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10 Best Crime Games

Having finally completed the crime game “This Is The Police” and getting slapped across the face with its overall message of “Crime doesn’t pay, but neither does non-crime, so to hell with you either way, bucko,” I found myself with an itch to play some more crime games that feature the gritty underbelly of society and both sides of the law.

Well, gritty is kind of subjective. This list of the 10 best crime games includes video games set in the afterlife, a sexy wolf-man, anime characters shouting at each other, and a couple of toy animals bouncing around spewing goofy comedy quips, nyuk-nyuk-nyuk.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these are some of the best crime games out there (except for one, which I’ll get back to very shortly), and all the goofy rabbit sidekicks in the world can’t change the fact that there are some really remarkable creations to be found in this very under-appreciated video game genre.

I guess you can’t expect the best to always be the most popular. Oh, and speaking of…

10. Grand Theft Auto V

To my mind, GTA V is one of the most overrated crimes games of the decade, a messy, mediocre time-killer that was somehow made on the kind of budget that would make Donald Trump sweat. You know Toby Fox made an instant classic with only a fraction of the money, time and a couple of people, right? And Undertale also didn’t create one of the most toxic online communities I’ve ever seen. Go into a public server and see how long you can last before racial slurs and incoherent abuse echo over your headset, shrieked out by some stupid, soulless teen with a can of Red Bull and a bag of cheap marijuana given to him by his older brother.

But any product with sufficient marketing and no risks in the formula will eventually make its money back, and people do seem to enjoy it (by which I mean Grand Theft Auto V, not marijuana). I can even see why people enjoy Rockstar’s latest entry – play in a closed server with friends and you might find yourself getting some pleasure from the experience, provided you don’t enter the online heists and end up throttling the one guy who isn’t good enough to avoid getting cheaply killed. Consider this my reluctant submission to peer pressure, because I’d actually have liked to put Shadowrun Returns, Monaco or Payday 2 here. Now let’s put it behind us and actually look at some good games.

9. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

I admit that I’ve only played the original entry, but even as somebody who treats anime and manga the same way a vampire might flinch from a holy cross, I did find myself hooked by Phoenix’s first five crime cases. Bouncing between interrogating suspects and adventure-game evidence searching in one half, before crashing into the courtroom and clearing the suspect’s name in the second, Phoenix Wright does provide an interesting core series of mechanics. The cross-examination works especially well, as you scour a witness’ testimony and look through the established facts to see where they’re tell a big, fat fib. OBJECTION!

Of course, it’s not perfect. The story in Phoenix Wright is a bit weird and tonally unstable, bringing in supernatural elements where they really weren’t needed, and some of the Phoenix Wright characters seem a bit too “Kawaii” (ugh) for my tastes, but on the whole it creates a series of good mysteries that usually come together in a solid way. Oh, and any series that has the stones to call its P.I.“Detective Gumshoe” is worthy of respect, partly because that’s what they called you in that great old PC game for kids, “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” Does anybody else remember Carmen Sandiego? No? Fine, I’ll move on again.

8. L.A. Noire

See, L.A. Noire is the Rockstar crime game that actually holds some weight, partly because they decided to think outside the box and make something innovative. The premise behind this mid-twentieth century cop thriller is that your job is to play war veteran and police detective Cole Phelps, ricocheting between departments in the LAPD to solve various crimes and loudly shout at people until they tell you what you need to know. I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of shouting at people. It’s actually one of the main mechanics.

The big thing for L.A. Noire was that Rockstar paid a bunch of actors to mug for the motion-capture technology, playing witnesses and suspects in various cases; and you have to judge their facial reactions and body posture to see whether they’re lying or not. It’s an interesting idea that works in a reactive story, broken up with organically searching crime scenes, pootling around the rather beautiful sandbox in old cars and a bit of shooting bank robbers to finish off. There are problems – the ending feels a bit out of place, some actors are too easy to read and Cole’s dialogue can be a bit unpredictable, ranging from nigh-undetectable disapproval to a full-on tirade at some frightened old biddy, but on the whole I like this odyssey of old America, and not just because I’m a sucker for the music and styles of the time.

7. Sleeping Dogs

No, not perfect. The overly slow build-up to the third act, the fact that gunplay is markedly less fun than the melee combat, the final villain being too obvious, the fact that Wei Shen’s battle of loyalties never quite gets a proper payoff, and that sodding karaoke mini-game means that Sleeping Dogs can’t achieve a higher score than this, but it also doesn’t nullify the fact that this Hong Kong-set sandbox is really, really fun.

It’s partly because I like the core idea. Wei Shen is an undercover cop trying to make his way into the inner circle of his hometown’s Traids, and he’s more than happy to break a few ribs with his Kung fu moves along the way. Yes, yes, yes. Not to mention that the characters are well-crafted, the city has great atmosphere and the combat “reaction brawler” system influenced by the Arkham games gives great bone-crunching catharsis, and allows you to beat a man to death with a live fish. Oh, and this crime game also features one of the best villain deaths in gaming (see here).

6. The Condemned Series

I know, I put these games in the 10 Best Survival Horror Games list too. So what? Sometimes a game fits multiple genres, and does them both really, really well. The first Condemned game in particular is a gritty, creepy, relatively grounded mystery that enthralls, engages and – of course – terrifies.

Condemned is also a game series that does melee combat realistically, but without being compromised by it. The crunch of metal meeting a homeless man’s jaw as you swing your weapon in frightened desperation is so believable that you practically feel the impact run up your arm. Same also applies for when his buddy comes up behind you and caves your skull in with a lead pipe. And between bum fighting sessions, you get to peruse a strange serial killer mystery that tests your intellectual boundaries, so I hope you still have some brain left inside that skull after a hobo tried to beat it out of you. Check out the first Condemned game on Steam (found here), or dig out the previous console generation to play the sequel, because they’re totally worth it.

5. Driver: San Francisco

Funk music? That’s kinda cool. Light-hearted, self-aware buddy cop dramas? Yeah, I like those. A little bit of supernatural around the edges? Sounds intriguing. Driving cars like Starsky And Hutch are late for a wedding? Definitely in for that. The ability to possess other drivers as I go and switch between vehicles on the fly?

… Damn, where do I sign up?

Driver: San Francisco holds a position in the Driver series similar to what Bad Company was for the Battlefield series. It’s a little bit smarter, a little bit lighter, a little bit more experimental. Here the experiment of mechanics was the power to inhabit the bodies of other drivers mid-chase, allowing you to divert oncoming traffic and smash into the Hamburglar’s vehicle head on. Give Driver: San Francisco a go, because as somebody who isn’t big on driving games, I still found myself hooked. Groovy.

4. Sam And Max Hit The Road

Not the first or last adventure/detective game on this list, LucasArts’s bouncy 1993 classic featured a dog in a hat and a rabbit with sharp teeth and no shame whatsoever. No, I wasn’t expecting that either. Based on the comic series made several years before it, the creators had a very important realisation early on: adventure games at the time involved comparatively little interaction, and were largely about watching characters do the thing you told them to do in long, scripted sequences.

So you should probably make those sequences really, really funny. The actual mystery plot that runs through Sam And Max is too strange and random to really have much of an impact or tension, but on a moment-to-moment level it’s filled with surreal humour and punchy wit supplied by our two protagonists as they bumble across America in pursuit of a missing Bigfoot. Since then it’s featured on multiple “best games” list and has been named by some critics as LucasArt’s best game ever.

Big words. But don’t think that’s entirely true…

3. Grim Fandango

… Not whilst Double Fine’s 1998 homage to film noire, Grim Fandango, is still a part of their back catalogue. Back in the days when Tom Schafer was having to get his ideas pushed through the filter of George Lucas’ business model in order to get them published, he and his team created a surreal aztec-afterlife-mystery-comedy-point-and-click-adventure-game, a genre that I’m pretty sure includes only Grim Fandango and that idea I had when I was drunk one time. Who would’ve thought that “Tlazolteotl and the Clickable Vixens Of The Thirteen Heavens” would actually manage to lose money on Kickstarter?

But Grim Fandango worked far better than anybody could’ve thought, despite not achieving great commercial success upon release. Tom Schafer created a rich, vibrant world with beautiful imagery and a compelling narrative threaded throughout, slamming together ancient South American ideas with old detective classics to great success. And even though everybody looks like they’re wearing a cheap Halloween mask, they still manage to emote better than Marcus Fenix and Solid “emotions are for weak people” Snake ever could. For those interested, a remastered version was released back in 2015 for the PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.

2. The Wolf Among Us

Everybody knows at this point that Telltale Games has three great games under their belt. The Walking Dead Season 1, Tales From The Borderlands, and… that Michonne miniseries.

Yeah, right. No, it’s The Wolf Among Us, adapted from Bill Willingham’s comic saga Fables to great success. The basic idea of figures from popular mythology living in a suburb in New York is fairly compelling in its own right, as The Big Bad Wolf (here re-imagined as a chain-smoking P.I. werewolf named Bigby) stalks around their little district making sure that his circle of improbable friends doesn’t accidentally reveal their existence to the wider world. But Telltale ramped up the brutal realism of it all and made it into something really poignant, mainlyby humanising characters like Snow White, Mister Toad and The Little Mermaid and making them into tragic figures brought beneath their former mythical status. And when Bigby finds a severed head resting on his doorstep, even the fragile, failing system that the Fables operate under threatens to collapse under its own weight.

Even as Telltale pulls hopefully on the coat-tails of major franchises like Minecraft and Game Of Thrones in an attempt to crib a few more sales through association, I still remember that early entry that gripped more heavily than anything they’ve done recently.

1. Hotline Miami

I was playing this Hotline Miami recently, and even as I ripped out a man’s throat, gunned down his friend and threw a pan of hot water into his associate’s eyes, I realised I was not thinking any differently to the chap on the screen I was playing as. Few experiences are more immersive, using subtle storytelling, mechanics and audiovisual design to drive the player into a screaming frenzy of rage, much like the psychotic protagonist. And between hallucinations and murder sprees, there’s a strange suggested story at the edges of everything that the alleged hero can only vaguely perceive, too caught up in his own untrusted thoughts to focus and realise there’s something very weird going on.

And fair enough, because the gameplay is pretty brain-taxing. Unforgiving in a way that few games are, the Man In The Lion Mask runs around slashing at everything he can see and shooting at whatever doesn’t happen to be in stabbing range, until you are inevitably shot down by some goon with an assault rifle and start again. And again. And again. And again. And agaAAARGHGODDAMNITKILLKILLKILL! Each attempt barely lasts longer than a minute (if even that) but the repeated failures mount up and drive the player into an angry, impulsive mindset that’ll carry you through this oddly intelligent game. Yes, you come out of it a dribbling lunatic, but that’s better than most of the characters, who only come out with repeated washing and a good detergent.

That was our list of the ten best crime games that did the crime and should echo through time. But what are your favourites? Would you have included anything else? Were there any games here that you thought didn’t deserve recognition? How likely is somebody to bitch at me for hating on Grand Theft Auto V? Leave your opinions in the comments and tell us what you think.

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