During a stressful time, I like to keep my mind busy, which I can only do if I have something that takes my full concentration. After watching a lot of cop dramas on TV, I noticed how much of a thrill it is to correctly guess the “whodunit” in a crime investigation. So I began an investigation myself to uncover the best games that require you to actually discover clues on your own, no hand-holding. It was a difficult task but I wound up finding and playing some pretty unique gems that have made a significant lasting impression on me.
Of course, the Sherlock games such as Crimes and Punishments and The Devil’s Daughter, are obvious choices as you get to utilize the abilities of the world’s best fictional detective. You get to actually piece together evidence and form your own conclusions which can determine a character’s fate. However, the amount of action sequences and puzzles that had to do with symbols, colors, numbers, etc, wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
I wanted a game where I didn’t have to do anything other than go through witness statements and evidence, a real simulation of combing through paperwork and following through with leads. Below is compiled a list of my favorite crime-solving indie games that will have you snooping through personal information, police files, and more!
5. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Personally I have yet to try out the original Trilogy, which many fans still rave about as being the best, but I have played the subsequent sequels. The reason this is at the bottom of my list is not because it is less good, but rather because the game does a lot of guiding you through the gameplay. As a defense lawyer, you can build a case by uncovering clues about the crime and by finding the lies from testimonies. However, if you get anything wrong, you’ll just restart from the last checkpoint of the trial and you can try something else. The comedy in this game also makes things a little less tense.
I do recommend playing any game from this series on either mobile or the Switch (Trilogy) if you like that the focus is on court proceedings and really listening to exactly what all the characters are saying. It’s important to point out any inaccuracies or inconsistencies during the retelling of the crime.
Both Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You and its sequel Orwell: Ignorance is Strength are on sale on Steam right now. Developed by Osmotic Studios and published by Fellow Traveller, both Orwell games are about using a secret government program to monitor everyone’s communication all in the name of security. As the first human researcher, you are the only one that can peer into text messages, phone conversations, and even gain access to people’s personal information stored on their computers. You’re tasked with finding a terrorist after bombings in the first game, and in the second you must find a way to quell civil unrest before it becomes a political crisis.
Since you are the only human capable of digging through data, it is your decision whether you want to upload information into the Orwell program or not. The program cannot understand motives or emotions so it won’t be able to differentiate between someone just venting or being sarcastic versus someone actually threatening to do something for real. Therefore, you must be very careful in what you choose to be important to the investigation and to choose the path that will lead you to the right culprit.
Unheard, created by NEXT Studios, is a simulation game on Steam about putting your ears to the test, rather than your eyes. As an Acoustic Detective, you can go back to the scene of a crime and listen to the conversations of all of the characters present, and to correctly identify who they are. There are 5 different cases that will ask you to put a name to each voice by following them around and keeping tabs on what they say. The recordings are short but you’ll have to rewind them often enough to make sure you’ve heard everyone speak during different times before the incidents occur.
At first I was a little put off by the voice acting in this game, and was a little confused by the cases, even after “solving” them. It felt like there was something missing to the plot. Then I started to notice recurring names in the end. Without spoiling the ending, I just want to say that it definitely makes up for any of the scruples I may have had. So much so that I spent a very long time thinking about what the truth really was, and for the first time, enjoyed that there was more than one right answer.
2. Return of the Obra Dinn
I’m really glad someone suggested I play this when I was really looking for a challenge. I love point-and-click games with their deep narratives, but I wanted something even more interactive. Created by solo indie developer, Lucas Pope, Return of the Obra Dinn is one of the best Steam games I’ve played this year. I can’t believe that the only thing that was keeping me from playing this game sooner was the graphics. Yes, everything is black-and-white, and not everything is extremely detailed. I think that’s the point because if color was involved, it might have been too easy.
What Happened on the Obra Dinn?
As an Insurance Investigator, you need to figure out what happened in the past to the crew of the Obra Dinn ship. Over 50 crew members and a few passengers went missing, with their fates unknown. With only the help of a compass that allows you to see the exact moment of each person’s death, and your book to take notes, you must find out how everyone died. There are absolutely no hints, and no way for you to guess your way to the right answer because there are too many variables. You have to correctly guess the name of each person, what killed them, and who killed them. To make matters even harder, you’ll only know if you’re right in sets of 3. Meaning, you won’t be able to immediately validate your answers.
It is incredibly satisfying making progress in this game as you need to really study your surroundings, listen to short conversations, and put the pieces of the story and scenarios together in the right order. Of course, it won’t be as easy as listening to people call out each other’s names. You also have to pay attention the their ranks and jobs on the ship, and who they spend a lot of time with.
1. Her Story
Her Story was created by solo indie developer Sam Barlow. He also developed Telling Lies which was published by Annapurna Interactive, but didn’t quite feel as though I had a hand in discovering or revealing a crime. You get to comb through a police database to view video interviews of the prime suspect in a case. A real actress was used who did an incredible job in making it difficult in discovering the truth. You only start with a few videos and you need to listen carefully to what is being said in order to pursue keywords that can lead you to another video.
You’ll need to keep notes on names, locations, and anything that you want in order to dive deeper and to start piecing the story together. I got chills whenever I noticed something was off with a statement. Even tiny details such as what coffee the suspect enjoys is a crucial part to advancing your search of relevant videos for the case. This is my top choice because the story was just so thrilling! I can’t recommend Her Story enough, and it is currently very cheap on Steam and GOG.
I Need to do More Snooping!
As an honorable mention, if you’re into supernatural horror games with tons of “jumpscares”, unlike me, you may want to check out games like SIMULACRA. I liked being able to go through a murder victim’s phone to figure out how they died, but personally I found it to be a bit too cheesy. Let me know if you’ve found any crime-solving mystery games that you enjoyed playing!