Reacher is pulled from his vagabond life when a member of the elite group of Army Special Investigators is murdered, and he soon realises the case is bigger than he ever could have imagined. Watch the new season of Reacher starting December 15th on Prime Video.
From the days of the most primitive text-based adventures and all the way through to the bleeding-edge AAA experiences and innovative indie jams of today, detective stories have long been a compelling concept in video games with a smorgasbord of unique approaches to investigation and storytelling.
With the highly-anticipated second season of Prime Video’s own detective thriller, Reacher, coming up on December 15th we figured we’d take the opportunity to look back on some of the more recent, iconic and innovative examples of video games that put us in the well-worn shoes of a detective. Take a look:
Easily one of the most iconic examples of detective gameplay, L.A. Noire was a hugely bold attempt to meld action and investigation. The star of the show as Team Bondi’s groundbreaking facial animation technology which allowed them to give characters’ expressions an unprecedented nuance which fed directly into gameplay as players watched their interrogation subjects’ every muscle twitch and shifting gaze to figure out how truthful they were really being.
As Detective Cole Phelps, the game would have players investigate crime scenes, talk to witnesses and suspects and also engage in action and chase sequences, which all came together within the framework of its meticulously recreated post-World War II Los Angeles setting to make it one of the greats of the genre.
The Wolf Among Us
Although it’s a far cry from Reacher stylistically, The Wolf Among Us’ unique blend of noir storytelling and fantasy elements makes it a must-play for anyone wanting a great, episodic detective story. Set in a world where characters from fairy tales and folklore live in disguise among humans, the game follows Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown, as he investigates a series of grim and mysterious murders. Based on the Fables comic book series, it recreates the same striking art style and marries it with narrative depth, driven by fantastic character-driven and plenty of developer Telltale’s staple of challenging moral choices that shape the path of the story over its five chapters.
If the idea of a reluctant detective thrust in over his head in the face of an escalating conspiracy appeals, you’ll be right at home here.
Another very different experience thematically, but absolutely iconic in a number of ways, Disco Elysium takes place in the dystopian world of Elysium and casts players as a detective suffering from amnesia but tasked with solving a murder mystery all the while piecing together his own memories of the past and wrestling with the various factions and forces surrounding him.
Unlike the other titles on this list, Disco Elysium is a dense role-playing game featuring an open world, but remains light on combat and still puts the focus on engaging in a huge amount of dialogue while putting together their character’s findings and feelings in their Thought Cabinet as well as amassing special skills to shape the outcome of their investigation and branching story. It’s perhaps not the most easily-accessible game in this rundown, but one absolutely worth checking out.
Before Immortality captured the gaming world, another of Sam Barlow’s projects, Her Story, captivated players with its innovative approach to storytelling and detective gameplay. By presenting the narrative through a series of interview video clips on a desktop computer, players were invited to actively engage in piecing together its mystery, searching for keywords and connecting the dots in a non-linear fashion. Her Story’s success lies in its ability to empower players to unravel the story at their own pace, while encouraging them to use their intuition to read between the lines and process what they were seeing and hearing.
It might not be universally beloved, but Heavy Rain stands out in a list of thrilling mystery-driven games with its branching choice-driven narrative, where players’ decisions significantly impact the story’s outcome. Set against the backdrop of a gloomy, rain-soaked city, Quantic Dream’s next game after Fahrenheit presented a fairly rich and multi-faceted narrative surrounding the Origami Killer serial murderer, tasking players to navigate the mystery through the perspectives of multiple characters, each with their own connection to the case.
The game’s somewhat-divisive use of quick time events and contextual actions helped to create a tense, cinematic experience that had players feel more “involved” in the choices they were making than simple dialogue boxes and multiple choice.