspicious death of a wealthy matriarch, with a healthy dose of the supernatural, as people keep claiming to have seen her ghost. In "The Girl Who Stands Behind", you'll be looking into a mysterious school rumour, the death of a young girl, and the slow unravelling of a story that goes back longer than anyone realises.
Just don't ask too many questions about the detective being a 17-year-old kid with no experience... or memories.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a detective story... of sorts. This first-person narrative exploration game is all about exploring an abandoned house, and trying to piece together what happened to its previous owners and inhabitants, through examining the things they left behind, and reliving their deaths through short, fairytale-like vignettes.
It's never fully clear what happened to the individual Finch family members, who all die in strange and unusual ways thanks to the "family curse", but the open-ended vignettes are as beautiful and varied as the characters they are about.
It's also one of the very first games published by Annapurna Interactive, if that gives you a good sense of the vibe!
Much like several of the games on this list, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is technically not a detective game — it's a lawyering game with investigative portions. But with
Sherlock Holmes legally distinct legendary detective Herlock Sholmes working with you, it's hard to say that this game isn't at least a little bit detectivey.
Ryunosuke's detective style is, admittedly, less about following the footprints with a magnifying glass until you stumble upon a shocking reveal, and more about gathering clues that don't mean much until you piece them together in court, with the help of witness testimony.
Still, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (which is two games: Adventures and Resolve) builds on the more hands-off investigative work of the original Ace Attorney games with the use of Sholmes' gadgets, which are able to determine blood matches, skin prints, and various other things that would not have actually been possible in the Victorian era. It's fun, though, so who cares!
From the makers of cult classic games 999 and Virtue's Last Reward, as well as fellow list-mates Danganronpa, comes AI: The Somnium Files, a game that has — you guessed it — a bunch of grisly murders right at the beginning. It's almost like that's Spike Chunsoft's style, and we mean that in a positive way! They're very good at it!
Unlike Zero Escape and Danganronpa, The Somnium Files lets you take a more hands-on approach to altering the future, with sequences that involve controlling an AI eyeball who is also a sexy lady to explore people's dreams within a six-minute time limit. Use that six minutes well, and you could entirely change what happens next...
Aha! Another game with "Detective" in the title! That means it is indisputably a detective game, and we don't have to include any caveats!
"A Fumble in the Dark" is a direct sequel to the first Darkside Detective game, but we've put it first because it improves on its predecessor significantly, elevating the writing, world, and characters while maintaining the series' trademark colourful pixels. As Detective McQueen, the returning protagonist, you'll be searching for your missing partner in this Twin Peaks-esque setting... and you might have to venture into the supernatural realm to solve the case.
It's worth playing the first game before this one to get a real sense of all the returning characters, though.
One of the all-time GOATs of all time, Grim Fandango is LucasArts' and Double Fine's masterpiece of a point-and-click game that's aged surprisingly well.
Manny Calavera, the skull lad on the box art, is stuck at a dead-end job in the underworld, but he accidentally stumbles upon a grand conspiracy of soul-laundering, and spends the next four years attempting to save souls and kick butt in order to stop the evil mafia boss, Hector LeMans.
The combination of traditional noir writing, Day of the Dead-style skulls everywhere, and Tim Schafer's trademark creative direction make Grim Fandango one of the most beloved adventure games ever, and this polished-up version on the Switch is much more palatable than having to play with the clunky controls of the original PC version.