What are the best police games? We have all considered life as a super sleuth or detective for a brief moment. Whether drawn in by the position of authority, the puzzling casework, or even the hard-drinking: police games deliver plenty of action and intrigue.
However, unlike many of the best PC games, cops aren’t all gunslingers in John Woo-esque shootouts or chasing criminals in high-speed car chases. The best police games often see you digging through crime scenes for evidence and carrying out routine procedures rather than pursuing perps with your gun drawn. If you’re looking for Sherlock and the other great PC game sleuths, check out our best detective games list.
The best police games are:
It might not be the truest police experience, but Disco Elysium’s battered and beleaguered detective is one of the most interesting police game protagonists. After quickly piecing together who you are after an apocalyptic bender, you’re charged with investigating a murder that’s inexorably tied to the political tensions of the town.
Like all of the best RPG games, you shape your detective by assigning skills and constructing a loadout of clothes and items. With no conventional combat system, those skills are all about your personality and psyche. Sure, you could leave your hovel wearing a suit and go about solving cases like a classic procedural police drama, or you could march out in your underwear, arguing with yourself.
Of course, if you still need convincing, we encourage you to read Rich’s excellent Disco Elysium review.
This is the Police
Unlike many entries on this list, this is more of a management game. This is the Police casts you as jaded police chief Jack Boyd, under pressure from the mob and desperately trying to amass enough money to retire with barely six months to do so. You will need to manage your staff, respond to emergencies, manage investigations, and work closely with the mob, using your instincts to judge the severity of each situation and decide which officers to send out.
What makes This Is the Police one of the best police games on PC is how well it captures the uncertainty and risk of police work. Sending a couple of officers out to deal with a ranting lunatic seems like an appropriate response until the suspect pulls a gun, downing several bystanders, not to mention one of Freeburg’s finest.
You can also check out This is the Police 2 if you want more of what the original game offers. It’s hard to call it in terms of which one is better – the second outing is more polished but falters in other areas, so it’s not as easy to pick between them as you might think.
It might be over a decade old, but SWAT 4 is still among the most realistic and atmospheric police games. Simulating real-world police procedures, SWAT 4 casts you as the leader of a five-man team as you subdue armed targets and rescue hostages across 21 missions. It’s on par with the best PC simulation games for its attention to detail and realistic mechanics.
While you have access to an arsenal of submachine guns, assault rifles, and shotguns, SWAT 4 remains rigidly attached to realistic police protocol, punishing you for unauthorised use of force, incurring hostage injuries, and losing officers. Instead, you will use beanbag shotguns, tasers, and pepper ball guns to pressure enemies into surrendering before cuffing them. This emphasis on the pressures of upholding the law also makes SWAT 4 an illuminating experience at times, as you question whether to give suspects fair warning before opening fire, knowing that announcing your whereabouts gives the enemy a huge advantage.
Unlike the Rainbow Six series, SWAT 4 treats lethal force with its due respect: death is swift, and even the lives of criminals are valued. You are not an elite killing machine, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons, and if you play SWAT 4 with that mentality, you will not make it very far. If you’re hoping for a modern tactical FPS game then Ready or Not is a SWAT spiritual successor that’s development is worth following.
Few police games manage to deliver on the fantasy of being a detective quite like L.A. Noire. You play as Cole Phelps, a patrol officer turned detective working his way up through the ranks of the LAPD by investigating crime scenes, questioning suspects, and battling against the seedy underbelly of golden-age Hollywood.
Unlike most police games, L.A. Noire is all about diligently combing through crime scenes and following up leads, which makes the rare shootouts and chase sequences all the more thrilling. Mostly, then, you are tasked with studiously analysing evidence and questioning suspects and witnesses, reading their expressions to ascertain whether or not they are telling you the truth.
But L.A. Noire is a war game, too. Every character, including Phelps, carries the weight of the war years around their neck. Beyond the open-top sports cars and opulent art deco facades, you will find a city whose inhabitants are still reeling from the depravity of that conflict. Better still, Rockstar Games have adapted a few cases from the game to form a VR game, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files – because the only things better than police games are VR police games.
Murdered: Soul Suspect
Looking for some police games that you can play around Halloween? Murdered: Soul Suspect is a good shout, proffering a bizarre twist to the usual detective scenario by having you play as a disembodied ghost attempting to solve your own murder.
Yep, Murdered: Soul Suspect kicks off with you, maverick detective Ronan O’Connor, dying at the hands of a notorious local serial killer, leaving you trapped in limbo until you can bring your killer to justice. On the plus side, being dead grants you a bevvy of supernatural detecting abilities that make this one of the most empowering police games: access out-of-reach areas by possessing and controlling black cats; eavesdrop on private conversations; influence someone’s thoughts, and follow leads through solid walls.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is rarely challenging when piecing evidence together and uncovering leads, but exploring the historic town of Salem, seeing its spectral landmarks, and helping the many ghosts wandering its streets is a constant joy.
Lego City Undercover
Rather than combine Lego with popular movie franchises, Lego City Undercover takes inspiration from its long-running Lego City sets and police films. As Chase McCain, you play a cop who goes undercover to hunt down a notorious crime boss to put him back behind bars. Your disguises give you many talents, such as robbing banks, flying planes, or even herding pigs.
You also have the option to play Lego City Undercover as a co-op game, where you and your partner must take down the crime syndicate together. It’s an adventure worth playing if you like chaotic fun. Just don’t make us do all the paperwork after you leave piles of broken bricks in your wake.
The Silver Case
What The Silver Case lacks in actual detective and police work it more than makes up for audiovisual zeal and an absorbing, techno-thriller narrative. Set in 1999, in a fictional Japanese city called the 24 Districts, you take control of a mute protagonist from a special forces unit called The Republic as you help the city’s Heinous Crimes Unit solve a string of murders that bear all the hallmarks of infamous serial killer Kamui Uehara. Just one thing: Kamui has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years. You can also play a second campaign that follows the same events from a journalist’s perspective.
Tapping into Japanese folklore and late ‘80s paranoia over the isolating effects of the internet, police games scarcely conjure up as much intrigue and mystery as The Silver Case. More impressive still is how The Silver Case manages to create such a rich atmosphere while being astonishingly light on gameplay, closer to a visual novel than its first-person exploration scenes suggest.
Sleeping Dogs is one of those police games in which you shoot first and ask questions later. Playing as undercover cop Wei Shen, there’s danger everywhere: the Sun On Yee triad you are bringing down from the inside, their Jade Gang rivals, and even the city’s police. Fortunately, then, Wei Shen is a very talented protagonist, excelling at shooting, high-speed car chases, shooting from a moving vehicle, parkour, martial arts, and grating bad guy faces with air conditioner units.
Police games rarely let you be the bad guy, but you have to get your hands dirty in this crime game if you want to rise through the ranks of the Sun On Yee. Throughout Sleeping Dogs’ hefty main story, you desperately struggle to straddle the line between good and evil. The moments when Wei Shen falls on either side of that line give the narrative an equal measure of heart and tension.
The open-world snapshot of Hong Kong is the real highlight of Sleeping Dogs, thanks to details like a blend of English and Cantonese spoken by its denizens, traffic-laden streets, a rich ambient soundscape, and the most charming street vendors in gaming. The city feels lived-in and is brimming with activity – this is much more than a collection of landmarks and stereotypes. Sadly, despite being one of the best open-world games, Sleeping Dogs is yet to receive the sequel treatment, but a Sleeping Dogs movie is in the works.
Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel
One of the most realistic police games of all time is also one of the first police games ever released. Sierra Entertainment’s 1987 adventure game is so faithful to proper police protocol that it was even used to train rookie officers at one point.
There are no traditional puzzles in Police Quest, no convoluted conspiracies or sprawling shootouts. Instead, you spend most of your time securing crime scenes, handing out speeding tickets, and arresting drunks.
That realism can make In Pursuit of the Death Angel a little dry, but if you really want a simulation of police work, then the original Police Quest series, and this one, in particular, will not leave you wanting.
Remember when you were five and a game called Cops and Robbers was all the rage? Battlefield Hardline is what happens when a triple-A studio takes that humble concept and runs with it: a TV action-drama in its single-player campaign and a bonkers, Michael Bay-inspired blockbuster in its multiplayer. As we said in our Battlefield Hardline review, it’s Fast and Furious comes to FPS land.
As police games go, you are hard-pushed to find another as explosive as this. Never mind the cop cars and tasers, Hardline is still a Battlefield game, collapsing buildings, LMGs, exploding choppers, and all. An increased emphasis on vehicles pushes the pace of Hardline’s multiplayer well beyond the series’ par, with modes like Hotwire – which shifts the traditional Conquest flags to drivable cars – rewarding speed and aggression over tactical play. Its driving model might be basic, but Battlefield Hardline can rival the best racing games for how good it feels to be behind the wheel of one of its muscle cars or coupés.
Despite plenty of predictable narrative beats and some hilarious AI goofs, its campaign is among the best of the series. You play Officer Nick Mendoza, a detective embroiled in a Miami drug war. Each mission sees you take on increasingly unofficial tasks. Whether you brandish your badge and arrest perps rather than gun them down determines what kind of officer you become throughout Hardline’s ten missions.
Right, now, we’ve concluded our list of the best police games, we must advise you that you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you may later rely on in court. Anything you do say… wait, this isn’t the right conclusion script. Nothing to worry about; you’re free to go and look at the best action-adventure games if you want more excitement.
Additional contributions by Jordan Forward.