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The 25 Best Adventure Games Ever Made

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10: The Dig

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

The Dig is a game that’s so much easier to enjoy today than on its release twenty years ago in 1995. Back then it was mired in stories of the enormous expense of its development, the sort-of involvement of Stephen Spielberg, and ludicrous expectation. Approached now, it’s the beautiful science fiction adventure it always was, enjoyable without the noise.

Indeed it was based on an idea by Spielberg, but this was truly the work of Sean Clark, co-developer of Sam & Max. An asteroid is heading towards the Earth, and a five-person team is sent to land on it, plant charges, and skedaddle. Except, wouldn’t you know it, there’s more afoot.

Forget worrying comparisons with Armageddon (which came three years later) – this is a very smart piece of sci-fi, and for a LA adventure, bravely spare with the jokes. (Although there are some great gags in there.) It’s almost frustrating to see how the medium can be used to tell short stories like this, and yet so rarely is.

It’s a well paced game, calm, not afraid of silences. Its use of Michael Land’s score is sublime, and Robert Patrick’s voice work is some of the best ever. Gosh, this is a fantastic game.

Notes:

Indeed, The Dig did begin life as an idea for Spielberg’s Amazing Stories series, but at one point it was also going to be a movie. Considered too expensive to film, it eventually became game.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Check out Wadjet Eye’s Gemini Rue, or Peter Moorhead’s Stranded.

Read more:

John’s retro for Eurogamer.

Adam’s Have You Played.

9: Ben There, Dan That!/Time Gentlemen, Please!

Developer: Zombie Cow Studios/Size Five Games

Publisher: Zombie Cow Studios/Size Five Games

It seems silly to separate Dan Marshall and Ben Ward’s two adventures, since they play so fluidly one after the other. Both games centre around our eponymous heroes’ desire to watch a Magnum PI marathon on television, but not having a working aerial. The first sees them muddled up in an apparent alien invasion, the other meddling with time such that Hitler rules the world with an army of robot dinosaurs.

Where too many indie adventures feel the need to reference the 90s classics, Size Five’s duo rarely feel the need not to. The games are a love letter to the genre, while simultaneously becoming one of the best entries it’s seen. A rare thing indeed.

Everything is self-referential, including how self-referential it is, and it’s fantastically silly and rude. But it’s also, and this is the key, incredibly good. It understands inventory puzzles in a way that’s so horribly rare since the new millennium, and allows its own perception of logic to become yours – something very difficult to pull off.

Also, so many poo jokes.

Notes:

The excellently named Zombie Cow Studios changed its name to the utterly boring Size Five Games because lone-developer Dan Marshall is a twit.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

Developer

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Obviously all the LucasArts games they’re riffing on, but check out Toonstruck too.

Read more:

Sort of review of Ben There, Dan That.

Review of Time Gentlemen, Please.

Interview with Size Five.

An interview when they were still Zombie Cow.

8: Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers

Developer: Sierra

Publisher: Sierra

There was a time when Sierra had the edge on LucasArts when it came to adventure games. That time did not last, as you can see with a whopping six out of the top 10 being LA adventures. But in that time, when they were firing out Police Quests, Leisure Suit Larrys and King’s Quests, they seemed on top of the gaming world. Wow, those games haven’t aged well.

But Space Quest IV has. In a series of games that was certainly more miss than hit, it stands out as a surprisingly hilarious project, and a game that actually lives up to the myth of 90s adventures being “packed with jokes for every detail on the screen.” Most certainly weren’t – Space Quest IV was.

Each game featured space janitor Roger Wilco trying to recover from his latest set-back, and this time it was being chased through time by the baddy from Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge. See! Just that joke – that joke is fucking brilliant. It gets better as you go back from the luxurious SVGA graphics of this 1991 release, to the CGA mess with which Space Quest 1 was drawn. (Wilco is mocked for his 256 colours.) And every damned thing on screen had a joke, or more likely, four different jokes for each cursor option, most of them dryly delivered by the mellifluous narration of Gary Owens.

The story’s complete dross, and the way it incessantly kills you is ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter when a game’s this funny.

Notes:

By the time SQ4 was being made, developers Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe were barely speaking, and they both detested their bosses at Sierra. So much of that bitterness comes through in the game, making it all the more splendid.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could try Space Quests V and VI, but they’re harder work.

Read more:

John’s retro for Eurogamer.

7: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

A lot of hyperbole circles around the Monkey Island games. They are, without question, the most well-known adventure games of the 90s. I think as a consequence of that, they’re often confused for being the best. They’re not. Especially the first, which is actually a rather short, dull game. The sequel celebrated here is marvellous, often very funny, and actually contains all the jokes and set-pieces people muddle up and think are in the first. The second half is a lot weaker than the first, but it’s definitely the 7th best adventure of all time.

The combined wits of Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman made for a really silly, really entertaining pirate adventure, as poor inept Guybrush Threepwood sets out to discover the treasure of Big Whoop. There is also spitting.

The more recent refresh the game received added voice actors, which gives the old game new life, especially when played with the superb original graphics.

Notes:

It’s often thought that Pirates Of The Caribbean nicked ideas from Monkey Island, but it’s the other way around. The game was inspired by the theme park ride that later inspired the movie.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could take a look at Telltale’s reasonable Tales Of Monkey Island episodes, as well as of course the game’s third and fourth sequels.

Read more:

Will Porter’s Eurogamer retro.

6: Toonstruck

Developer: Burst Studios

Publisher: Virgin Interactive

Toonstruck? But it’s the game that’s supposed to get forgotten from these lists, not placed above Monkey Island! What is this? Are you trying to incite a riot?

No, other voice in my head – Toonstruck is in fact a really bloody great game, and everyone keeps forgetting just how great. Starring a live-action Christopher Lloyd as cartoonist Drew Blanc, and his animated cartoon buddy Flux Wildly voiced by Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta, it’s a cartoon-reality crossover adventure.

Cutopia is being turned horrid by the evil Count Nefarious, gloriously voiced by the unimprovable Tim Curry. Wow, just look at the talent I’m listing here. Add in Ben Stein before he became an intolerable blowhard, and The Simpsons and Futurama’s Tress MacNeille as Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun.

It’s sharp, laugh-out-loud funny, the puzzles are great, the animation is out-of-this-world. The whole game feels like a tribute to the classic animations of the 1930s and 40s, but with the twists of John Kricfalusi. Far too few people played it at the time, and far too few remember its greatness today.

Notes:

There was meant to be a sequel. In fact, huge chunks of a sequel exist, as the original game was split in half. Despite reaching a suitable conclusion, there’s a whole second half that’s never been released. There is always speculation that it will see daylight, but it never seems to happen.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Not quite as silly, but you might want to take a look at the FMV Tex Murphy series.

Read more:

John’s retro on Eurogamer.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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