The adventure genre is a broad one, encompassing everything from point-and-click to first person shooters. Many gamers would argue that this category has become so diversified that it should simply be done away with to allow for more specific classifications, and I do not disagree. However, for the sake of my own list here, and the historical context of how these games were originally presented, I've considered the entire, nebulous clump of sub-genres which fall under the header of "adventure games", and to heck with the consequences. Because there are so many worthy candidates, it was difficult to narrow it down, and I know at least one of these titles is likely to get me shouted at by several of my own friends, not to mention the internet at large. But feel free to leave your own lists in the comments. As if I even needed to suggest it.
In no particular order.
King's Quest series
The kingdom and royal family of Daventry is in trouble. It's always something with these people. The king is sick, the prince needs a wife, the queen needs her own game, they never seem to live happily ever after. And yet, every time a new episode was released, I flocked to it, even backtracking to earlier titles I would have been too young to enjoy upon their original release.
It's difficult to choose one game from the series. If one discounts varying levels of graphic sophistication, each game tends to be equally, but differently strong, which is why I am nominating the entire series and one big chunk of game. I know it's kind of cheating, but they were made over such a long span, and each one relative to its time was pretty revolutionary.
I used to consider these games a skeleton in my gaming closet. After all, they do not involve a lot of fighting skill, nor is there any fast-paced platforming. But in some ways, they are infinitely more difficult. For example, there is a part in one of the games that involves climbing a beanstalk and walking across a cloud bridge to get to solid ground. For each footfall, there is only one acceptable spot on which to place one's foot. Any misstep, off by even one pixel will involve a comical but frustratingly long death sequence. Instances such as this abound throughout all the games, as well as dwarves which permanently steal items from inventory (some of which are necessary to complete the game, so if you've saved over the dwarf, kiss it goodbye), and some fairly brutal ways to die. Looking back, I have to say that the King's Quest series is actually some of the most hardcore gaming of any genre, and I will stand by that. Because Contra it ain't, but go ahead and give them a shot if you don't believe me. See if you don't die just as hard, just as much.
The Secret of Monkey Island
As with the King's Quest series, nearly any title associated with Monkey Island would be an acceptable addition to this list, however I would be rescinding my last shred of decisiveness if I were to pull that stunt twice in the same list. So, for nostalgia and sheer accessibility, I'm going with the original.
Guybrush Threepwood wants to be a pirate. In our world, all you really need to do is get fed up with being impoverished, acquire some buddies with boats and guns, and start hijacking. But in the world surrounding the Caribbean island of Mêlée, there's a whole process in place with formalized steps, including the theft of a statue, discovery of buried treasure, and insult swordfighting. Many of the series's most memorable characters are introduced here, as well, including love interest Governor Elaine Marley, and prime villain, the undead LeChuck.
This game is a must-play for any adventure fans. Especially now that there are numerous ways to play the game. If you don't happen to have an old Sega CD lying around, the game can be played in a DOS emulator, of course, but it's also available are part of a bundle on Steam for both Windows and OS X, PSN, Xbox Live Arcade, and even for iOS. No excuse for missing out on this one!
This first person adventure presents the island world of Myst, home of Atrus and Catherine, as well as Atrus' "inking books" which are capable to transportation to various "ages", as well as trapping two brothers, Sirrus and Achenar, who both claim to be innocent of the murder of their father, and accuse the other of responsibility.
Through investigation of each age, the player must draw conclusions and make decisions which can eventually affect the game's outcome. Myst was a huge commercial success, spawning multiple sequels, and was one of the first games to be referred to as "art" (though of course, this debate rages on and on. Even if Ebert did eventually retract his game-damning statements on the matter).
Another favorite graphic adventure game, this title features protagonist Manny Calavera, a travel agent in the Land of the Dead who has been tasked with escorting the souls of the dead to the Ninth Underworld. Depending on the soul, the journey can take anywhere from 4 years on foot (with the possibility of not making it at all) to 4 minutes for the most virtuous souls who are allowed to take the train.
Manny is beholden to work at the Department of Death because of a debt he has incurred to "the powers that be". His boss, Don Copal, keeps handing off the most difficult clients to Manny, and this causes Manny to become frustrated. He steals a client, Mercedes "Meche" Colomar, thinking that she would have a fairly easy journey, only to discover that she's been determined to be a soul who must make the difficult journey on foot. Suspecting foul play, Manny investigates and discovers a conspiracy which will take him to the far reaches of the Land of the Dead, encountering many memorable characters along the way.
Though this game was critically acclaimed, and even won a few Game of the Year awards back in 1998, the sales were not particularly good. The odd thing about this is that almost everyone who has played it has totally loved it, so maybe it just wasn't marketed well, or something about it was initially unappealing. However, this game is utterly worth it, and highly recommended if you can get your hands on a copy.
There are so many things that make this game fantastic, and indeed it was my personal pick for Game of the Year. It was not the biggest, the most graphically photorealistic, or the most action packed. In fact, this "escape the room" style adventure game is rendered in a sketch-tastic, sepia-fied color scheme, and the gameplay is such that you can't die, even if you're trying to do so on purpose. Nonetheless, it is one of the most creative and well-made games I've ever played. I played through the entire thing in one evening, pausing only to let the dogs out and have a bite of dinner.
Diminutive robot protagonist Josef finds himself in what appears to be a junkyard. After a brief tutorial in which actions and abilities are demonstrated, it is made clear through a few cartoonish flashbacks that some bad robots wearing black hats kidnapped Josef's girlfriend, and strong-armed the little robot himself out of the robot city. Josef then proceeds to re-enter the robot city in pursuit of his lost girlfriend, only to discover that the Black Cap Brotherhood has planted a bomb in the robot city. Josef must then solve a series of extremely creative visual puzzles in order to free his lady, disarm the bomb, and save the city. The soundtrack is particularly amazing, the artwork is charming, but Machinarium is the sort of experience that cannot really be described in any way that will do it proper justice. Just play the game.
The 7th Guest
Murder, haunted toys, creepy mansions, and a demon who steals the souls of children. The 7th Guest has all this and more. This is probably a good spot to put a trigger warning, as even describing the game might be upsetting to some. Henry Stauf, a petty criminal drifting from place to place encounters a woman one her way home one night, and murders her in order to take her purse (classy!). Later that night, as he is sleeping, he dreams of a beautiful doll, and is compelled to try to make a replica of the doll exactly. He does so, and it is noticed by the owner of a bar, who wants to buy the doll. Predictably, Stauf manages to make a living out of making his incredibly detailed dream toys, and eventually builds a creepy mansion that no one ever sees and then fades to oblivion. Or at least until he decides to throw a dinner party inviting 6 guests, who arrive to find that Stauf is nowhere to be seen, but the rooms are full of puzzles, and the 6 guests are to solve the puzzles while they await the mysterious 7th guest (ooh, it's the title!), at which point the winner of the puzzle contest will be given his or her heart's desire.
The player then assumes the role of "Ego", who is tasked with investigating what happened at the dinner party some time after the events there occurred. Ego works his way through the puzzles, which enables him to see the events of that fateful night. As more and more of the truth is revealed, Ego comes to realize how he came to be at the house, and who he really is. And *spoiler alert*, the aforementioned soul-stealing demon figures heavily into this scenario.
In a dead tie with The 7th Guest for "Creepiest Puzzle Game Involving a Demon Ever", Sierra's Phantasmagoria was quite an accomplishment in graphics and cinematic at the time, as well as featuring a story that is still bizarre and batsh*t crazy even in today's Jersey Shore influenced times.
Adrienne and her husband, Don have just bought a new house, which happens to be a mansion that was previously inhabited by magician Zoltan "Carno" Carnovasch. Haunted mansion, I swear. First an evil toymaker, now and evil magician. And also like The 7th Guest, this game also involves a demon.
However similar in plot elements, these two games diverge significantly in actual narrative, though in the end, both do involve tales of corruption and sadism. This game also definitely deserves a trigger warning, as there is a fairly controversial scene involving a spousal sexual assault, as well as the graphic portrayal of some grisly murders. And somewhat unbelievably, this game was developed by Roberta WIlliams, who was also responsible for the King's Quest games.
In spite of its macabre plot and raw, controversial subject matter, Phantasmagoria is worth tracking down. The depicting of such atrocities is arguably unnecessary, as it can seem like a gratuitous glorification, but on the other hand, it certainly calls attention to the issue in a time when domestic assaults were even more likely to be dismissed by authorities as private matters, and thus invalid. This game is definitely not for everyone, but for those that can stomach it, the experience is rewarding.
Where to begin with this game? Though a bit more recent than some of the titles on this list, it has already achieved classic status by anyone who's touched it. I was told that it was good. I was told that it was compulsory. I had multiple friends and co-workers harassing me daily to install it after they'd found out I bought it. And yet, I waited about a month to do so, not understanding the utterly, mind-blastingly awesome ways in which this game would complete me on a spiritual and intellectual level. This is only minor hyperbole. I am convinced that this game is not merely widely appealing, but universally.
Note that I have skipped "globally", "solar systemically" and "galactically", because I believe that any sentient being who encounters this game will adore it. Among the many things that make this game so unspeakably rad: Awesome voice acting, a plot that plays out like an Indiana Jones movie (but a good one) and four difficulty levels, which ensure that the game can be enjoyed by all levels of gamers. There are escapes from burning trains dangling from snow-capped mountains, daring museum thefts and satisfyingly melodramatic romances. Most of the regular gameplay involves a combination of stealth and parkour moves.
There is also an extraordinarily well-designed online multiplayer option, which is particularly attractive if you have friends on PSN that are not necessarily in close proximity. The multiplayer is at least as satisfying as the single player, which is a rare trait, as many games either have extremely awkward multiplayer mechanisms, or a half-baked co-op play option, and the only remotely engaging feature is a vs. mode, which is often over way too quickly. Uncharted 2, however, manages to surpass most expectations in this department. If you play nothing else on the PS3, you should play this game, and if some for some reason you don't find it deeply engrossing, you should probably check the front and sides of your head(or eye sockets, if it's done according to the transorbital method) for lobotomy scars.
Far Cry 2
This game is fairly polarizing, and I don't blame anyone who completely disagrees with me on this. I wanted to include at least one FPS, however, if for no other reason than to show how massive the scope of the "adventure" genre is, as currently defined. I mean, I also included this game because I adore it, even though hardly anyone else does! I love Far Cry 2 partially because it is beautiful to look at, and partially because the story mode is very thought-provoking. The main character is essentially a mercenary who's been hired to help take out a war-profiteering arms dealer who's been supplying both sides of a civil conflict in eastern Africa. In gameplay, weapons degrade over time, the weather can be unpredictable, and players can get killed for doing absolutely nothing at all.
Sometimes the missions can feel quite repetitive, and many people don't like the mechanism by which one looks at the map is a bit awkward. Vehicles often must be repaired before they are drivable, and anti-malaria medicine must be taken in real time in order to stave off blurred vision and eventual death. In story mode, the player eventually has "buddies" who are NPCs that can assist during difficult missions or often simply provide moral support. It might sound ridiculous, but I had to euthanize my buddy during a mission at one point by shooting him, because I had to keep the syrettes, which are used to heal, but can also be used to overdose a fatally wounded buddy for an easy death.
This experience hit me harder than it should have, but it was also at this moment that I realized I loved Far Cry 2, in spite of some of the tedious and tense missions. It provides a higher degree of realism than a lot of games out here, because let's face it: being a hired gun trying to take out a warlord in a third world country would probably involved just as much tedium as it would danger. Far Cry 2 is another game that isn't for everyone, but you'll know almost immediately if it's for you. â€¨
Sam and Max Hit the Road
Based on Steve Purcell's comic book series, debuting in 1987, the Sam and Max games have enjoyed an awful lot of success over the years, and new chapters continue to be popular with fans of the graphic adventure subgenre. Of all the installments of the vigilante duo's exploits, Sam and Max Hit the Road is a standout. Perhaps because it was an original, perhaps because it set the bar for all subsequent titles so high, but whatever reason you want to cite, this title still holds up as clever and entertaining, even by today's increasingly snarky standards.
Sam, a giant anthropomorphic dog, and Max, who has been described as a "hyperkinetic 3' rabbity thing", despite the fact that his pointy teeth are extremely atypical of herbivores, are a pair of private investigators based in New York City. When they are hired to investigate the disappearance of Bruno the bigfoot and Trixie the Giraffe-Necked Girl from a local carnival, they must pursue the missing pair through a series of tourist traps. Along the way they encounter an evil country-wester singer, a John Muir-shaped vegetable, and an unreasonably large quantity of skee ball tickets. The absurdist humor and offbeat story earned this title a spot on many favorite lists, and paved the way for the success of subsequent titles in the series.