What makes a good detective game? It’s a harder question than you might think.
From puzzle-solver to shooter to narrative choice-maker, detective games represent a unique blurring of genre. But they also retain some of gaming’s most recognisable hallmarks. Whether it’s a trench coat, a sinister scheme, or a world-weary protagonist with a whiskey-soaked voice – all things that have migrated to games from film noir and crime fiction. In a similar fashion, detective games have formed their own mechanical quirks – finding clues, reconstructing events, interrogating suspects, using ‘detective vision’ to scan crime-scenes, and some form of logical inference. Many of these mechanics represent ideas about detective work which have been popularised through fiction, but how close are they to the actual truth? I spoke to Adam Richardson, a police detective in California, who as the author of the Writer’s Detective Handbook: Criminal Investigation for Authors and Screenwriters, is uniquely qualified to discern the point where reality and cliché collide.
L.A Noire is the perfect place to start – a game which combines a self-aware channeling of noir influence with a fairly comprehensive accounting of 1940s police work and procedure. “L.A. Noire did a pretty good job of covering realistic detective work, but it is still both a game and fiction” Richardson explains “Many aspects of detective work have changed drastically in the last 70 plus years. L.A. Noire takes place in an era before modern forensic science, before the Miranda decision (which requires rights being read before custodial interrogation), and a whole host of other advances and changes to policing.”