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This detective puzzle game requires a lot of meticulous collecting of receipts

I mean that in a good way

A crime scene from Scene Investigators showing two body outlines and blood spatter, one against a wall and one through the doorway in the other room
Image credit: RPS/EQ Studios

I played a demo of Scene Investigators over the most recent Steam Next Fest, and was interested enough that I wanted to have a go with the full release. It's billed as a detective game for true crime fans, but it reminds me of those puzzle books you used to get, where you are shown an illustration of a crime scene and, if you stare at it long enough, can figure out the assigned solution. Scene Investigators is like that but the scene is a big 3D one you can walk around. A crime has happened and you need to figure out what, mostly by peering at the dates in a diary to cross reference them with the time and day a phone message was left. This is why I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. It's quite hard. But! Some people will really like it.

You do sort of suspect that being an actual detective is less 'running around shouting' and more 'having an extensive filing system' than is depicted on TV. I didn't enjoy my run-ins with Scene Investigators' early levels, because you really do have to keep track of everything yourself, and I wasn't in the mindset for it. The framing is that these crime scenes - which you're seeing after the crime has happened, post-body removal but pre-blood clean up, if that applies - are test scenarios simulated by a computer, and to pass them you have to answer a series of questions correctly: Who was in the flat when the intruder broke in? What was the name of the intruder? Who was killed, and by whom?

The answers are extremely specific, but can be found in the scenarios, which are eerie snapshots of events that remind me of Everybody's Gone To The Rapture, and its interesting to paw through them and figure out which things are evidence you need to pay attention to, and which are just evidence of a life. (Although some of them make me feel... something; I'm not sure the simulation of a pimp's house where you have to figure out which 'client' stole which girl's money is handled with the kind of rigour a scenario like that demands).

A Post-it note from a crime scene in Scene Investigators, reading 'K-6 papers signed. Verify'
Image credit: RPS/EQ Studios

But at the same time, Scene Investigators doesn't meet you half way. Like, this is not a game where, whenever you pick up a bit of paper, your little HUD inventory icon lights up gold, and then your character (gruff, investigatory) narrates "Huh. Looks like the dad was spending a lot of time in this one casino in Vegas." This is a game where you will find various receipts, some of which are in Vegas, and can, once you have found the dad's credit card, note which ones are his so you can track his movements up to the date his children were taken. The impressive attention to detail and the - and I can't empahsise this enough - complete lack of any help - extends to having to check handwriting on Post-its. There's an in-game notebook where you can type up things to remember yourself, but honestly, it's not a lot of help.

It's why I bounced off, but when I went back and played it more like I was playing a Lucas Pope game (i.e. scribbling all over a physical notebook on my desk) it clicked a lot more. Sometimes it's hard because the UI doesn't really feel a need to be user friendly, but sometimes it's hard because it goes: "Come on then, you listened to Serial, put up or fuck up."

Scene Investigators is marketed to true crime enthusiasts, and I think a lot about the ethics of true crime as I disentangle myself from the habit of watching lurid documentaries when I'm sick. Playing Scene Investigators is a better outlet for that interest than posting TikToks that start "I'm not a psychologist, but I've watched a lot of Criminal Minds." Look, I'm writing a whole other article now. Scene Investigators is a dense, difficult, unforgiving puzzle game that constructs artful vignettes. And a lot of paperwork.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.