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The 25 best adventure games ever made

Point, Click, Agree

You know that there are adventure games, and you know that some of those adventure games are better than others. But do you know which one is best, and which one is twenty-fifth best? Well, at last you can find out, with our definitive, unimpeachable breakdown of adventure gaming's best moments.

The joy of the adventure game is that it's always been alive. There have been heydays, most notably the 1990s, and the present day, with a severe dip in quality during the intervening decade, but the genre has always thrived. And gosh, what gems it contains. Games that are, without doubt, among the best of any genre. Here we celebrate a small number of the finest amongst them.

The list is limited to 25, so there's a good chance a game you love doesn't appear and you'll be furious about that. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, you probably wrong - you know what you're like - and the game you love isn't better than the ones on the list. Secondly, make sure to check out the other recommended games mentioned in the "What else should I be playing?" for each entry. A mention there is no snub.

We've not included Quest For Glory, because it's been officially decreed by God himself that it's an RPG. They were, of course, incredible. Gone Home is also not there, because it just doesn't comfortably fit in the genre. If you're about to complain about the lack of Myst, please staple your left eye to your right knee. And yes, wow, it gets a touch LucasArts heavy toward the top. That's because they made the best adventure games, and while great ones have been released since, few are better than those stunning classics.

However, if you remain livid that you didn't see Loom, or that Beneath A Steel Sky didn't make it when Broken Sword did, then don't just get cross - write a lovely entry of your own, making the case for why it was great, and pop it in the comments. Others will read it and be convinced by your passion. If you're Richard Cobbett and you're here to complain about The Last Express not appearing, look Richard, no one but you got it then, or now.

So here it is - the ultimate adventure guide. Plunge in, and then play the ones you missed, and the ones you miss. Or bail, suddenly and inexplicably, by going to read our regularly updated list of the best PC games you can play right now, instead.

Best adventure games

25: Dragonsphere

Developer: MicroProse

Publisher: MicroProse

During the peak of the LucasArts vs. Sierra adventure wars, Microprose decided to pluckily throw some games into the ring, and this one was a doozy. Dragonsphere was, and still is, a beautifully drawn adventure, in which you – as King Callash – must put aside your royal wealth and set off to prevent the evil wizard Sanwe from escaping his prison.

It’s enormously detailed, with swathes of dialogue for the most minor of items on screen, and a pleasingly deep fantasy tale to explore.

Notes:

Microprose also offered the adventuring world the extraordinarily named Rex Nebular And The Cosmic Gender Bender, as well as the far more boringly titled Return Of The Phantom.

Where can I buy it:

Steam
GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Get yourself Westwood’s Kyrandia series.

24: Police Quest III: The Kindred

Developer: Sierra Online

Publisher: Sierra Online

The Police Quest games stood out in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Where adventure games were either about fairy tales or science fiction, Police Quest was defiantly straight-laced and serious. Procedural, even. And while it would eventually evolve into the SWAT license, in its point-and-click days it peaked with The Kindred.

There are those who will pooh-pooh its inclusion, remembering how it would kill you if you filled in forms incorrectly, or how utterly bloody impossible it was to plot that pentagram of murder sites on the map, but no! The tale of Sergeant Sonny Bonds, investigating the stabbing of his own wife and uncovering a Satanic cult, is a properly good time.

It was a damn site better than all the bloody King’s Quest games everyone delusionally thinks were great, too.

Notes:

Police Quest writer and actual real-life policeman Jim Walls stormed off in a huff during development of The Kindred, which saw SWAT founder Daryl F. Gates taking over his role.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely look at the Gabriel Knight games.

Read more:

Eurogamer retrospective by John

23: Under A Killing Moon

Developer: Access Software

Publisher: US Gold

Right, so picking a Tex Murphy game had to happen. The FMV meets sci-fi meets pre-rendered monstrosities meets Chris Jones’s ultro-hamming were a saving grace of the 1990s car crash of FMV releases. But are you furious that it’s Under A Killing Moon, and not The Pandora Directive, or Overseer? Don’t be mad – just write over the text on your monitor with a biro.

This was the game in the series of noir-ish silliness that pulled me in, not just with its mystifying technical wizardry, but also a fun, deeply strange tale of norms vs. mutants, and a doomsday plot from the Brotherhood Of Purity.

Notes:

FOUR CD-ROMS! In 1994! That’s the modern equivalent of releasing your game on two Large Hadron Colliders.

There were two Tex Murphy games previous to UAKM, but their plots were retconned and the whole series reinvented. For good.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Devour the whole series, as well as last year’s Tesla Effect.

Read more:

Our interview with Chris Jones about bringing the series back.

22: Spycraft: The Great Game

Developer: Activision

Publisher: Activision

There is admittedly not a lot of FMV in this list. The format has not aged well, nor indeed was most of it any good in the first place. But Spycraft was something completely different, and it’s a proper shame how unknown it remains.

Playing for realism, you are a rookie spy, given materials to uncover a plot to assassinate the President of the United States (1996-style), engaging with the FBI and CIA as you do. Oh, and so much intrigue!

It played like you were at your desk, analysing video and audio footage, using all sorts of tech and contraptions, and coo, it felt so involved. In fact, it still does, as you isolate particular pieces of background sound and run searches, build photo-IDs, and generally be an amazing hero spy person.

Notes:

Actual real-life spy people appear in the game, with former CIA director William Colby and former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin! Also, Charles Napier is in it, so BOOM.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Bit of an outlier, but how about EXperience112.

21: Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People

Developer: Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

Telltale ploughed their way through a lot of crap before they finally hit gold with Strong Bad. Two awful series of Sam & Max (woefully overrated by a confused press), the abandoned Bone episodes, and let us never forget their CSI games. But then along came the Brothers Chap, and suddenly their episodic format made sense.

Using the characters from the now sadly mostly dead Homestar Runner site, the five episodes were co-written by the Chaps, along with – among others - adventure guru Mike Stemmle. The result is a collection of truly hilarious adventure games that wholly capture the peculiar wit of the original Flash cartoons.

For fans of H*R it was a wonderful surprise. For fans of adventures, it was a moment of relief that Telltale really could do it. Episode 4 is the series highlight, but all are a great time.

Notes:

There is some hope for H*R. The site has updated twice in the last year, after a four year hiatus, and there is some possibility of more regular updates.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

There’s Telltale’s Tales Of Monkey Island, and their current Tales From The Borderlands.

Read more:

We interviewed Telltale about the game series.

20: Discworld Noir

Developer: Perfect Entertainment

Publisher: GT Interactive

It’s interesting to note that some people rate the first two Discworld adventure games, in which you play as Rincewind the wizard, as being good. They’re not! They’re utterly bloody awful, idiotically hard, and Eric Idle’s voice is like being grated to death. However, come the third game and a complete change of focus, something rather lovely happened.

Remembering that a game could be more than a pastiche of the books, Noir is a parody of hardboiled fiction, with you playing as Lewton – a former member of the City Watch, now turned PI. In an original story, co-written by Pratchett, you investigate a murder and get dragged into peculiar underworld of vampires and werewolves.

There are some fantastic jokes in there, as well as lots of lovely spoofs of Lovecraft, Chandler and others.

Notes:

The voice cast is great. You’ve got Rob Brydon, Robert Llewellyn, Kate Robbins and Nigel Planer doing a heck of a job.

Where can I buy it:

It’s tough to find, and has yet to be rescued by GOG. You’ll likely need a virtual machine to get original versions running.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Perhaps dig into the Westwood Kyrandia series of adventures – also British and silly.

Read more:

John's retrospective for Eurogamer.

19: The Walking Dead: Season One

Developer: Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

Based on the comic books, rather than the enormously popular TV series, Telltale’s most successful endeavour is without doubt the most brutal adventure gaming experience created. (Unless you count suffering through Myst, of course.)

An unrelenting tale of misery, loss, failure and impending death, it never lets up on its characters, least of all poor child Clementine. Over its five episodes, happy endings will not trouble you. Everything else will.

Telltale’s extremely stripped down approach to adventure often leaves things feeling hollow, but it worked in the Walking Dead series. It just left the player feeling hollow instead. It’s about conversation and decisions, rather than puzzles and inventory items, and your actions have significant short-term impacts on the story.

How much brutal despair you can take will dictate your connection to the episodes, but there’s no question The Walking Dead has proven a smart, intriguing reinvention of how to approach adventures.

Notes:
One of the series’ writers, Gary Whitta, used to edit PC Gamer. There’s a thing. He rather brilliantly said of The Walking Dead, “All choices are equally wrong.”

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Telltale’s best comedy run was Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People. More recent success appears in the ongoing Tales From The Borderlands.

Read more:

Vast amounts of coverage about the games.

18: The Blackwell Series

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games

Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games

Dave Gilbert has long established himself as the king of independent adventure development. Using the Adventure Game Studio engine, since 2006 he has consistently produced extremely high quality games, from his first short, The Shivah, to publishing some of the most interesting science fiction stories of recent times like Gemini Rue and Technobabylon. But his reputation is truly earned by The Blackwell series.

Beginning with The Blackwell Legacy, the run of games tells the stories of a spirit guide called Joey Mallone, and the two women he’s appeared to, Rosangela and Lauren Blackwell. They’re murder-mysteries, family sagas, poignant commentaries on mental illness, and ghostly business.

Each episode improves on the last, the stories bursting with character and care, and the puzzles rather decent too. The arc is complete now, so there’s no better time to play all the way through.

Where can I buy it:

Developer

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Grab Primordia, Gemini Rue and Technobablyon, all from the same publisher.

Read more:

Our interview with Dave Gilbert about the series and more.

17: Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers

Developer: Sierra Online

Publisher: Sierra Online/Activision

In 1993, Sierra set out to show that adventure games could go to darker places. While the Police Quest series had already created a more serious, less comedic run, Gabriel Knight would take the genre into a more grim, horror-led area. It has a lot to answer for.

However, the misery of horror adventures that followed can’t be allowed to influence Gab Knight’s quality. And it has rather a lot. The titular chap gets involved in investigating a spate of murders involving voodoo, and eventually his own familial role as a Schattenjäger – a shadow hunter.

Story-heavy, enormously deep, and while humorous, far more severe than adventures had been up to that point, it paved the way for “serious” adventures. And a lot of copycat dross.

Notes:

The floppy version of Gab Knight 1 came on eleven discs, which was a real pain in the arse.

A remake of the game was released by Pinkerton Road last year, with new graphics, music and improved puzzles.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:
Definitely get Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, but definitely don’t get Moebius: Empire Rising.

Read more:

Our review of the recent remake.

16: Fahrenheit

Developer: Quantic Dream

Publisher: Atari

Fahrenheit isn’t anywhere near as good as people say it is, but it’s much better than other people say it is. What it is, is a primer from which all other adventure developers should take ideas. It’s a giant mess of a game, and it’s a great time. It’s novel, intriguing, peculiar, and ultimately extremely silly.

That David Cage keeps being heralded as the great cinematic gaming developer is cause to want to abandon the pursuit altogether. But throwing this nonsense “auteur” notion aside, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy if you’re foreign) is a fascinating collection of ideas thrown against a wall.

But then, add in a score by Angelo Badalamenti, some genuinely good acting, ignore some really tired racism, and embrace the INTERNET AS A PERSON, and it’s packed with superb moments. Mad as a fruit tree, but so endlessly inventive, it still offers so many good ideas for other people to run with.

Notes:

One of the nicest details in the game is its use of multiple camera angles on the same event, which really needs to be copied more often.

The US release of the game had the sex and boobies removed, to avoid getting a deathly AO rating. Not a lot was missed.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could look at Cage’s massively overrated Heavy Rain on PS3, or the more recent Beyond: Two Souls.

Read more:

John's Eurogamer retrospective.

15: Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars

Developer: Revolution Software

Publisher: Virgin Interactive

The Broken Sword series has been running from 1996 to the present day, and while it’s had some splendid entries (the woefully underrated Broken Sword 3 included), it never got better than this first entry.

The will-they-won’t-they leads of American tourist George Stobbart and French press photographer Nicole Collard had an immediately brilliant chemistry, as they attempted to solve a conspiratorial mystery that takes them from a terrorist café bombing in Paris to a Baphomet-based Templar-related underworld.

Despite the nationalities of its main characters, it has a distinctly British tone and sense of humour, thanks to its creators Charles Cecil, Steve Ince and co. Packed with an obvious love for history, and always wearing a wry grin, it remains splendid fun to play today.

Notes:

The Goat Puzzle, that is so often used as a reference point for bad puzzles, appears in this game. It’s still rubbish, but much improved in the current version of the game.

Disclaimer: In 2009 I, rather oddly, wrote a whole bunch of content for the Director’s Cut of BS1. Please apply this information to your Corrupt-o-Meter.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Revolution’s other classic is Beneath A Steel Sky, which is now free.

Read more:

An interview with Charles Cecil.

14: To The Moon

Developer: Freebird Games

Publisher: Freebird Games

But isn’t it an RPG? No. It’s an adventure. So shush. To The Moon is the completely compelling and ludicrously moving ADVENTURE game about changing the memories of an elderly, dying man.

You’re dying, and you never quite lived your dreams. What if someone could jump into your memories and change things such that you remembered achieving all your ambitions, finding happiness? That’s the ethically dubious position Dr Eva and Dr Neil find themselves in, as they set out to change the elderly Johnny Wyles recollection until he achieved his goal of going to the moon.

The result is a game that asks difficult questions about morality, love and death. Also, you will cry exactly three times.

Yeah, there’s a shitty sequence involving zombies (don’t ask), but that’s forgettable once you’re sobbing over the closing credits. The skill with which it allows you to piece together its tragic story as it tells it backward is stunning.

Notes:

A sequel should appear one day. The rather disappointing A Bird Story appeared as a stop-gap between the two games, but the two minisodes released so far tease a much more interesting game to come.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Make sure to pick up the two minisodes that follow on, and take a look at Richard & Alice.

Read more:

Our review.

And Verdict.

13: Machinarium

Developer: Amanita Design

Publisher: Amanita Design

Amanita have never released a game that isn’t worth playing, including their Samorost games (part 3 could well be, when it comes out, the game to tip Machinarium from their top spot), and the gorgeous Botanicular. But it’s Machinarium that stands out as the strongest adventure game in their collection.

The heart-breakingly sweet tale of a small robot called Josef focuses on his efforts to save his city’s tower from some bad mean robots. BAD MEAN ROBOTS! This involves a combination of point-and-click and slightly more traditional puzzly puzzles, but most of all staring and gawping at how unrelentlessly pretty it all is. And indeed ear-gawping too at its soundtrack.

It’s a bit like being cuddled by a game.

Notes:

Microsoft are such big stinky fatheads that they didn’t allow Machinarium to publish on Xbox. Who even remembers who Microsoft are, now?

Where can I buy it:

Steam

Humble

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Get hold of Botanicular, and the first two Samorost games.

Read more:

Our review.

12: Full Throttle

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

This Schafer-led LucasArts adventure was woefully overlooked for so long. In fact, it was pretty woefully overlooked at the time of its release, rather unhelpfully convincing LucasArts that the time for 2D adventures was over.

What a mistake by everyone. Full Throttle remains just the most superb game, a combination of wonderful cartoon graphics and a story about a motorcycle gang of the future. It’s a game about nostalgia, aging, and murderous tycoons, and the only time in a LucasArts SCUMM adventure where you could die.

The relationship between biker Ben and mechanic Maureen is beautifully subtle, and the Ride Of The Valkyries meets Duracell Bunnies on a minefield remains the best fail sequence in a game ever. A touching, albeit short, point and click adventure that is too easily forgotten when celebrating LucasArts’ masterworks.

Notes:

The voice of Ben, Roy Conrad, very sadly died in 2002. LucasArts described him as “one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet.”

Mark Hammill voices baddy Adrian Ripburger. He, incredibly, is still alive.

Where can I buy it:

Like DOTT and Sam & Max, beyond all comprehension Disney aren’t selling it anyway. Ebay is your best bet.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Bit off the adventure track, but check out Schafer’s Brutal Legend for more rawk-influenced gaming.

Read more:

John's Eurogamer retro.

Cara's perspective of the relationship in the game.

11: Kentucky Route Zero

Developer: Cardboard Computer

Publisher: Cardboard Computer

So often, when there are attempts to further minimise interaction in point-and-click adventures, it can lead to frustrating, distancing experiences. Not so at all in the astonishing Kentucky Route Zero series of episodes.

The dream-like surrealism, the bewilderingly wonderful minimalist graphics, and the precision in the writing create an atmosphere like little else. What is, technically, the story of a trucker attempting to deliver something to an address on Kentucky Route 0, becomes something that can only be harmed by describing in text.

Three of its five acts have been released so far, and while we’re desperately hungry to play the rest, there’s also a strong sense of not wanting to hurry Cardboard Computer as they complete their project. But even at 3/5ths, it’s already one of the best adventure games ever made.

Notes:

It’s oft forgotten that this game began life with a Kickstarter, asking for just $6,500, and making a mere $8,583. That’s an awful lot of game for not much money.

They’ve recently added gamepad support to the first three chapters, for those who want to sit farther away from the screen.

Where can I buy it:

Developers

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Have a look at Life Is Strange.

Read more:

Interview with the developers.

Act I review.

Act II review.

Act III review.

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.

5: Grim Fandango

Developer: LucasArts/Double Fine

Publisher: LucasArts/Double Fine

Tim Schafer’s great labour of love, the early proof that adventure games could be more than either horror or comedy, and a complete clusterfuck of an engine.

As LucasArts was beginning to wind down its adventure development, and making mad demands that everything be in 3D, what could have been the best 2D point and click the world had seen was ludicrously hampered by an engine that simply didn’t work. Everyone struggled through anyway, because wow, it was an amazing story – the lovely reaper Manny and his attempts to uncover a conspiracy in the world of the dead - but dammit, you couldn’t walk through doors.

The recent remake has done incredible things for the game, making it properly fun to play for the first time, except for leaving in the utterly abysmal inventory screen.

And yet, readers in throngs will be furious that this isn’t #1 – testament to how wonderful a story it tells, and the charm with which it tells it.

Notes:
The engine behind Grim was based on (so appropriately) Sith, created for running the Jedi Knight games. Oddly not ideal for adventuring.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Take a look at Schafer’s wonderful platformer, Pyschonauts.

Read more:

An interview with Tim Schafer on adventures.

4: Indiana Jones: The Fate Of Atlantis

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

Oh my goodness, higher than Grim Fandango?! HANG HIM! HANG THEM ALL! PEOPLE MUST PAY!!!

Except, well, give each game a play. Look, both are incredible, both deserve to be the near the tops of all-genre gaming lists, but I believe this one is better than the other one. And I believe that because I think it’s actually more fun to play.

Fate Of Atlantis is an Indiana Jones story so good that there were perpetual rumours of its forming the plot for a fourth Indy movie from the moment the game came out. Sadly it proved far too good to have ever been adopted. Indy is, of course, racing the Nazis to find the lost city of Atlantis before they get their evilly gloved hands on it.

During the game you play as both Indy and Sophia Hapgood - a surrogate Marion Ravenwood - in one of the most smartly constructed and superbly written adventures. And of course, there are three different ways to play! Wits, Team or Combat, letting you choose if you want puzzle heavy play, a one-player co-op experience (pick this!), or adding in fisticuffs where brains might otherwise work.

It even changes the solution to some puzzles each time you play. It really is quite the most remarkable game, and it’s also extremely funny.

Notes:

Fate Of Atlantis was made at the same time as LucasArts was developing The Secret Of Monkey Island and The Dig. Flipping heck.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Take a look at LA’s other Indy adventure, the pithily titled, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure.

Read more:

John's EG retrospective.

Cara's take on Indy and Sophia's relationship.

3: Sam & Max: Hit The Road

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

Is Sam & Max really so great, twenty-two years on? Can we, with the passing of time, give it a fresh look and really maintain that… oh yes of course we flipping can. It’s amazing!

From the combined minds of Mike Stemmle, Sean Clarke, Collette Michaud, and Sam & Max creator Steve Purcell, Hit The Road saw LucasArts make the biggest technical step forward in LA’s games: full screen, the verbs finally hidden behind mouse cursors. (Sierra had managed this in 1991.) It also saw them create something that rivalled its television contemporaries like Ren & Stimpy by offering a hilarious, slapstick cartoon, that you controlled.

The titular heroes are dog and rabbit (respectively) freelance police (a phrase that’s since been repeated so often that you can errantly stop noticing how funny it is), on a mission to recover a stolen bigfoot called Bruno. The investigation takes them all over the United States, and most importantly, features songs.

Each location is so wonderfully drawn and coloured, and packed with daft details. There’s immeasurable pleasure to be found in deliberately trying incorrect inventory items on things, especially when that item is Max. And all the characters are superbly realised and very silly.

It remains an enormous treat.

Notes:

Sam & Max began as characters designed for testing animation software within LucasArts, then as a strip comic in the company’s quarterly newsletter.

There was intended to be an Xbox exclusive sequel from former LA devs called Sam & Max Plunge Through Space, but they were divinely punished for their console hubris and went bust before it was finished.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Clearly Day Of The Tentacle, but also take a look at the third season of Telltale’s Sam & Max reboot, when it was finally not awful.

Read more:

A "preview" written for 2010's April 1st silliness.

2: The Longest Journey

Developer: Funcom

Publisher: Empire Interactive

April Ryan, an 18 year old who can shift between the mundane world of future Earth, and the magical fantasy realms of Arcadia, sets out to restore the Balance in the universe. And does so in an utterly enormous and phenomenally verbose adventure game.

There’s no question that the puzzles in TLJ are often, well, not so great. The policeman’s glass eyeball, anyone? Which is perhaps an even greater indication of how strong the writing and world are, that it rises above this to be one of the best adventure games ever made.

Its twin worlds are limited to sections of cities, and yet you walk away with a sense of understanding two entire civilisations. It’s packed with so many memorable characters, from your fabulous landlady Fiona to the sarcastic and adorable crow, Crow, via the mysterious Cortez, the extraordinarily foul-mouthed Burns Flipper, and moustache-twirling alchemist, Roper Klacks. And that soundtrack!

While it earned notoriety for the prolific swearing and the appearance of a blue winky, it gained a massive following and two sequels because of its massive heart. TLJ was a game that changed my life when I first played it, and I’m not alone. It’s thoughts on imagination, magic, modernity, and faith are deep and challenging, all while being a nonchalantly progressive game in the late 90s.

Oh, and there’s so much bloody talking.

Notes:

Quick declaration of interests: I’ve worked with creator Ragnar Tørnquist on some stuff. But my mind was made up about TLJ years and years before.

Ragnar Tørnquist just really wants to be Joss Whedon, and kisses a poster of him on the lips every night before he goes to bed.

Where can I buy it:

GOG

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

There’s its sequel, Dreamfall, and the currently in-progress episodic Dreamfall Chapters.

Read more:

An interview with Ragnar Tørnquist about the game.

A making of by Kieron.

A retro by John.

1: Day Of The Tentacle

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: LucasArts

There isn’t any doubt. It’s nice and easy: if you disagree that Day Of The Tentacle is the best adventure game of all time, you’re wrong.

The sort-of sequel to Maniac Mansion has you play as three characters, rock band roadie Hoagie 200 years in the past, slightly deranged Laverne 200 years in the future, and ultra-nerd Bernard in the present day. Switching between each, you must help to prevent a race of tentacle beings from taking over the world.

DOTT was the winning assault in the war between Sierra and LucasArts/LucasFilm. It confirmed that where Sierra was shackled by its 1980s past, Lucas were ploughing forward into what adventures would become – and indeed still are. Yes, it still had a verb interface, a step behind Sam & Max’s magic cursor, but it now, 22 years later, demonstrates how it could still be a workable system.

It’s not just that DOTT is incredibly funny – it’s also incredibly smart. Accompanying the crazy-gorgeous art, some stellar voice work (woe to those who hadn’t upgraded to a CD-ROM drive at the time of release, and were stuck with the voiceless floppy version), were puzzles that still shame every modern adventure. I can prove that in one example: interfering with the design of the American flag in the past in order to create a tentacle costume in the future. Okay, another one: shrinking a jumper small enough to defrost a frozen hamster by putting it in the tumble dryer for 400 years.

It’s sharp, witty, clever, and enormously satisfying. DOTT remains the textbook which all adventure game designers should study before they even consider conceiving a puzzle. On top of that, the care over the characters from an on-form Tim Schafer gives things an emotional depth that should surely have been impossible in such a silly caper.

That at 22 years old it’s still unbeatable is not a slight on adventure gaming – the last two decades have been packed with so many great point-n-clickers. It’s just that this one is so damned perfect.

Some will decry that this beats Sam & Max. I’ll tell you why. While S&M may have felt more slick, more flowing, it undeniably had weaker puzzles, and relied far more on cutscenes to deliver its humour. DOTT may not have had an excellent song, but its high points measure higher on the graph of goodosity, and that’s why it’s unquestionably no. 1.

Get it and play it again. Or heck, for goodness sake, for the first time. It’s one of the best games ever made.

Notes:

The game was originally released in a rectangular prism-shaped box, to the horror of all gaming shops. Younger readers: yes, games were released in boxes! And sold in shops!

Double Fine are, of course, working on a remake of DOTT. Hmmmm, I say. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Where can I buy it:

Astonishingly, nowhere is presently selling it. Good work, not-piracy! If you have a copy, you can get it running via SCUMMVM.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely check out Sam & Max: Hit The Road, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle. Also, Time Gentlemen Please by Size Five Games.

Read more:

Tim Schafer playing the game.

An interview with Schafer about adventure games.

A screenshot gallery.

John's Eurogamer retrospective.

Postscript

So, what have we learned?

We now know that if you weren't playing games in 1993, you've been doing life all wrong. Either be born earlier, or sort your priorities. We've learned that adventure games aren't the minor niche the games press has so often, so lazily painted them into. They form a core of some of the best games of all time. We've also learned that if you like Myst, you're wrong.

Remember, your favourite adventure not getting mentioned isn't a slight. This is the best 25 out of hundreds of the things. If you believe a game is egregiously missing, leaving a comment like, "Where's Zork: Grand Inquisitor?" isn't helpful to anyone. Writing a short piece on why Zork: Grand Inquisitor is a brilliant adventure game is helpful to everyone.

The Complete List

1. Day Of The Tentacle
2. The Longest Journey
3. Sam & Max: Hit The Road
4. Indiana Jones & The Fate Of Atlantis
5. Grim Fandango
6. Toonstruck
7. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
8. Space Quest IV
9. Time Gentlemen Please
10. The Dig
11. Kentucky Route Zero
12. Full Throttle
13. Machinarium
14. To The Moon
15. Broken Sword
16. Fahrenheit
17. Gabriel Knight
18. The Blackwell Series
19. The Walking Dead
20. Discworld Noir
21. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People
22. Spycraft: The Great Game
23. The Pandora Detective
24. Police Quest III
25. Dragonsphere

For more of RPS' bestest best games, take your pick from:

Or try our genre-specific lists, if you want a particular kind of great game to play:

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