There's been a murder!
Last week marked the launch of Crime Scene magazine, which has turned the spotlight onto those who normally prefer to be incognito - the detectives. TV isn't the only medium besides literature to have some truly super sleuths in its portfolio. I'm talking about video games, which not only have a whole secret society's worth of pretenders to Sherlock Holmes' crown, they also have Sherlock himself.
So here are gaming's finest detectives. Or, rather, they would be if we could only play their games well enough. And you'll be pleased to hear you won't need a single deerstalker hat or over-sized magnifying glass to see why they're so great. Insert a cliched joke about it all being elementary right here and let's do this.
Ethan Thomas from the Condemned series
Ethan Thomas doesn't half have some technologically-advanced toys to play with. Perfect for crime scenes as he uses UV lights to examine corpses arranged 'in grisly tableaux' (that phrase has always stayed with me) with mannequins. He's even got a pre-iPhone smartphone, complete with video chat, picture messaging and backlit buttons. This guy means business.
He's fearless too, and thinks nothing of clambering around in claustrophobic tunnels or deserted subway stations, smashing hobos over the head with a section of metal piping, just like every good detective does (you should have seen Miss Marple's bonce-smashing sprees in her early days). I'm not sure I'd befriend a man who collects every dead bird he happens across, mind. Oh, and he does turn to alcoholism by the time the sequel starts. And self-medication. But look, even Sherlock Holmes had a cocaine problem. Let's call him 'colourful' and move on.
Norman Jayden from Heavy Rain
Consider the following two statements: 1) Norman Jayden is a brilliant detective. 2) Norman Jayden is a catastrophically bad detective who destroys everything he touches. Which is true? Both. Because, even moreso than any other detective in this article, Norman's detective qualities are dependent on how well you control him, due to Heavy Rain's constant QTE elements.
Despite his FBI training, if you bumble through Jayden's sections, the Origami Killer gets away scot-free, killing and maiming with wild abandon and generally not believing his luck that his nemesis is such a damned fool. Ace everything, however, and you get to appear on a talkshow. A TALKSHOW. He has the potential to be so much higher up this list, because he's ruthlessly good when he's on his game, but sadly I can no longer take him seriously having seen the Super Klutz Edition of the covered market chase.
Professor Layton (which reminds me of a puzzle)
Ah, Hershel Layton. Undoubtedly a genius, but is he making too much work for himself (read: us) by turning everything into a conundrum? 'You can read this run-down of gaming's finest detectives, but first I want you to solve this riddle' No! Sit down, Layton. Sheesh.
But credit where credit is due: this guy is pure class when it comes to solving crimes. He may get there by 'going around the houses', so to speak, but that's just his method. And he does it with such gentle warmth and flair, he's hard not to like. He is also a proper gentleman and gaming needs more of th what? NO! How can that remind you of another freakin' puzzle, Hershel?! Gaaaah!
Cole Phelps from L.A. Noire (Warning - contains spoilers)
Cole is great because he comes across as being an actual human. He doesn't like being shot at, he wears a proper detective hat, and he knows Shakespeare. His interrogation techniques can appear to be genius or phenomenally tactless, depending on which lines of inquiry you choose to pursue, but at least his face moves just like a real face. That scored him a lot of points on my 'like a real detective' scale. Yes, the acronym is unfortunate.
Phelps sadly loses marks for only appearing in one game, with prospects of appearing in any more pretty darn slim, considering the studio was broken up. And, y'know, he's 'otherwise engaged' now. If you don't know what I mean, you'll just have to play the game. Look, I warned you there was a spoiler, don't make me say it. Yes, he's dead. And being dead makes it pretty hard to be a great detective... though, admittedly it didn't stop Sherlock Holmes.
Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue
Not being a professional detective, Ryo primarily gets his information through two means: Talking to old ladies and beating people up. It's a rather crude method compared to some of the professionals we've seen so far, but it gets results.
The word 'detective' has connotations of secrecy and stealth. But there's nothing discreet about Ryo's approach. He will ask anyone a direct question, even if he's never met them before. If they get angry, he keeps trying. If they get too angry, he beats them up. Boom. He would be higher up this list if he had tracked down Lan Di sooner, but it's been over a decade since he started and he still hasn't caught him, which isn't a great track record even for an amateur sleuth.
Sam from Sam & Max
Hey, I'm not hating on Max. It's just that Max is a little too 'unhinged' to make this list. Plus he wants to eat Sam because he just looks 'so tasty'. No, It's all about Sam in terms of who's really running the show here.
For a start, he dresses right. He also owns the car, which suggests this is his business and Max is just along for the ride. He loves puzzles (so would get on well with Professor Layton), carries a massive revolver - standard issue for any detective worth their salt - and is happy to travel all around the world (and beyond) so long as there's a crime to solve. Legend.
Francis York Morgan from Deadly Premonition
Francis York Morgan has a hell of a lot going for him as a detective. First of all, he basically is Twin Peaks Dale Cooper, the only TV sleuth who could make Columbo look like Mr. Bean. Eccentric, upbeat, quick to make allies, and almost supernaturally gifted in the ways of off-kilter deductive instinct, the traits that York (call him that, because everyone does) inherits from Coop immediately make him one of the most likeable and gifted detectives in all of gaming.
Actually, forget almost supernaturally gifted. York actually surpasses his progenitor by having actual psychic abilities, able to see and adeptly shoot the crap out of zombie ghost-monsters no-one else seems even slightly aware of, and travel to dreamlike otherworlds to decipher earthly mysteries via the (possibly) FBI-approved method of Abstract Weird Shit. Also, he can solve connundrums by way of premonitions in the coffee (which he drinks a lot of, while smoking like a chimney, which gets him even more detective points), and shares his brain with an invisible twin personality called Zach. So hes basically two detectives in one. Huzzah for York Morgan!
Kyle Hyde from Hotel Dusk: Room 215
It's Kyle's motivation that really makes him interesting. Having worked in the police force, he left after being forced to shoot his then-partner, who fell overboard and went missing. Suffering immediate pangs of remorse for doing so, Kyle is looking for his former buddy. And eating cake along the way.
The best thing about the way he is portrayed is the use of his internal monologue, which is occasionally glimpsed in coloured text during conversations. On the outside, he's a young, handsome and polite man, who gets on well with people. But on the inside, he's rather judgemental, dismissive and even slightly mean. Basically he's human, then, and you'll find yourself rooting for him as a direct result.
The Goddamn Batman
While the slow-burning detective tales at the heart of some of The Bat's best comic book stories would be hard to translate into an all-action, AAA video game, Arkham Knight (alongside its predecessors), does a great job of infusing all the stealth-punching with a great, wider of who Batman really is. ie. A cold, calculated, deeply intelligent man who uses his extreme wealth and support network to seek out and fight crime with brutal efficiency and intellect.
I'm not talking so much about the serial killer parts (just drift around until you find the clues), but rather elements like the car crash that you get to replay in virtual 3D, walking around the simulation as you play and rewind it, viewing it from every angle until you find what you're looking for. Is that realistic? No. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Because the entire design of the sequence gives you a powerful and immediate snapshot sensation of what it would be like to be ultra-capable Batman, equal parts brains and brute-force technological solutions. As such, it's spot-on.
But don't forget the daddy...
Star of some damn fine games, but too many to pick out just one, the quintessential super-sleuth is no stranger to gaming. Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate detective. Probably even worked out the Konami Code for himself. But there's an interesting parallel to draw between this giant of literature and gaming's finest. As you may have noticed, all of these detectives, despite obvious skill (in the right gaming hands) are imperfect. There isn't a single one who doesn't have a 'dark past' or has at least been through some kind of major trauma, usually involving someone they love. Even Hershel Layton, was double-crossed by a former partner who turned out to be evil...
Though to be fair, it's not just gaming detectives who suffer such afflictions. Rarely does any fictional detective, from early noir to Blade Runner, seem capable of taking on a new case without dragging along (or acquiring) a whole shipping container of troublesome psychological or emotional baggage. Does it all date back to Holmes and his tricky, self-medicated blessing/curse of analytical hyper-intelligence? Or do we just demand personal pain and strife to balance out the gifts of our detective heroes? And if so, is that where the archetypal anti-hero was born?
Hang on a minute, ...that reminds me of a puzzle! (*gunshot*)