God is a Geek’s Top 10 Adventure Games

by on December 13, 2010

When I think of Adventure Games, I’m thinking of point and click adventures. Text adventures. Games where quick reactions and fast reflexes are unimportant and mental acuity and puzzle-solving are king. Thought by many to be a dead artform for many years, the genre which used to be the biggest selling across home computers through the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties did suffer a long incubation. Game developers couldn’t see the profit in releasing these conversation-heavy epics that didn’t give the gamer his hourly dosage of death and destruction. Projects were put on hold, interesting newcomers cancelled and beloved series cut short.

However, with the advent of the Nintendo DS and other mobile gaming platforms, the traditional Adventure Game has had a revival of sorts. Titles like Ace Attorney Investigations and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 achieved success around the globe and point and click titles began to appear on the Wii. The DS stylus and Wii Remote immediately lent themselves to games that would traditionally require mouse-based control. These titles were intuitive and casual gamers could pick up and play them instantly, without having to navigate a learning curve or instruction manual. Digital distribution has allowed for lower budgets and less associated risk, so price concerns have been pushed to one side, and – with smaller adventures attracting players of all ages – even big-budget releases such as Heavy Rain have found a place in the crowded market.

Classic Adventures have been re-mastered and released on computers and consoles too, leading to the question: “what are the top 10  Adventure Games of all time?” This list is by no means definitive – not a full guide to those that defined the genre, but rather some of the highest recommendations we can make to you. Whether you like the lite-adventuring of Professor Layton or the humour of the Phoenix Wright series, these are all titles that you should try to track down and enjoy.

10. Sam and Max Hit the Road (Lucasarts, 1993)


Many still regard this as the funniest game ever made. Based on the of-the-wall comics of the same name by Steve Purcell (now working for Pixar), the game follows Sam and Max – a dog and rabbit Private Detective duo. On the case of a missing Yeti, the partners will travel across Amercia, searching various well-known landmarks such as Mount Rushmore, and other less renowned ones like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

Recently revived by Telltale Games in three seasons of episodic titles, Sam and Max seem set to be with us for a while longer, providing us with manic puzzles and animals with violent tendancies for the foreseeable future.

Sam and Max Hit the road is currently out of print, but can be found secondhand on Amazon Marketplace, for example.

9. Zork: The Great Underground Empire (Infocom, 1980)

This is as complex as the game gets

The oldest game on this list, Zork is the great grand-daddy of all Adventure Games. Coded by a group of Dungeons and Dragons fans in the late seventies, the game ignored the trend for arcade action games at the time and instead created a world which was entirely text-based, and the graphics only existed in your head. The game was very basic in terms of commands it could understand – anything more than two word sentences and it got confused – but the descriptions of the scenes and monsters helped to sow the seeds into the mind of the player, where the real fantasy atmosphere was created.

Few gamers would have patience for a silent, text-only game nowadays, but the simple idea still stands up as great interactive storytelling – let the reader interpret the world how they see fit.

The original Zork trilogy is unavailable on modern machines, but can be played easily via emulators.

8. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (Sierra, 1993)

Adventure games had tried to be serious and tackle adult themes in the past, but the Gabriel Knight series was probably the first set of games that really produced a well-written script and truly chilling scares. Based in New Orleans, the plot follows the titular character as he becomes embroiled in a deadly series of crimes involving Voodoo. He discovers his family is linked to an ancient line of supernatural peace-keepers and realises he is the only one who can solve this mystery.

The games were always highly polished, and the strong historical and cultural research created believable situations and a tense atmosphere. Split up into different days, the game plays like a TV mini-series, and the game even featured the voices of Tim Curry and Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill.

The Gabriel Knight series can be purchased for digital download at Good old Games.

7. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (Sierra, 1987)

A game infamous for its theme of sexual conquest, but beloved for its sense of humour – Leisure Suit Larry is an oft-misunderstood gem of the genre. It carries the reputation of being perverted, but the game features little in the way of obscene content. The real core of the title is the amusing situations that arise when a luckless loser goes looking for love. The first game in the series is as basic as you can get, being controlled by parser (text-based phrase commands) allowed the player to type whatever command they liked in to the game, to see the results. It can be played through in around half and hour if you know the puzzles, but the player is rewarded for exploration and trying different things – as every action produces a punchline or hilarious outcome.

Later games got more sophisticated, but the lovable lead character remained, and the sarcastic sense of humour was ever-present. A truly funny series of games, which actually centres more around women outsmarting Larry, rather than a sex-fuelled rampage. Recent console-based additions to the series have had a negative impact on its reputation, but the original designer had nothing to do with them.

The Leisure Suit Larry Collection can be purchased at Amazon.

6. Day of the Tentacle (Lucasarts, 1993)

Tim Schafer of Double Fine Games, creators of the recent Costume Quest and Brutal Legend, cut his teeth developing adventure games. You can see where his story-telling talent was nurtured, in his design for games such as Day of the Tentacle, where character and his now-signature sense of humour began to shine. A follow-up of sorts to an earlier Lucasrts adventure – Maniac Mansion – this game actually allowed the control of three seperate main characters who have been transported to three different time periods – Colonial America (complete with george Washington and Ben Franklin), the present day and the future – where Tentacles have taken over the world. The user could switch between them at will, enabling a certain degree of freedom in the order that tasks could be completed, as they fought to save the human race from slavery at the hands of the Tentacles.

The game even included a game-within-a-game, whereby the player could access the entire version of Maniac Mansion, using a computer within the main title. Post-modern or what? The sense of humour and cartoon-style graphics the game boasts help to make this an enduring entry on most lists defining the genre.

Day of the tentacle is currently out of print, but can be found secondhand on Amazon Marketplace, for example.

5. The Last Express (Brøderbund, 1997)

The Last Express is often seen as one of the key titles in the fall of the pure adventure game. Produced on a huge budget, written and directed by Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner and using a cast of real actors who were later rotoscoped and painted into the game (a’la A Scanner Darkly, for example), this title had a run of bad luck that saw it become a commercial failure. A lack of marketing and several bankruptcies ensured the title was released to a whimper, rather than the fanfare it deserved, and it soon faded into obscurity.

The game is one to play as it was a great example of non-linear gameplay. Set in 1914, near the start of World War I, on the Orient Express, this political thriller cum-murder mystery features a fully autonomous cast who move about at their own pace. Set in real-time, this means that one playthrough will differ greatly from the next and some conversations of scenes can only be witnessed if you are at the right time at the right place. This allowed for a host of different endings, but an innovative rewind feature meant that players could go back to experience things they may have missed previously – without being punished. A ground-breaking game in the sense of linearity, but a warning to publishers that marketing is key.

The Last Express is currently out of print, but can be found secondhand on Amazon Marketplace, for example.

4. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (Lucasarts, 1992)

The best Indiana Jones film never made. This game was what fans had been waiting for. A real sequel to The Last Crusade. In fact, many remain positive this story should have been turned into a film rather than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – and you can see why. The game is oozing with the movie atmosphere and references – the signature suspense and humour of the films is here for all to see and fills the game with Indy charm. Popular characters from the films show up, players have to globe-trot exotic locations to track down the location of the lost city of Atlantis, all the while evading those pesky Nazi soldiers.

The game features a new sidekick for Indy, and – in an unusual move for the time – three different paths to completing the game. All three paths start and end the same, but the middle few acts are very different depending on if you choose to play the Fists (fighting oriented path), Wits (puzzle oriented) or Team (whereby Sophia, our sidekick, joins for support). Allowing for a great amount of replay value, this adventure will keep you entertained for a long time.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis can be purchased for digital download via Steam.

3. The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasarts, 1990)

Recently rejuvenated by the Special Edition re-release it has received, The Secret of Monkey Island remains one of the most influential and lover adventure games ever made. One of the first adventuring titles where your character could not die, and the emphasis was placed on comedy, rather than fantasy. The game plays out as a wimpy young boy wants to become a Pirate, before coming to the rescue of the woman he loves by defeating a band of Ghost Pirates. If you think that sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean, you are right – that theme-park ride inspired this game.

Packed with memorable characters and locations, and a whole host of quotable lines, one of the most enduring features is perhaps the “insult sword-fighting”, whereby rather than regular fencing, a battle is won by he who has a sharper tongue. The true measure of brains over brawn, this game began a deluge of comedy adventures that saw the genre reach its peak in the mid-nineties.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition can be purchased for digital download via Steam, and is also available on XBLA & PSN.

2. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Revolution, 1996)

Another game that has only recently had a make-over and another chance to make an impression on the gaming market – Broken Sword follows American tourist George Stobbart as he stumbles into a plot by a ring of Templar Knights to take over the world, and – with the help of French journalist Nico Collard – the two must stop their plans at any cost.

Another game that has meticulously researched its historical context, to great effect. In much the same way as The Da Vinci Code brought the Templars into the modern day, Broken Sword had done so in the previous decade. A great mixture of tense, serious scenes – with a little action thrown in – and humorous conversation, the game is thoroughly immersive. With a strong soundtrack and great cast of voices, the game world comes alive and will likely spark your interest in some historical research of your own. Indeed, aren’t the best film and gaming experiences those that actually makes us want to go out and learn more about what we have experienced?

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars can be purchased for digital download via Steam, and is also available across Apple platforms and on Nintendo Wii and DS.

1. Grim Fandango (Lucasarts, 1998)

The final nail in the coffin of Adventure Games. A critical success but a commercial failure. The game that is widely regarded as the last great hurrah of the Adventure genre is one that splits audiences. This is the first adventure game from Lucasarts that made the transition to 3D, and despite a niggly keyboard control system, it was a huge triumph. Set in the Land of the Dead – a world inspired by the Mexican “Day of the Dead”  holiday and Film Noir Movies – you play Manuel Calavera, Grim Reaper and travel agent to the dead. After uncovering a web of lies and deception in the management the land, Manny joins an underground revolution and must track down the girl of his dreams.

Taking artistic direction from Casablanca and featuring an incredible Jazz soundtrack, the game is an masterpiece of design, but left many people baffled. Certainly not a game to be easily accepted by the mainstream, this title rewarded those who invested their time in it. Another title from Tim Schafer, his sense of humour and clever puzzle design – coupled with a world full of lovable creatures, evil villains and intrigue – created a true film-quality experience. But as illustrated by other titles on this list, quality won’t assure sales and the genre struggled hugely after the disappointing performance of Grim Fandango. A forgotten classic and cult hit then? I cannot give my highest recommendations for this game, it is unlike any other experience in gaming.

Grim Fandango is currently out of print, but can be found secondhand on Amazon Marketplace, for example.

So what do you think is the best adventure game ever made? Is your top choice here, or do you think the games on this list don’t deserve the spot we have given it? Discuss your thoughts in our forums.