A well-told whodunnit not only keeps a reader guessing but also dares them to attempt a solution at every plot twist. And there are a lot of plot twists. It gets a reader turning those pages quickly, often becoming a single-session adventure. It’s why murder mysteries hold court among the best in the genre; there’s just so much to glean from human secrets and lies, deception and vengeance.
Mystery lends itself well to the interactive medium, too. Player choice becomes paramount; perspective adds complexity. There’s a lot to discover, and we’ve dug deep to find some must-play mysteries. Never mind Among Us: These are games that take the same air of mystery and deceit and incorporate the same high-level intrigue of a great murder mystery.
AI: The Somnium Files
A game that became for me one of the biggest surprises in the last couple of years, AI: The Somnium Files is a stylish and well-written adventure mystery that delves deep into science fiction themes. Players take on the role of special agent Kaname Date, with his robotic eye capable of scanning surroundings and cataloging evidence on the fly.
As the title suggests, AI is a key game mechanic, the same robotic eye being the home of the dynamic “intelligence unit” named Aiba. Kaname must investigate a series of serial homicides through crime scene investigation and dream-dive “sominium” exploration. It’s a refreshing take on the story-heavy visual novel component, and it keeps players invested not only in the investigation but also in Kaname as well.
Unheard: Voices of Crime is an indie mystery built around the idea of accentuating the positives and hiding the negatives. Where other budget titles might try for some kind of visual prowess, NEXT Studios has cleverly gone the way of what is essentially an interactive podcast.
The conceit of the game is: “What if you could hear every word spoken at the scene of a crime?” Players are given a top-down view of the crime scene and full rein to listen in on the various suspects and odd characters littered throughout. It’s an ingenious dynamic and one that gets the mind racing to find the prime suspect.
The Danganronpa series has quite the cult following (and with good reason); it’s a unique blend of “visual novel” and “anime,” with a premise that’ll attract fans of franchises like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. The series follows high school students deemed the most talented in their chosen craft, sport, or academic field. These students are inducted into the elite ranks of Hope’s Peak Academy.
The player takes on the role of the lottery draw, the character that gains admission not out of skill but rather by luck. Weird enough as it is, things get utterly bizarre when an AI-robot teddy bear Monokuma traps the student body in the school and forces them to murder each other. What results is more Clue-like than pure carnage, but definitely expect dark undertones and violence.
From the developer of Her Story (which is also worth checking out if you like this game), Telling Lies is a full-motion-video (FMV) game designed to be video footage and content stored on a confiscated hard drive. The goal of the game is to parse through all the content akin to a real-life investigator sifting through clues using keywords and other terms to skim video footage.
The mystery itself is in how open-ended the investigation is, especially due to the fact that players are dropped in with nothing more than the hard evidence and a need to figure out what happened between the four characters onscreen; who is telling the truth and who is telling lies; the suspect; and what became of these characters.
Flower, Sun, and Rain
Like some kind of psychotic blend of Groundhog Day and MacGyver, Flower, Sun, and Rain is the brainchild of the always stylish and innovative Suda 51. Set on an island resort called Lospass, players are introduced to a man named Sumio Mondo, a so-called searcher not unlike a private investigator, a role built around looking for things people have lost.
At the start of the game, Mondo’s supposed to be diffusing a bomb (it’s as bizarre as it sounds, trust me) but fails to do so because he’s too distracted searching and helping others. It explodes and creates a time rift, one that Mondo endures by living the same day repeatedly until players solve puzzles and search for missing objects to undo the mishap and solve the mystery underlying it all.
Yes, this is the game that birthed the “Press X to Jason” meme. The brainchild of interactive cinema auteur David Cage, Heavy Rain was one of the PlayStation 3 console’s most highly anticipated and ambitious projects. When it finally released in 2010, the reception was admittedly divided; however, Heavy Rain dared to explore how a murder mystery can translate more seamlessly, and it succeeds in garnering player investment and atmosphere.
Across four different characters across the entirely of the investigation of the Origami Killer, players must make countless choices both big and small to affect and change how the events come to pass. Cage and his team at Quantic Dream continued to explore this innovative dynamic in games like Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human.
For fans of Twin Peaks and Deadly Premonition, Mizzurna Falls is a PlayStation mystery game released in Japan back in 1998. Never released in the States, there has since been a fan translation that is fully playable for those interested. Mizzurna Falls takes place in Colorado on Christmas Day in the eponymous small town, Mizzurna Falls.
One of the first truly open world games, players take on the role of Matthew Williams, a high school student in search of his classmate Emma Rowland who goes missing shortly after a young Kathy Flannery is mysteriously found unconscious in the nearby woods, a survivor of a bear attack and peak winter temperatures. In seven days, the length of the allotted investigation time players have to piece the odd mystery together, Mizzurna Falls unravels to reveal a truly original murder mystery that constantly thwarts player expectations.