A good story and engaging characters drive adventure games. There are puzzles to solve and secrets to find out. An adventure game is like a book but one you can interact with and shape the story. You will not find much violence in an adventure game, but you will find conflict. Conflict gives the dramatic tension to carry you through to the end of the story.
Adventure games are for the thinkers, the puzzle solvers, and those who like to lose themselves in a book. Many games have adventurous elements, but only adventure games have a focus on experiencing the story through exploration and discovery.
Engaging with an adventure game is like reading a book or watching a film. Once you have been on the journey, you are unlikely to revisit it unless you like to view the same movie over and over again.
Elements of Adventure Games
Adventure games do not lend themselves to a multiplayer format. The focus is on the story, characters, and the unfolding plot as presented to you as the player. The games are for one player.
You will need to like the main character or to enjoy engaging with the story as if you were reading a book or watching a film. Generally, you will play the lead role in the story and move around the story’s setting, working out the puzzles and what exactly it is that you need to do.
Some adventure games give you more than one character, and you switch from one to the other to solve the mystery. Unlike role-playing adventure action games, you do not customize the appearance of the lead actor, nor will the character gain experience points and superpowers on solving puzzles. You take on the role of an observer of the principal person’s mannerisms and habits, even though you are directing their actions.
In most games, the plot or narrative is there to add some background color to the main business of killing monsters. In adventure games, the plot is the game. You must seek out clues and work out what the story is to progress. There are subplots, side plots, and dead ends. Your objective is not made clear in the beginning; it reveals itself bit by bit.
In a well-designed adventure game, the puzzles or problems faced will be apart of the narrative. You don’t solve puzzles to earn points or currency. An adventure game rarely has any form of money involved in the gameplay.
The puzzles are varied. Coded messages that must be cracked to get information. Compiling maps from clues gained from other characters. You solve problems using found objects and real-world knowledge – for example, an inner tube is elastic, or that a balloon can inflate.
Collecting and Using Objects
Adventure games encourage you to think all around the problem you are facing. The answer is not always obvious. Generally, essential objects will be marked for you to put in your store. The objects collected may not need to be used immediately but later in the game.
You will need to stay alert, information that you gain in one scene, that might not seem important will be necessary to solve a future problem or maybe a vital part of the unfolding plot.
Talking to Characters
As in life, you obtain information by talking to other people. In an adventure game, those other people are characters in the story that you meet and interact with. This type of gameplay is not an open world. You are going to follow a fixed plot and path. You may wander from the way, but you can’t go anywhere but the pre-written route.
The dialogue in an adventure game is a dialog or conversation tree. You will be presented with a selection of lines to say to another character. The choice will elicit a response. The skill in obtaining the information you need lies in selecting which branch of the conversation pathways you are going to follow. The conversations you have are part of the puzzle-solving process.
How to Choose an Adventure Game
There are a few simple points to choosing the right adventure game for you.
- Can you play it?
The operating systems for the adventure games developed in the ’80s and ’90s no longer exist. However, the recent interest in adventure games has resulted in the remastering of the games with improved graphics and sound. Old games are being made available for modern consoles and mobiles. But, it’s still the first thing you should check before purchase. Adventure games are budget-friendly, but it is still annoying to buy a game that you can’t load and play.
- What is the Plot and Who are the Characters?
You choose an adventure game in the same way you select a book or movie. You are going to spend time in this world and (hopefully) lose yourself in the game. The plot is going to have to appeal to you. Films and books have spinoff adventure games that will be familiar to you in terms of the world. If you are a fan of the book or movie, then you will probably enjoy an adventure game modeled on this genre.
- What are you going to do?
You are going to play the game, but what is the game going to ask you to do? If you enjoy completing logic puzzles, then a game that is problem dense may hold your interest more than a detective yarn.
Some adventure games put you in the position of being a detective or an observer. Very few puzzles, but like Sherlock Holmes or the hero of a Dan Brown novel, you must notice the small details, link them and unravel the mystery.
The game that appeals to you will depend on your personality and how your mind works. But, if you have never tried an adventure game before, pick one, you may find a whole new interest. You may be a master codebreaker or keenly observant.
- How long will it take?
How long the game is going to involve your attention may be significant and will depend on how you want to play it. Many of the longer adventure games will have regular save points, a bit like putting in a bookmark at the end of a chapter. You can progress the storyline in small chunks of time.
If you like a puzzle to occupy your time while traveling, then there are adventure games that are all about the problems and last for twenty minutes at most. You will find a game to suit your preferred play.
Adventure Game Types
Escape the Room
These games tend to be short and involve puzzle-solving to get out of the room. Generally, there are no other characters just you and the game space. You have limited resources and will need to think logically to escape.
An excellent example of this type of adventure game is “The Room.” This game is playable on mobile devices and Windows PC. You open a series of increasingly complex puzzle boxes – good game for players who enjoy puzzles.
Puzzle Adventure Games
All adventure games contain some puzzles, but puzzle adventure games are all about the logic puzzles. In this subset of adventure games, you have a series of problems to solve. Solving puzzles gives you access to more difficult challenges.
An example of this type of game is “The Talos Principle.” The game will present you with 120 puzzles to solve. It is an adventure game, so the problems are part of the narrative.
Narrative Adventure Games or Interactive Fiction Games
A vital element of all adventure games is the narrative or the story. This subset of adventure games allows the player to choose different narratives. Your choices as you play the game will determine how the story ends. Various options give different endings.
The only way to communicate with the game is through typing text. These games are reminiscent of the early adventure games, where the technology was limited to text commands. There are many interactive fiction games to play, some available for free.
The original Adventure game is still around, and there are others such as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and range of games covering cyberpunk, mysteries, magic, and comedy.
These adventure games have few, if any, puzzles. You walk your character around the scenes, and the story unfolds through what you discover on your travels. The idea is that you explore and discover the story rather than being fed the plot in small chunks of dialogue.
“What Remains of Edith Finch” is a walking simulator type of adventure game. You can play it on consoles or a PC or a Nintendo switch. It is an award-winning game for its artistic merit. You can consider it as the gaming equivalent of an art-house film. The story involves Edith exploring her family’s history through a series of small flashbacks. There are a few plot twists and a poignant ending.
The story is text-based with some graphic images. You can choose the story direction, so this is less of an adventure game and more of an interactive book. The media originated in Japan, and Anime heavily influence the illustrations. You have a wide selection, such as Zero Time Dilemma, Mystic Letter, or Steins: Gate. The choices you make will change the ending and who survives and thrives.
You see scenes (graphics or live-action film), and your actions determine what action will result from a hidden range of prerecorded sequences. The story can be long or short depending on your choices. Netflix is one streaming service that has introduced interactive titles where you can express some character choices.
These games peaked in the ’90s, many of them involved live-action film and some adult content. There have been a few attempts to update this format. The action is limited to choosing what the character does (go down to the creepy basement or run for the hills). If you are curious as to how this works in practice, you can try The Outbreak (zombies) or HBO Imagine (many possibilities, one storyline).
Benefits of Playing Adventure Games
An active brain is a healthy brain. Everyone knows that to keep your body fit; then you must build in some physical activity. You take the stairs instead of the elevator, and you walk whenever you can. The brain also needs exercise to function at its best.
Adventure games are unique in the way they engage your brain. In many games, you must react quickly – is that a monster, quick, kill it before it kills you. These types of games encourage your brain to think and respond quickly. Adventure games engage a different part of your mind – the part that works things out. The part that remembers and links together disparate bits of information. You will recall facts not only from the game but from your life experiences to let you solve puzzles. This action develops your ability to think and act creatively.
There is also the stress-relieving aspect of spending time doing something for fun. Your brain gets to play and try out new things. Play is vital to adults and should be absorbing, putting you into that flow state, where you focus intently on what you are doing.
Build Your Own Adventure Game
The storybook format and fiendish puzzles of an adventure game make it an accessible medium for the budding game designer or author. Adventure Game Studio software allows you to build a point and click style adventure game.
The software offers templates modeled on classic adventure games. You can create a room, set out walkable spaces, and determine which objects are necessary for solving problems. You can create characters, script their dialogue and set challenging puzzles.
There is a thriving community of adventure game builders who share their efforts for a fee or for free. Adventure games are one of the simplest games for you to flex your creative muscles, even if you choose never to share your genius with the world.
If you catch the game designing bug, then you can graduate to higher-level coding in easy stages.
The genre started with a game in 1976 called Colossal Cave Adventure. These games were reliant on the player typing in text commands like “pick up box” if that action were possible, then the character would pick up the box. If that action wasn’t possible or the command was unclear, then you would get a message saying something like, “I can’t do that.” The adventure games developed through clear stages:
The earliest adventure games involve text exchanges with the computer. There may be some puzzles as part of the narrative. The text adventures led to games with a mixture of graphic images and movement. The equivalent of text-based adventure games lives on in interactive fiction games.
These games were the next stage of adventure games. Now the player gains information from the scenery. You see the characters in action, you may still be communication by typing in commands, but the feel of the game is more realistic.
Point and Click
Instead of typing in instructions such as “pick up the brick,” you can point at the brick and click on it to pick it up. The gameplay is faster and more fluid. Characters can move from place to place and conversations can be initiated with other characters.
Adventure games fell out of favor with the development of action-focused games and better computer graphics. Recently they have become more popular as players have rediscovered the joy of gentle problem-solving.
Many older games have had a facelift. They have new artwork, sounds and better ways of interacting with the game while retaining the original charm of the game. The improvements have also increased the number of platforms the games can play on as many games were for redundant operating systems.
Interest in developing new adventure games is steadily increasing. Developers are looking to produce sequels to the cult classics using updated technology to create a more immersive and involving game.
Many adventure games reflect or mirror the classic games with at best 2D imagery. New games in other genres use 3D imaging to provide a better gaming experience. New games that are sequels and spin-offs will update the graphics to deliver high-quality 3D imagery.
The threaded model produces more games. What this means in terms of gameplay is that you no longer follow one linear plot but can choose to follow a thread that may branch off into different scenes. Your choices determine the path you follow and the ending that results. The future of adventure gaming lies in making the plots non-linear and with many more options for the player. This technology already exists in other genres.
The addition of game AI to the nonplayer characters will increase the unexpected nature of the adventure game, tailoring the story progression to the player.
Virtual Reality headsets may change the way we experience games. Many fast-moving action games can leave players feeling nauseous and dizzy. Adventure games with their slower, thoughtful pace are ideally suited to this way of playing. A few games are already available that are ideal for players with a virtual reality headset.
Top Three Adventure Games for VR Headsets
This puzzle game requires spatial reasoning (ability to think creatively in three dimensions) and will also need physical movement. The game requires you to generate more than one avatar so that you can carry out multiple tasks simultaneously. You record the actions that your avatar will take and then combine up to eight of them, each completing a pre-recorded task. This challenging game that will stretch your brain to the limit.
This game is exclusive to PlayStation VR and uses Move controllers. Your role is to assist a young orphaned kitten, and you will need to solve puzzles to achieve this aim. The game will take around 3 to 4 hours to play. This game focuses on the interaction between your character and Louis, so the narrative element is what drives the game. Along the journey, you will enjoy stunning artwork and music.
This adventure game is a mystery thriller. You play a young girl looking for her brother to escape from a terrifying house. The twist with this game is that you are blind and need to use echolocation to illuminate details briefly. This gameplay plays to VR strengths in that you are in the dark with brief flashes of clarity. Noise allows you to visualize the scenery.
There are puzzles and an involving narrative, but the technology is new, and the main impact of the game is the ability to experience sensory deprivation.
If you haven’t got a VR headset but still think you might enjoy an adventure game, then you have plenty of choices. The old classic games are always available for PC, and many of them have been polished up and reformatted for consoles and mobile devices. Not just past games but more recent releases developed as new games or sequels. The adventure game genre may never dominate the headlines, but it has been with us since the beginning of computer games and will be long into the future.
Top Ten Adventure Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android.
This adventure game will show you the Mexican Land of the Dead. Skeletons and demons populate it. The storyline is that the inhabitants of the bizarre world are the recently deceased. In this land, they atone for the crimes committed while living; then, they can undertake the four-year journey to the ninth underworld. The flavor of the game is distinctly film noir, but the graphics and characters would not be out of place in a Pixar film.
You play the hero of the story, Manny Calavera. His mission (and yours) is to save Mercedes Colomar. He wishes to atone for the wrongs committed against this woman.
You will talk to the characters to obtain information, acquire objects, and use these to solve a variety of puzzles.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
The special edition plays on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, and iOS.
This adventure game is the second in the series based on Monkey Island. You are offered a choice of difficulties and can opt to bypass the puzzles altogether.
You play the hero – Guybrush Threepwood. He wants to be a dashing swashbuckling pirate but sadly is inept at the practical pirating skills. In this game, he is intent on finding treasure. The story unfolds in flashback as our hero and his lady love Elaine Marley are each hanging on a rope above a deep dark hole.
The zombie pirate LeChuck purses the hero. Our hero assembles a map, runs through tunnels, solves puzzles, and escapes (maybe). Essential objects are easy to spot. The controls are much improved in the remastered special edition.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
You can play this point and click adventure games on Mac OS or Microsoft Windows or PlayStation or Game Boy Advance.
You play from a third-person perspective. The story revolves around George Stobbart. He is an American tourist visiting Paris. He witnesses a terrorist attack on a café carried out by a clown. Together with Nicole, he is driven to investigate what happened and why.
To progress through the game, you will talk with other characters, piece together a map, find out secrets and solve puzzles. In this game, the main character can die (unusual for an adventure game), and then you restart from the last save point.
The game can play on mobile devices, and because you can save, it is possible to progress through the game in spare minutes. The whole game will take around 20-30 hours and can be thought of as a book but with a high degree of reader involvement.
If you think you could out sleuth Sherlock Holmes and you enjoy the darkly comic world of Terry Pratchett, then you will enjoy this adventure game.
You can play on PlayStation or Windows.
This adventure game takes place in the world invented by Terry Pratchett – Discworld. Flat earth carried on the backs of four elephants, standing on a turtle that swims through space. You play a member of the guards – Lewton. You have a crime to investigate and many people to interview.
The game is not based around any one book but takes characters and settings from all of them. If you are familiar with the books, you will recognize many of the characters, but you don’t have to have read any of the books to enjoy the game.
The plot is a parody of famous film noir titles – The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. There are a limited number of puzzles to be solved using found objects. The action mainly follows using your detective skills to pick up and follow clues to solve the crime and rescue the girl.
Beneath a Steel Sky
This adventure game can play on iOS and older systems such as MS-DOS and Amiga.
Alongside Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, this is considered a classic cult game. The title of the game was Underworld. The setting is a future wasteland populated by a mixture of primitive tribes and city-states.
The hero is Robert Foster and his robot friend – Joey. Joey’s circuit boards can be moved from one body to another, making it possible for him to accompany Robert on his travels. There are regular save points because the character can die. You must work out what is going on and why the city-state is so interested in you. You solve puzzles and look for clues.
The game’s popularity means a sequel is planned – Beyond a Steel Sky. It is due for release soon.
Day of the Tentacle
Platforms: Linux, MS-DOS, Mac OS, OS X, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vista, PlayStation 4, iOS.
You follow the adventures of three characters who face an evil purple tentacle. Naturally, the sentient tentacle is intent on world domination. There is time travel, but the machine is faulty and scatters the three main characters across different time zones. Once you have reached a certain level (after puzzle solving), you can switch between all the characters.
The game is updated, but it has retained the crazy cartoon feel. You win the day through brainpower rather than hacking and slashing your way to glory.
Night in the Woods
Platforms: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.
You play as Mae, a young woman who has left college and returned home. The town is populated by humans who resemble animals (her best friend is a crocodile, and she is a cat). The storyline revolves around Mae and her slowly deteriorating mental health as she attempts to solve the big mystery of what exactly is going on in her hometown.
The story is involving as it deals with the big subject of depression in young adults, and it focusses on emotion rather than a straightforward storyline. There are puzzles to be solved, but this adventure game has a strong flavor of the sandbox game in that you are free to explore and interact with the world in your way.
This adventure game is only available for PC, currently.
You experience the world through three characters. Each has its problems to solve although, in the end, it is all part of one giant puzzle. The world is a futuristic city controlled by AI. The game has a strong narrative that unfolds throughout the gameplay. You can expect several plot twists as you work out what is going on in this cyberpunk world.
A sequel – Technobabylon: Birthright will release in 2020.
Life is Strange
Platforms: PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 &One, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linus, iOS and Android.
A significant feature of the gameplay is the ability to rewind time, but only in limited periods. The protagonist is trying to find out what happened to her missing friend. The story unfolds in episodes, and like the film “The Butterfly Effect,” going back in time to change events does not always lead to a more desirable outcome.
There are only a small number of puzzles in the game, as most of the action revolves around the choices made when rewinding time. The opportunity to rewind time is limited, and you must live with the consequences, you can’t keep going back.
Platforms: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS, and Microsoft Windows.
A more recent classic point and click adventure game that has developed from games like The Secret of Monkey Island. You have five characters to choose from and can swap between characters during the game.
You initially believe you are investigating a murder, but the story has deeper levels. You can choose between Casual (fewer puzzles) or Hard (all the problems) mode. The story is fixed and has a strong focus on each of the five characters. You solve the puzzles and work out the plot as you play the game.