Despite the popularity of mystery novels and cop shows, the detective genre has never really established a large foothold in the world of video gaming. This may be because the process of investigation, with its leaps of logic and complex theories, is hard to model in a game. Although there aren't a huge number of detective games out there, there are still enough classics to keep even the cleverest amateur sleuth occupied for a long time.
Classic Adventure Games
Detective games were all the rage in the heyday of the PC adventure game. Adventure games relied on a find-and-click mechanic, with players highlighting objects or characters on the screen to interact with them. Combining items in creative ways was often the key to success. Sierra On-Line produced a number of classic detective adventures, including the "Laura Bow" series. In "The Colonel's Bequest," for instance, the player takes on the role of sleuth Laura Bow, moving around a spacious country house, interviewing suspects and looking for clues to the identity of the killer stalking the guests. Though adventure games are a small niche in the modern market, mystery titles remain popular within the community, including games based on great literary detectives like Sherlock Holmes.
"Heavy Rain," a modern action-adventure mystery game, borrows some elements of the adventure genre. The central narrative follows four playable characters, including an FBI profiler and a private investigator, as they hunt for the sinister Origami Killer. Moody and atmospheric, "Heavy Rain" has more action-focused gameplay than a classic adventure game, with quick time events and innovative mechanics for physical stunts such as bashing down barriers or wriggling through small gaps.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Capcom's series of "visual novels," originally released on Nintendo's handheld systems, follows the adventures of the titular lawyer as he struggles to defend the innocent from arch-rival Miles Edgeworth. Although Wright is an attorney, the series' gameplay focuses on finding evidence and interrogating witnesses and suspects, giving the games a much more detective-like feel. The bizarre, cartoon-like characters and settings of the "Phoenix Wright" series make this a good detective story for gamers who don't mind a certain amount of silliness in their mysteries.
Nothing could be further from "Phoenix Wright" than 2011's "L.A. Noire" from Rockstar Games. Set in 1940s Los Angeles, the game deals with a series of investigations by LAPD detective Cole Phelps, which culminate in a shocking revelation. The game draws heavily on classic mystery novels and films including "The Black Dahlia," "L.A. Confidential" and "Chinatown" to create a setting that's moody even in the California sunshine. Phelps's investigation requires players to learn to read the facial expressions of suspects and witnesses in order to arrive at the truth.
Some games incorporate mystery and detective elements, even though they aren't detective games themselves. Nintendo's "Professor Layton" series focuses on the eponymous professor, who, although not technically a detective, solves mysteries by completing a series of ever-more-difficult puzzles; Layton must find these puzzles by searching for them like clues. Detective fans who enjoy a little horror will find plenty of games combining mystery and supernatural themes. Examples of this genre include "Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth" and "Alan Wake," both of which involve puzzle-solving, adventure and plenty of thrills.
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