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Games with good "Detective Mechanics"

Zombra

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Golden Idol was very cool, but feels more like a blueprint for something that could be really great in the future. Obra Dinn was more of an eye-opener when it came out, but I would not mind Golden Idol clones becoming the indie game du jour for the next couple years. The puzzles overall were on the easy side - not that they didn't take some time - and the multiple-choice nature of it makes it likely you'll reverse engineer some solutions even if you're not trying to. A lot of the time, you can make these clever observations about the environment and then not even need them because the answers are obvious for another reason anyway.
That's a feature of good detective/TT RPG design : giving multiple leads in the hint graphs, IMO.
Completely agree Tramboi. A single, linear string of clues where the player has to read the developer's mind, perfectly and without fail, over and over again, is piss poor design.
 

Zombra

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as for something directly related to The Shapeshifting Detective that you might enjoy:


is a prequel of sorts

By the way, I ended up trying this and hung in there for the whole first chapter, but lost interest long before getting even that far. It's a CYOA in the worst way, with branching paths but zero information to make actual decisions. Example: "There's a knock at the door! Who will answer it, Poe or Munro?" Ummmmmm I have no idea why it matters. I guess the interest here (like in a classic CYOA) is to replay and see how the story might have turned out differently, not to actually think or reason your way towards a desired outcome. Wasted potential next to Shapeshifting Detective which was clearly leading up to something from the very beginning. Thanks anyway for the recommendation Jenkem.
 
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Jenkem

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as for something directly related to The Shapeshifting Detective that you might enjoy:


is a prequel of sorts

By the way, I ended up trying this and hung in there for the whole first chapter, but lost interest long before getting even that far. It's a CYOA in the worst way, with branching paths but zero information to make actual decisions. Example: "There's a knock at the door! Who will answer it, Poe or Munro?" Ummmmmm I have no idea why it matters. I guess the interest here (like in a classic CYOA) is to replay and see how the story might have turned out differently, not to actually think or reason your way towards a desired outcome. Wasted potential next to Shapeshifting Detective which was clearly leading up to something from the very beginning. Thanks anyway for the recommendation Jenkem.


yeah I should have noted that it's more of just a FMV spinoff, I thought I did
 

HoboForEternity

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I just finished The Case of the Golden Idol, a solid and challenging deduction game very reminiscent of Obra Dinn. Super recommended. My full Steam review here.


Finally playing it, it wad solid, but i agree it feels like an experiment of the mechanics and more of a proof of concept compared to obra dinn that feels like a full package.

Compared to OD, the web of information dependency is fairly simple due to the linear nature of the scenarios, unlike obra dinn where you have to examine the same scenes multiple times with new context or information. In GI, the only thing you use previous scenes is to easily identify recurring character, or checking what the idol symbols do.


It's also easy until the last 3 scenarios (i am on the last one) but there really is a solid foundation to make a really amazing game. The deduction board is one of the best i have ever seen, but i think it can easily expand into a pseudo interrogation/dialog system by using prompt like in the old adventure game.

My idea goes like this:

Deduct facts from scenes, get information.
Interrogate witnesses by using the keyword you gained from initial deduction.
Witness can also lie or hide information, in which there are a prompt which you can point out their contradictions, or persuade them into giving information. For example you uncover an unsavory secret of the witness on the scene, unrelated to the case but will be a source of woe if released therefore coaxing them to spill up ( think about phoenix wright psyche-locks, but with modifications)

The implementation is probably gonna be a nightmare but, hey that's why i am not a game developer.
 

ValeVelKal

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Just finished the Golden Idol myself. I agree the earlier scenes are the best (the best one IMO is the 5th one - the poisoned diner at EC's), 6th, 7th and 8th are still good but 9th is mediocre, 10th boring (count "points") and the grand finale the 11th a mix of good (the afternoon), mediocre (12:00) and "there is no other solution so it must be this one even if it makes little sense" (morning). In general, earlier cases requires you to find what happens by reading clues, examining items and take information from the geography/architecture of the scene. 7th and even worse 9th and 10th is just about reading texts, where people and things are has no bearing on the case.

I feel the game could have been even stronger if you could have used information from later cases to solve a new part of earlier cases (eg when you learn the "letters" of the idol, the hierarchy of the Brotherhood, ...) ; as it is I agree it weaker than "Return of the OD" which did that perfectly. On the other hand, I feel like there is less "read the developer's mind" in Idol than in Obra Dinn.
 

HoboForEternity

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i really enjoyed the grand finale tbh, but i agree the 5th is the best, i thought 9 was pretty fun in a sense of classic murder mystery happening right before the big plot progression. 10th is weak, i agree.
 

Alphons

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Thanks for recommending Golden Idol.

I was expecting something like a collection of separate cases which are only connected by the presence of the idol, but the story was suprisingly good and much more connected.

Some parts were real headscratchers (though in one place I have forgotten about a crucial document).

Maid's letter that pointed at Darkhand Steward.

I've filled majority of the information in the final case pretty quickly, but one bit was eluding me.

I've spent something like 2 hours with the final bit with the murder in the morning at Sebastian's manor, going through all the scenes and trying to find the solution.

The moment when it clicked for me that Herst is actually Edmund after decreasing his age with the idol and that he and Peter both had crush on the same lady was so satisfying.

I was able to finish without hints.
 

Victor1234

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It's not a traditional detective game and it actually calls itself a spy game, but functionally Covert Action was about being a detective. You started with 0-some clues depending on the difficulty level, there were some criminals who had a plan that they'd execute if you sat back and did nothing, and it was up to you to catch them with enough evidence to lock them up, preferably before they did the crime but definitely before they finished, split up and 'went underground'.

It was a very simplistic system. There were only about 10 or less repetitive 'cases', the structure was usually the same with fixed roles (mastermind tells plan to organizer, organizer tells paymaster to dole out money for X, etc) but there was enough variety and especially difficulty in catching the masterminds, that I still play it to this day.
 

Zombra

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Blech. I just tried one of the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective games (Mummy's Curse) and found it exhausting and annoying. Instead of encouraging you to explore ideas, interview suspects, and creatively build a case, you lose points every time you click your mouse. Want to check a suspect's workplace to see if they might be hiding something? Penalty. Did you discover an ancillary crime and wish to investigate the victim's contacts? Penalty. Get enough penalties (I got a ton) and the game is very smug in telling you how stupid you are even after you solve the case. I hate this so much in adventure games, where a dev wants you to read their mind over and over and then they mock you for not following their brilliant story that they made up every step of the way. Lastly, I figured out who the culprit was relatively early, but the game wouldn't let me finish until I had found ALL of the exact clues it wanted me to. Just awful. My butthurt Steam review. I bought all three games in a $2 bundle but won't be wasting my time with the other two.
 

Arryosha

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Zombra, do you have a top 3 or top 5 detective games list? You seem to have played a lot of them. Is Crimes and Punishments still number one on your list?
 

Zombra

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Zombra, do you have a top 3 or top 5 detective games list? You seem to have played a lot of them. Is Crimes and Punishments still number one on your list?
I don't have a formal list, but Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a must-play for anyone interested in detective games.

Return of the Obra Dinn is also a must-play.

Go play both of those and then come back to read the rest of this post. .................... All done? OK, here are some more:

Aviary Attorney is amazingly good, and does qualify as a detective game, but the reasons it's outstanding are not that it's an outstanding detective game. It's just great all around.

I personally am a big fan of Sinking City. With the options tuned properly it's a solid detective game with pitch-perfect tone, setting, atmosphere. Others have valid criticisms of the game though, do the research before you buy.
And be sure to ONLY buy from gamesplanet. The Steam version is literally a pirated version that the publisher stole from the developers after breaking contract. Gamesplanet is the version that supports the devs.
EDIT: Frogwares finally got control of the Steam version! You can buy it there! Gamesplanet is still fine too of course.

Dead Secret is a brilliant indie first-person adventure about a detective. Not really a proper detective game except for the very end when you have to identify the killer, so it's all up to you to pay attention to the clues and documents found along the way. It's designed by (in my opinion) one of the great scholars of survival horror games. Can't recommend enough but if you're looking for a "crunchier" game with a corkboard or clue matching you may be disappointed. If still interested, do not research this game or watch videos of it. Buy it, turn off the lights, and play it spoiler-free.
The sequel, Dead Secret Circle, is good and you should play it too but it doesn't rise to the level of greatness of the first game imo. Don't play the sequel until you've finished the first game as there are massive spoilers, it tells you the whole story of the first game in the opening monologue.

The more recent Case of the Golden Idol is damn good too, if you loved Obra Dinn (and you will love Obra Dinn) don't miss this.

Sherlock Homes: Chapter One I liked a lot. A detective game through and through. It might not have the classic perfection of Crimes & Punishments but it is right up there.
A lot of the Frogwares Sherlock games are good in fact. Though older and with more dated designs I recommend Jack the Ripper and Testament. Whatever you do don't buy Devil's Daughter, it is awful (new publisher ruined it).

Shadows of Doubt hasn't released yet but the beta demo shows it's very close to "good enough". Pretty much a one-man project and it's going to be janky for a long time but it's definitely going to be very special, nothing less than a revolution for the genre. The current demo is playable until Monday Thursday 16 Feb as part of Steam Next Fest.
[EDIT:] as of mid-2023 the game has released in Early Access and is very playable but still not done.
 
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Zombra

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Zombra, do you have a top 3 or top 5 detective games list? You seem to have played a lot of them. Is Crimes and Punishments still number one on your list?
Oh! I just reread the thread and realized I neglected a couple here you shouldn't miss:

Paradise Killer. I knew I was forgetting something super important! Be warned I may oversell it but I absolutely adore this game and want to have its babies. If all the detective games were taken away from me and I could only have one in my life and memory, it would be this one. I don't want to spend an hour typing again how good it is so just go read my Steam review. Feel free to do some research on the game and look at a video or two - the case is way too complicated to be spoiled by brief glimpses of gameplay. But yeah look into it before you buy - the game is not perfect and the flaws might make it hard for you to enjoy. I fucking loved every second of it.

Lucifer Within Us doesn't get talked about much and really deserves better. Its whole design is so well constructed and the mechanics are really thoughtful and thorough (every single clue of any kind in each chapter (and there are a LOT of clues) can be indexed against any other clue; there are no generic "I can't use that here" type responses). If you are at all interested in mechanical design for investigation games you have to see this, and if you don't care about design but just like solving things it's impressive from that perspective too. Plus it's got a cool setting and story.
 

Zombra

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Couple years ago I've played The Painscreek Killings- while it was a fun game it was more of a puzzle game with detective story than a game with detective mechanics.
Recently noticed that the devs are making a new game called Scene Investigators.
Glad you liked Painscreek Killings ... personally I hated it. Glad to see the developers trying again with a different angle to make an actual investigation game though. Will check out demo. Thanks!
SO IRRITATED. I noticed that Scene Investigators has a kickstarter active so it was finally time for me to try the demo. Hated it.

Here's what I wrote in the Steam forums feedback thread:
Just tried the demo. Terrible clunky interface, sprint key for no reason, very picky pixel hunting to figure out what is and is not interactive, tiny clickable hotspots making items hard to trigger, tons of interesting looking items that cannot be examined, horrific feedback, frustrating 'pinwheel' item examination on mouse & keyboard, hidden controls (turning calendar pages), zero tools for clue logging or information management, and the Painscreek favorite: thousands of empty drawers and cupboards to open and close.

Awful mechanics aside, the content is stupid as well. You have stuff like a woman's purse with no identification inside, a letter with no postmark, and a pharmacy prescription that doesn't have the patient's name on it! As in The Painscreek Killings, the evidence has nothing to do with what you would expect to find in the real world.

Oh and that repetitive 4 seconds of music repeating endlessly, another Painscreek trademark. Dreadful.

I'm honestly glad there are people who like this and TPK and I hope you all enjoy the release ... it's not for me.
 

Nortar

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Pathfinder: Wrath


Pure detective work - documents, protocols, evidences and more documents.
Probably as close to the real thing as it gets, as there are a lot of beuracratic procedures.
Say you have 4 suspects - you have to manually issue and sign a "summon to interrogation" warrant for each one of them separately.

Basically it's an elaborate text puzzle with some of the cases based on real crimes.
It's on sale with 30% off at the moment.
But it's a shame the game does not support English.
 

Zombra

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I just tried the demo for Keyword: A Spider's Thread and immediately bought the game. It seems like a fairly linear "search the emails, find the passwords" kind of thing but there are some really neat ideas up front in the demo which I won't spoil. Demo took me about an hour according to Steam? Seemed like a lot less!

 

Zombra

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I finally played Her Story, which I left overlooked for years because so many people trashed it for not being enough of a game. Those people are dumb. This is absolutely a game, and since it's 100% about gathering and making sense of information, it is a detective game.

The setting is an old (mid-90s) computer terminal, with access to a database of video clips from a series of interviews related to a crime.

The whole thing is about paying attention, and following up on relevant keywords. The gameplay might be best described as exploration-based, not mapping out the floor plan of a city, instead mapping out critical plot points and character arcs.

It's very simple to play, but simple does not mean easy. You enter keywords, and short interview clips tied to those keywords appear for you to review, and lead to more keywords. It's up to you to listen carefully, decide what's relevant, and pursue new avenues of investigation.

Part of what's fascinating about the game is that it's not made explicit who you are or what your goal is. All that's clear is that you're someone that was given access to this 20+ year old terminal with its clunky, unhelpful interface, who for some reason wants to piece the story together, since the original, linear interview footage isn't available.

I reached the end credits and technically "finished" the game, but am still not satisfied, and keep going back to it to try to uncover more of the story.

 

Maxie

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I finally played Her Story, which I left overlooked for years because so many people trashed it for not being enough of a game. Those people are dumb. This is absolutely a game, and since it's 100% about gathering and making sense of information, it is a detective game.

The setting is an old (mid-90s) computer terminal, with access to a database of video clips from a series of interviews related to a crime.

The whole thing is about paying attention, and following up on relevant keywords. The gameplay might be best described as exploration-based, not mapping out the floor plan of a city, instead mapping out critical plot points and character arcs.

It's very simple to play, but simple does not mean easy. You enter keywords, and short interview clips tied to those keywords appear for you to review, and lead to more keywords. It's up to you to listen carefully, decide what's relevant, and pursue new avenues of investigation.

Part of what's fascinating about the game is that it's not made explicit who you are or what your goal is. All that's clear is that you're someone that was given access to this 20+ year old terminal with its clunky, unhelpful interface, who for some reason wants to piece the story together, since the original, linear interview footage isn't available.

I reached the end credits and technically "finished" the game, but am still not satisfied, and keep going back to it to try to uncover more of the story.


It's OK but let's not get too heated about it alright, most of mid-game is trying to trigger new recordings with very much random keywords
I've tried to get into Doctor Dekker which offers somewhat comparable gameplay and I must admit it doesn't compare favorably, Her Story remains the better game
 

Zombra

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Off-topic note for detective enthusiasts: the limited-time Intrigue Bundle on Fanatical has a couple of recent Poirot games I liked (my Steam reviews 1 2). Neither one has very crunchy detective mechanics but both demand the player at least use their head a little. There are some other mystery games on there too. Thank you Modron :)
 

Jenkem

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Make the Codex Great Again! Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. I helped put crap in Monomyth
I'm surprised that Golden Idol doesn't have its own thread so I made one. Mainly to report that there's apparently a sequel dropping on the 27th.
it says a new case is coming, probably as dlc. will it be paid or free? who knows

there is nothing about a "sequel" if there was an actual full-game sequel don't you think they'd have announced it by now?
 

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