The game is set in San Francisco where the player assumes the role of Eric Fox (Kevin Breznahan), a psychic who earns his living doing a magic act in a seedy nightclub. One night, he is approached by the exotic Laina Pozok (Beata Pozniak), who senses that Eric is more powerful than he imagines. She trains Eric to "hitch hike" into people's minds. He sees what his subject sees, and hears what his subject hears; meanwhile, his body continues to interact with the world around him in an "automatic pilot-like" state. Laina hires Eric to attend a wake being held in honor of her father, who has died under mysterious circumstances.
The game begins when Eric enters the Pozok household, and is given the choice to remain in his body, or hitch hike aboard any one of a number of characters he encounters. Eric also has the ability to pick up objects and take a psychic reading of them, providing more clues to help solve the Pozok murder case. Before long, Eric is embroiled in a conspiracy involving a powerful religious cult, spies, and family intrigue, and he also has to deal with his growing romantic attachment to Laina. Occasionally throughout the game, Eric obtains access to "psychic collectors" which amplify his abilities and allow him to affect the moods and attitudes of the people around him, but at a cost.
Psychic Detective is generally presented in first person, with icons appearing at intervals on the screen signifying people and objects Eric can interact with. Each game generally takes about 45 minutes to play, however multiple plays are required in order to uncover all aspects of the storyline, and there are a dozen alternate endings possible; depending upon the choices made by the player, many different storylines are uncovered, including one that occurs if the player makes no choices and simply watches events unfold. Occasional cut scenes break the storyline into chapters, but which cut scene is viewed depends upon Eric's actions. The endgame portion of Psychic Detective involves Eric playing a surreal board game against the villain; the power of Eric's pieces against his opponent is based solely upon his actions and investigations throughout the game.
The game was released on the PlayStation, DOS, and 3DO. The game includes adult language and sexual content in the 3DO and Windows versions, however the PlayStation version did not include some of the adult material.
Considered a ground-breaking game for its time, Psychic Detective was expected to usher in a new era of video games using live action footage and professional actors, however except for a few similar games such as 3DO's Snow Job, this new trend never took off. Live action footage from Psychic Detective was edited together to create a short film that was shown at film festivals in the mid-1990s.
This game is not to be confused with the Japanese-only Psychic Detective series of adventure games developed by DataWest