Grab your thinking cap, ready your sidekick, and bring a fresh note book with you. We’re on the case to bring you all the best detective games on PC
What are the best detective games on PC? We’ve all seen an episode of CSI or Law and Order, read a John Grisham book, or listened to a true crime podcast, and thought, “Yeah, I could do that, I could solve the case.” Now you can live out your best detective dream and solve murders, cold cases, and unresolved mysteries through the best detective games on PC – so grab your deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, you’ll need them.
We’ve investigated the best detective games around, from gritty episodic adventures to old school point and click puzzlers, all with their own unique case-cracking mechanics to test even the cleverest gumshoe.
If you’re looking for a sprinkling of sci-fi on your mystery, a touch of fantasy in your murder, or a raw police procedural, then we’ve got you covered with our picks of the best detective games on PC.
Here are the best detective games:
Broken Sword isn’t quite Monkey Island in the point-and-click adventure games rankings, but it more than makes up for its lack of pirates, sword fights, and grog, with fiendishly clever puzzles that you’ll spend just long enough pondering before you figure out the correct solution.
The Broken Sword series follows George Stobbart and Nico Collard as they are drawn into dark conspiracies and ancient plots. The writing is sharp and charming, as George and Nico become tangled in all sorts of villainous escapades over the course of the series, meeting and questioning eccentric characters wherever they go. Broken Sword is a wonderfully testing point and click adventure series, taking polite murder and intrigue to the romantic and idyllic cobbled streets of Paris and beyond.
In this iridescent noir setting where all our childhood fantasies live together in the grimy, crime-infested Fabletown, located in a modern day Manhattan. You take on the role of the Big Bad Wolf, Detective Bigby. In this episodic mystery from Telltale Games it’s your job to keep the town in order, while investigating the violent murders of fairytale characters, using dialogue choices as your primary path to justice.
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Your flatmate is a pig with a bad attitude, Mr Toad isn’t taking his Glamour (an enchantment used to disguise fairytale characters from humans), and a severed head has just shown up on your doorstep. You’ll run into familiar characters including Snow White, the Huntsman, and Sleeping Beauty, as you slowly unwind the mystery of the Fabletown killer. The premise comes across a twee, but in true Telltale fashion this is a po-faced and sombre narrative – there’s not a lot here in terms of case work, but just like in The Walking Dead, your choices have serious and far-reaching consequences.
This first-person exploration game tells the story of Detective Paul Prospero and his paranormal hunt for missing boy Ethan Carter in Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter wears its Twin Peaks and Village of the Damned influences on its sleeve, as you analyse clues and recreate scenes using paranormal observation skills.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is haunting and unsettling, contrasting the natural beauty of the region with the unnerving quest to find the missing boy before it’s too late. You’re free to explore the isolated valley in its entirety, allowing you to explore every nook and cranny, and delve deep into the secrets of Red Creek and what really happened to Ethan Carter.
You’ll find tiny clues hidden in the unlikeliest of places, prompting you to regularly venture off the beaten path for more narrative tidbits. Unlike so many other detective games, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter lets you theorise your own conclusion from all of the evidence you unearth.
Managing to make players feel as smart as the world’s greatest detective without granting them too many supernatural abilities is no mean feat. In Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments it’s largely up to you to scour the scene for evidence, piece it all together, and point your finger at the correct culprit.
Holmes’ otherworldly intuition will help you out from time to time, but what makes Crimes and Punishments special is how much freedom you’re allowed to get things wrong. It’s possible to luck out and condemn the right crook, but you’ll often be left wondering if you drew the right conclusions or missed a key piece of evidence as you wrap a case.
While the animations and graphics are a bit wobbly, the performances are solid throughout and each case is steeped in all the mystery and grandeur you’d expect from the novels. It’s not just one of the best detective games, it’s the best Sherlock Holmes game we’ve played in years.
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.
Related: Check out the best old games on PC
While Rincewind has his trusty luggage to store items, Lewton has a notebook in which to store all clues and slowly cross off each one, opening up places and discovering new threats. There’s something terrifying about the lonely streets that cut through Ankh Morpork, not to mention the spidery characters you’ll meet in its shadowy alcoves.
In the world of Grim Fandango, when you die and embark on your journey to the Land of the Dead, you’re assigned a travel agent who determines the mode of transport you take which is determined by how many good deeds you have completed in the Land of the Living. Enter Manny Cavelera, an afterlife travel agent with a jerk of a boss, a smarmy rival, and conspiracy to solve.
Manny’s own journey through this point and click detective game is both humorous and dark as he becomes a travel agent turned noir detective upon discovering his boss has been rigging the system and damning countless souls to an arduous trek to the Land of the Dead. The characters you meet are loaded with charm and humour, and every new chapter is a feast for the eyes as you explore new locales in the afterlife.
In 1940s L.A you play as Cole Phelps, a police patrolman turned detective, on a mission to work your way up through the police force without deviating from your morals along the way. You comb through crime scenes, question witnesses, and pursue leads until you’ve got a suspect or two who you can interrogate. How well those interrogations go depends entirely on your investigatory nous, the number and quality of clues you’re able to unearth, and your ability to read and react to microexpressions when questioning witnesses and suspects. This is a completely interactive crime drama, replete with all the detail you’d expect from a Rockstar title.
As with any classic noir there are plenty of surprises along the way, so expect the odd shootout in a Hollywood film studio or a car chase through the iconic flood-control basin. It’s not long before you uncover a major arson case with ramifications that go far beyond the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles.
A narrative-driven RPG where you’ll shape your character by assigning skills, clothes, and items as you attempt to solve a grisly murder with the mother of all hangovers. Disco Elysium adds its own spin on procedural police work by letting you use your own hurriedly reassembled mental state to veer wildly off course at any given moment – you’re unconventional, but you get results. It’s a wickedly clever RPG game, with dialogue heavy interactions that are brought to life by some of the sharpest writing in any game we’ve played.
Related: Check out our Disco Elysium review
There are multiple ways of deciphering scenarios and progressing the plot, dictated by your characters muddled-together personality traits. Will you play the professional detective who rocks up in a suave suit, or the belligerent drunk who bulldozes through the crime scene in soiled briefs? It’s not hard to see why Disco Elysium was one of 2019’s best PC games.
In this cyberpunk detective game, you’ll explore the sodden planet Barracus as detective Azriel Odin, stumbling through a rotten world where identities are bought and sold, and people slowly lose their grip on their lives through debt and drug addiction. Azriel’s story is intertwined with that of another playable character, Delta-Six, a man without a memory who wakes up in a bizarre training facility on the other side of the galaxy.
This moody point-and-click adventure game has plenty of references for sci-fi fans, with Blade Runner and Phillip K. Dick clearly key inspirations for developer Joshua Neurnberger. If you’re a fan of cyberpunk games, pixel art, and bleak dystopian cities then this grim noir tale is a must.
Not all detective games are about police work. In Return of the Obra Dinn – easily one of the best indie games of the decade – you play as an insurance evaluator investigating the disappearance of crew members and passengers from a merchant ship, the titular Obra Dinn. Armed with a pocket watch you’ll need to solve each individual death, scribbling down clues into your journal as you go and eventually piecing together the tragedy that befell this mysterious ghost ship.
The simplicity of this mystery is in the real detective work and the hours you’ll need to put in to tie up every loose thread. Instead of unravelling a live murder or ongoing case, you’re working on a proper cold case, scouring through the eerie interior of the vessel for any and all evidence you can get your hands on.
Both games in this series are worth playing for their earnest and charming dialogue, not to mention the fact that each one will only take you an hour or so to romp through. Frog Detective 2: The Case of the Invisible Wizard dumps the greatest detective in the world – who just so happens to be a frog – on another island with plenty of townsfolk to question and hidden objects to discover with a gigantic magnifying glass.
Frog Detective 2 is about as far away from a hardboiled detective drama as you can get while still nominally being about solving mysteries, so if you’re looking for a more relaxed experience this is a visual treat packed with twee jokes at every turn.
Take a journey back to 19th century England and Japan as you step into the shoes of rookie lawyer Ryunosuke Naruhodo, one of Phoenix Wright’s ancestors. This collection brings together two Great Ace Attorney Nintendo 3DS titles which were only released in Japan – detective fans can finally learn about Ryunosuke’s wacky adventures involving the legendary Herlock Sholmes.
If you have struggled with detective games in the past, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a great place to start as it features a convenient story telling mode. This allows you to watch the game play out like a TV show if you end up getting stuck. Save yourself the confusion and watch the story play out, as soon as you’re ready to play you can take over at any point.
Whether you want an episodic adventure or a dialogue intensive mystery, these are the best detective games on PC. Or for fast-paced shootouts and cop simulations check out our guide to the best police games.
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Gina Lees Guides editor
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Gina adores an unpredictable story in an obscure setting. Alongside her dedication to sim management games, she’s also a card game enthusiast.