Whether a procedural story based point and click adventure or something more involved like a first-person mystery game, detective games have been a mainstay of the industry since PCs began pumping out text-based adventures in the late 1970s.
Whether it is a super noir experience like Max Payne or a courtroom drama with anime overtones like Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, the central focus of most detective games is the solving of some kind of mystery. This can be a murder mystery, theft, or even an exploration of supernatural themes – such as in Silent Hill, a game many think falls into the genre with its narrative structure and gradual unveiling of the central mystery.
Of course, strongly represented in this genre are the point and click PC games of yesteryear such as Snatcher and the old Sherlock Holmes series. More modern examples of the genre such as LA Noire and Heavy Rain are heavily inspired by detective films as depicted in the golden age of Hollywood – that is, heavy on the noir elements and cinematic effects.
One thing common to most every detective game is a strong narrative, without which the game rarely works. Titles like The Evil Within straddle the world of horror and detective games quite masterfully, almost blending the two together seamlessly. This would lead one to surmise that a detective game must feature a detective in some way.
While typical, the more common theme to detective games is the process of unveiling, through discovery, some narrative that is otherwise heavily shrouded in mystery and this makes these games different from say an epic jRPG where the stakes are quite well known to other people in the in-game world.