Sherlock zones: my love for detective games

While at Rezzed in 2018, my other-half and I noticed just how many detective games were on display at the expo. It’s a trend which seems to have continued in the following two years and more titles with similar themes have been making it onto my wishlist.

As I’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, there’s just something about a private-investigator-protagonist which draws me in. I’ve grown fond of storylines featuring hardboiled detectives, hidden clues and devious crooks, and enjoy gameplay mechanics where it’s up to the player to piece together the evidence and solve the case. If you’re looking for something new to play and fancy a title which is going to put your sleuthing skills to the test, why grab your flashlight and check out the following releases.

Games I’ve played

Full-motion video (FMV) adventures might not be to everyone’s taste due to their technical limitations and hammed-up acting. But if you’re a fan like me, or you think you can make it through ten hours of exaggerated reactions, then I’d highly recommend checking out Contradiction: Spot the Liar! by Baggy Cat. Join Inspector Jenks, played by the awesome Rupert Booth, as he questions the inhabitants of Edenton village to find out whether Kate Vine’s death was caused by suicide or something more sinister.

If you fancy something more pixelated, why not try Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope instead? This was recommended to me by Luke from Hundstrasse and I picked it up for myself after watching Athena from AmbiGaming play on stream. How long it takes to finish depends completely on the strength of your deduction skills as it’s a pretty tough game, but in a very enjoyable way: you’ll need to make observations based on visual and audio clues to figure out why a once-busy merchant ship is now completely deserted.

The most recent detective title I’ve played is The Painscreek Killings by EQ Studios and it’s one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Much more than a walking simulator, it’s up to you to piece together the clues found around the quiet village of Painscreek to find out who killed the respected Vivian Roberts. The story becomes tangled as the residents reveal their dark secrets and histories through diaries, letters and newspaper articles; will you be able to select the correct murderer, motive and weapon at the end of the game?



Games I’ve wishlisted

Trust me: if you’re a fan of visual novels and noir narratives, you need to go and add Chicken Police by The Wild Gentleman to your wishlist straight away. The premise is somewhat crazy and the animal characters don’t seem to entirely fit the mature storyline at first, but the experience really grew on me throughout the demo and I now can’t wait to get my hands on this game. Join Sonny Featherland and Marty McChicken in Clawville for a case which is stranger and more dangerous than anything they’ve ever encountered before.

At the start of this posted I mentioned Rezzed 2018 and it was at this event that I first came across The Peterson Case. Developer Quarter Circle Games since renamed the project to Once Upon a Time in Roswell and I’m looking forward to the release this year. As you can probably tell from the new title, this one is a psychological-horror which chronicles the Peterson family’s disappearance in Roswell in 1947 – and players will encounter ‘beings not of this earth’ who may want more than just the protagonist’s life…

Murder Mystery Machine by Blazing Griffin is an interactive mystery game which caught my eye when it popped up in my Steam suggestions one day. When local politician Frank Daniels is murdered in what looks like a botched robbery, it entwines Detective Cassandra Clark and her partner Nate in a complex, interconnected series of crimes that’s anything but an open-and-shut case. I really like the isometric visual design and the content shown in the trailer reminds me a little of Knee Deep, but without the theatrical setting.



Games I’ve backed on Kickstarter

Taking a brief break from straight-up video games for a moment, let’s first talk about Missing in Jericho by Crimibox. Here’s an experience which aims to bridge the gap between reality and the digital as it will have players trawling through social media accounts, calling suspicious numbers, and using physical objects such as notebooks and printouts to make sure they don’t get lost in their enquiries. I recently receive my backers’ key and will hopefully start my investigation by the time this post is published – I’ll let you know how it goes.

I also received a copy of the backers build for Gamedec a few weeks ago and was impressed by Anshar Studios’ work so far. This detective game seems as though it’s going to be the one which will give you the most freedom when it comes to deciding how you’d like to approach a situation – but that also means your actions could have consequences which may close down certain lines of questioning. The project feels like it has plenty of potential and I’m curious to find out how the whole thing is going to come together.

Want a kickass female private investigator? Then look no further than Amira Darma in Chinatown Detective Agency by General Interactive Co. I really enjoyed the demo back in April, and the developer will be re-releasing it along with further content in a free preview at the end of this month. As well as investigating cases and doing some real-world research for these, players will also have to make sure the protagonist gets enough rest so she doesn’t crash and gains enough contacts to build her network. Definitely one worth checking out.



These are just a handful of the detective releases I’ve come across this year so far. Are there any further titles I should add to my wishlist? Krikket from Nerd Girl Thoughts recently recommended the demo for Lucifer Within Us by Kitfox Games so I’ll be giving this one a go – and I look forward to hearing any other suggestions.

Rezzed 2018: the trouble with narrative games

Earlier this week, I picked up on the increase in the number of narrative games on display at Rezzed. The ‘detective’ theme seemed to be popular also, with several story-rich titles featuring male investigators who were trying to solve some mysterious or vaguely-supernatural case related to either unexplained missing persons or gruesome murders.

This was a great thing for me: everyone has their own individual reason for playing video games and mine tends to be for a good story. Give me a title where I can get lost in its world and wrapped up in its plot for hours on end, possibly with a few twists thrown in for good measure, and I’m a very happy gamer. But this increase in narrative projects on show at expos also comes with a downside.

Here’s an example. One of the games I’d added to my to-do list for Rezzed was The Peterson Case, a cross between The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Outlast by Quarter Circle Games. When I asked how scary it was, the developer I chatted to (I really should have made a note of his name) told me that it was less ‘jump-scares’ and more ‘atmospheric’; but they’d left the horror part of the project at home, feeling it couldn’t be adequately shown at the event.

I knew this would be a title I’d end up purchasing and playing shortly after starting the demo. The graphics were detailed and shadowy, impressive considering the game is being made by a three-man team; and I was enjoying the gameplay, getting to know Detective Franklin Reinhardt through items scattered around his office. But within five minutes, I stepped away from the keyboard and thanked the developer for his time.

Why?

Narrative games tend to get lost at expos. It’s the stands full of bright lights, loud sounds, over-enthusiastic PR staff and free merchandise that immediately attract attendees’ attention; and their projects are usually those full of explosions and gunfire. A seat in front of a monitor displaying a quieter story- or text-rich title is likely to not see as many bums and it means some excellent work gets overlooked in all the noise.

It’s particularly difficult to show games such as The Peterson Case at events like Rezzed, as Quarter Circle Games’ developer pointed out himself. They rely heavily on creating an atmosphere and its far harder to get the most from it in a crowded environment at an expo than at home on your own in front of your PC. This was why, he explained, they’d made the decision to not bring the horror part of their project with them.

Then there are titles such as Disco Elysium by ZA/UM and Lamplight City by Grundislav Games, RPGs and adventures which feature a lot of text in their gameplay. It’s hard to read every word and not be distracted by the crowds around you or the noise seeping in through the headphones; and not fully taking in their meaning properly leaves you confused as to what you’re meant to be doing, which compounds my next point.

Although I love going to shows like Rezzed, there’s one aspect of them I don’t completely enjoy: having people watch me play video games. There’s something about a developer standing there while you’re trying to work through their demo and not mess up which makes me feel really awkward (it’s one of the reasons why I no longer apply for press passes). I’d much rather play at home where nobody can see me struggle with a puzzle.

Narrative games deserve all the love they can get as their stories enable us to see through another’s eyes and form our own ideas about the societies we live in. Sadly though, expos and conventions aren’t always the ideal place to get that attention: the constant noise and crowds detract from the hard work and passion which has gone into making them and it can be hard to truly see the world the developer is trying to create.

That being said though, a great project which contains something special will stand out regardless of the physical environment around it. I’ve been attending expos for the past six years now and have had the opportunity to play a lot of demos in that time; and this experience has taught me how to recognise a title I’ll likely enjoy within the first few minutes of sitting down at a stand.

If you’re going to a gaming event this year, give these ‘quieter’ games a chance and you might come across something you love. If you’re struggling to fully experience a demo due to the noise and crowds, or if you feel awkward playing in front of people, don’t be afraid to tell the developer that and ask if you can contact them at a later date to find out more because their project has caught your eye. Trust me: they’ll appreciate both your honesty and interest.

And who knows, you might even find your new favourite video game this way.

Rezzed 2018: playing detective

While at the Rezzed expo recently, my other-half pointed out how many more narrative games were on offer than in previous years. It’s one of the highlights I mentioned on in my round-up post published this week: I came away from the Tobacco Dock adding more upcoming projects to my wishlist than I’d done during any other time at the event.

A few examples: handmade adventure Harold Halibut by Slow Bros. is one I backed on Kickstarter and looks impressive hands-on. Midnight Hub’s atmospheric Lake Ridden caught my eye at EGX last September and the new section of the demo was great. Futuristic thriller State of Mind by Daedalic Entertainment seems like something I’ll be able to get my teeth into; and my stepson was pretty taken with Backwoods Entertainment’s hand-painted Unforeseen Incidents.

After having some time to reflect since Rezzed, something else struck me. So many of these narrative games cast the player in the role of a male detective trying to solve some mysterious or vaguely-supernatural case, usually related to missing people or murders. What is this new obsession we have with investigating the unknown, upholding the law and bringing wrongdoers to justice?

Not that I’m complaining at all. The following titles look like they’re going to be excellent.

The Sinking City

First up is a game by Frogwares, developer of the Sherlock Holmes series, which is set in an open-world inspired by the works of Lovecraft. Players find themselves in a city dominated by a supernatural force and suffering from floods, and it’s up to them to find out what has taken control of the minds of its inhabitants before they succumb to madness themselves. There’s no release date as yet but this is definitely one to watch out for.

Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death

As the Ripper stalks London’s streets, players join Arthurian immortals Sit Lancelot Du Lac and Morgana Le Fey on a quest to stop history’s most infamous murderer and save the city. I was able to switch between both characters (the latter portrayed as a dog) in Salix Games’ demo in order to question people and solve puzzles. It’s hinted that Fey isn’t actually a canine, so that could add an interesting element to the project.

The Peterson Case

Described to me as a cross between The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Outlast, Quarter Circle Games’ project looks amazing; I had to stop partway through the demo because I didn’t want to spoil it for myself! Set in a location near the Roswell UFO incident, Detective Reinhardt must explore a deserted house to find out what happened to its missing residents. He soon discovers an unearthly presence within, which is hot on his trail…

Lamplight City

This turned out to be one of my favourites at Rezzed which is no surprise: it’s being made by Grundislav Games, the creator of Shardlight, and has a very ‘Wadjet Eye’ feel about it. Set in an alternate steampunk-ish Victorian past, Miles Fordham must solve five cases each with multiple suspects, false leads and different outcomes. I like the fact that you can move on if a case seems unsolvable, with the story adapting to your choices.

Disco Elysium

I didn’t get to play Disco Elysium by ZA/UM until the final day of the expo as the stand was constantly busy, but it was worth the wait. It’s an interesting mix of detective-show and isometric RPG where players can choose the type of cop they want to be through an original skill system which takes feelings, doubts and memories into account. Kick in doors, interrogate suspects, or simply get lost in the city of Revachol as you unravel its mysteries. This one was my game of the show.

The fact that more narrative games were on offer at Rezzed this year was one of its highlights for me; and I love a good detective story so I’m really looking forward to playing those above. That being said however, it can be challenging to give such titles the attention they deserve at expos and this is something I’ll be delving more into later this week.

If you got a chance to play the games above at Rezzed, what did you think? Were there any other titles which caught your attention out on the show floor? Let us know in the comments below.