It’s getting to the time in winter when we reflect on the year, and pick our Bestest Best games that we’ve played over the past twelve months (okay eleven months, but December is always kinda quiet). We recently had this chat in the RPS hive-mind, and going through each month and making note of my favourite releases completely shocked me with how many fantastic mystery games have come out this year. It’s honestly awesome.
I’m a huge fan of mysteries in games, with some of my all-time favouites being Kentucky Route Zero, The Return Of The Obra Dinn, and Disco Elysium. I just like getting wrapped up in a good story that will kick my brain into gear. Strange murders, devious disappearances, and just general strange happenings - I love all of it.
But just look at what we've had this year! The Case Of The Golden Idol, Beacon Pines, Pentiment, and Norco: absolute top-tier mystery games. The Case Of The Golden Idol’s approach to evidence gathering and intuitive fill-the-blanks whodunnits had me chaotically scribbling down clues in true detective fashion. Cute-but-spooky Beacon Pines had a great story about small-town corruption (a staple in mystery games) and its Stanger Things-esque rabble of kids really made it shine.
Meanwhile, Pentiment’s 16th-century detective tale of truth and faith made masterful use of its setting alongside some excellent font choices, and Norco’s surreal American Gothic tale of sweeping swamplands and sinking suburbs was unforgettable, and I already knew it was going to be my personal game of the year when it came out in March.
We're not done yet, because I haven't mentioned Frog Detective 3, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, Immortality, and Signalis. Frog Detective 3: Corruption At Cowboy County was a charming delight from beginning to end, and a fond farewell to everyone’s favourite detective amphibian. I was totally surprised at the folklore horror of The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, a game that totally snuck up on me. Those incredibly detailed character close-ups will forever haunt me in my dreams.
Immortality wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be, but I still massively enjoyed delving into its hundreds of movie clippings. With a cup of coffee and notebook by my side, Sam Barlow’s games always make me feel like I’m a detective staying up late into the night trying to solve a case through a computer screen. And survival horror is not my genre at all but the moment I finished playing the Signalis demo at PAX West I knew I had to make an effort to play through it. Like Nic Rueben said in his review, if you like PS1 survival horror, queer android love stories, cold war paranoia aesthetics, and cosmic horror, then Signalis is for you.
I also enjoyed Wayward Strand and Roadwarden, two that don’t really pitch themselves as mystery games, but they definitely are. Wayward Strange’s clockwork routines made me think carefully about who I spoke to and being able to eavesdrop made me feel like a super sleuth. There’s no murder or hijinks in this wholesome adventure, just a group of old folks who love a good gossip, and count me in. Roadwarden is a game whose story I have still not finished, because there are so many mysteries to solve! I’m on my second playthrough and the mysteries keep multiplying like a set of Russian dolls.
That’s all the mystery games I’ve played this year, and I’m feeling well and truly stuffed. I’m sure there are some I’ve missed, so if you have any favourites or know a game that I’ve missed let me know what to play next in the comments and I’ll check them out.