Mystery video games might not command the same level of attention as other video game genres out there, but a smaller contingent of fans tend to gravitate toward them for one reason or another.
With games that often test their intelligence and deductive reasoning, these titles make for a challenging experience that relies on players’ wit and wiles rather than their skills in combat alone. So, grab a magnifying glass and notepad: get ready for the best mystery video games ever.
1. Heavy Rain (2010)
Often cited as one of the greatest mystery video games of the 2010s, Heavy Rain unfolds like a lucid David Fincher movie, right down to the constant rainfall and multitude of flawed protagonists. Alternating between the eyes of inquisitive detectives and familial victims, Heavy Rain chronicles the investigation of the Origami Killer–a serial killer who preys on younger children. Racing against time, players must track down the elusive murderer’s whereabouts, thwarting his crime spree before he claims another victim.
2. L.A. Noire (2011)
Perhaps the most underrated mystery video game ever released by Rockstar, L.A. Noire serves as a far cry from the open-world nature of Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. Set in 1950s Los Angeles, players take the role of police officer Cole Phelps. Investigating numerous crime scenes from simple burglary to intricate murders, players help Phelps rise through the ranks of L.A.’s law enforcement hierarchy, solving cases rooted in Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson.
3. Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
While its monochromatic artistic style might wreak havoc on the eyes, Return of the Obra Dinn stands tall as one of the most exciting mystery video games in recent memory. Thrusting players back in time to the early 18th century, gamers must find out what happened to the missing crew of the Obra Dinn, a merchant ship that drifted into port after disappearing five years ago. Recreating each sailors’ death using a magical pocket watch, players uncover the disturbing final voyage of the Obra Dinn, complete with murder, theft, and more than a few attacks from fantastic creatures.
4. Grim Fandango (1998)
One of the most imaginative releases from LucasArts, Grim Fandango focuses on a noir mystery set against the mythical Land of the Dead. A humorous yet suspenseful adventure game, players control embittered travel agent Manny Calavera as he attempts to save a young woman from harm. Paying homage to both ‘50s detective films and Aztec mythology, Grim Fandango has accrued long-standing appreciation from fans across the past several decades.
5. The Wolf Among Us (2013)
Adapted from the popular comic book series Fables, The Wolf Among Us adopts the same interactive gameplay aesthetic as most other Telltale mystery video games. Centered around an open-ended story reliant on players’ individual choices, the game details a murder mystery juxtaposing the gritty realism of 1980s New York with the magical splendor of well-known fairy tales (The Three Little Pigs, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, etc.). A cult favorite among modern gamers, The Wolf Among Us lives up to its promising premise with startling poise.
6. Disco Elysium (2019)
Where to start when describing a game like Disco Elysium? Waking from an alcohol-induced sleep, players navigate an amnesiac detective on a murder investigation in a strange society recovering from a recent war. With its isometric camera angle, immersive environments, and stirring score by indie rock band British Sea Power, Disco Elysium ranks among the finest RPG mystery video games of the past decade.
7. What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
Perhaps the most depressing game ever made, What Remains of Edith Finch follows the 17-year-old Edith Finch–the last member of the eccentric Finches–as she traverses her remote family home. As she comes to terms with her past, Edith also confronts the traumatic deaths of her various family members. A game guaranteed to have players weeping over their controller, What Remains of Edith Finch devastates gamers with its loosely-connected storyline, eliciting a one-of-a-kind emotional response.
8. Outer Wilds (2019)
A sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, Outer Wilds finds players caught in an unending 22-minute time loop that restarts every time a nearby star explodes into a supernova. Over the course of these 22 minutes, players track around a solar system in search of a way to exit the time loop, learning about a native alien race (the Nomai) to do so. Encouraging gradual exploration and discovery, Outer Wilds boasts an intriguing number of mysteries within its imaginative sci-fi setting.
9. Her Story (2015)
Perhaps the most realistic mystery video game of them all, Her Story casts players in the role of a police detective sifting through interview tapes with Hannah Smith, a woman whose husband has gone missing. Rifling through each of Hannah’s interviews with the police, players work out the complex mystery surrounding the Smith family, meditating over the truth behind Hannah’s alleged story.
10. Alan Wake (2010)
A love letter to the novels of Stephen King, one can also describe Alan Wake as a surrealistic mystery game of David Lynchian proportions. Hoping to overcome a stifling case of writer’s block, best-selling novelist Alan Wake heads to the nightmarish town of Bright Falls, where his dreams soon merge with reality. Commanding a massive cult following of fans, Alan Wake has only continued to garner further popularity among mystery video games as time draws on, as seen from its long-awaited sequel, Alan Wake II, and its spiritual spin-off game, Control.
11. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)
One can use plenty of words to describe The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: creepy, upsetting, disturbing, and unsettling all springing to mind. With an explorable environment filled with suspicious characters, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter features plenty of surprises in store for all prospective players.
12. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishment (2014)
Few mystery video games detail the mindset of the famed literary detective Sherlock Holmes quite like 2014’s Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. With a drier tone reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, Crimes & Punishments challenges players to connect Holmes’ numerous mental observations to decipher the identity of several guilt parties. Among the finest Sherlock Holmes games ever released, Crimes & Punishment excels at having players navigate the inner workings of its hero's complicated mind.
13. The 7th Guest (1993)
Released in 1993, The 7th Guest broke so many rules regarding mystery video games. For starters, it established itself as one of the first computer games released to CD-ROM, balancing live-action cutscenes with innovative 3D graphics. A gothic horror story with a setting not unlike the Haunted Mansion, the genre-bending nature of the game made The 7th Guest an early classic in ‘90s-era gaming.
14. Professor Layton and the Curious Village (2008)
An approachable and addictive game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village totes a central mystery appropriate for players of all ages. Mixing the puzzle format with an open-world adventure game, the game challenges players to locate the Golden Apple, a missing relic of unparalleled value. Easy to play and even easier to spend significant chunks of time exploring, Professor Layton appeals to every potential gamer.
15. The Invisible Hours (2017)
One of the best indie mystery video games most people have never heard of, The Invisible Hours uses a premise straight out of a classic Agatha Christie novel. At an isolated island mansion in the early 20th century, a colorful cast of characters find themselves caught up in a mystery when their host–the famous Nicola Tesla–ends up murdered. With players able to pause, rewind, and fast forward across every individual scene, players must piece together the complicated backstories of each character, deducing the killer’s identity and the motivation that drove them to murdering Tesla in the first place.
16. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (2021)
Staying true to the Ace Attorney name, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles offers a more intrinsic emphasis on investigation, requiring players to gather evidence to support their claims in court. Just as humorous as every entry that came before it, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles remains both challenging and laugh-out-loud funny.
17. Kathy Rain (2016)
Valuing a strong story over fluid visuals, Kathy Rain establishes itself as a more adult-oriented point-and-click adventure game, owing plenty of LucasArts’ ‘90s-era titles (Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, etc.). Making use of more hard-hitting language and adult subject matter, Kathy Rain also deserves praise for the analysis of its main character–a troubled young woman confronting her enigmatic past.
18. Pentiment (2022)
A historical masterpiece of a game, Obsidian brings the splendor of the Renaissance to life with 2022’s Pentiment. Set in the early 16th century, players take up the paintbrush and easel of a journeyman artist in Upper Bavaria, who finds himself probing into numerous criminal conspiracies over the course of three decades. A technical, artistic, and narrative gem, Pentiment makes for one of the most engrossing and original mystery games of the 2020s thus far.
19. Paradise Killer (2020)
An open-world mystery game of epic proportions, Paradise Killer throws players onto the sci-fi pocket universe of Paradise Island, a community populated by immortal aliens attempting to build the perfect utopia. After several influential citizens turn up murdered, gamers must travel the island, interrogating citizens and collecting evidence to narrow down the killer’s identity. A unique gameplay mystery infused in an outlandish anime universe, Paradise Killer provides a murder investigation unlike any other.
20. Thimbleweed Park (2017)
After making a name for himself with Maniac Mansion and the original Monkey Island games, developer Ron Gilbert returned with his 2017 mystery game, Thimbleweed Park. A stylistic successor to Gilbert’s ‘90s-era games, Thimbleweed Park focuses on two F.B.I. agents’ murder investigation in a small suburban town. With shady (often hilarious) characters populating the game, Thimbleweed Park satisfies every player interested in a retro LucasArts-style video game.