Top 100 All-Time Adventure Games

 

#20 – Still Life

Gritty. Disturbing. Dark. Still Life, Microïds’ fabulously grim follow-up to Post Mortem, follows FBI agent Victoria McPherson in modern day Chicago, and her private detective grandfather Gus McPherson (star of the original game) through flashbacks in 1920s Prague. From its stylish cinematics splattered in blood to the gruesome crime scenes to investigate, Still Life immerses players in an adult-themed story of murder, family, seduction, and art, as Gus and Victoria both track down a very similar series of brutal homicides. Atmospheric graphics that paint a disturbing picture of a serial killer who preys on and viciously mutilates lost souls forgotten by society blend with a phenomenal musical score, pumping techno tunes in Chicago and haunting carnival strains in Prague, helping set the game’s richly sinister tone.


Both protagonists are impressively fleshed-out: Gus, a man haunted by murders from his past, and Victoria, an agent wearied by the daily horrific grind of a crime-ridden city. Though the settings and storylines are vastly different for each character, the gameplay remains rooted in real-life logic. Enter a crime scene and you’ll simply take note of objects and clues; it’s not until you obtain forensic tools that you’ll fully interact with them. Locking puzzles aren’t just strewn around to draw out play time; you’ll encounter them only when it’s time to secretly infiltrate new areas in your investigation. Logical puzzles, haunting animations, complex characters – what more could you ask for? Well, a sequel from the same talented development team would have been nice.  If there’s one major blemish on this otherwise stellar crime thriller, it’s the cliffhanger ending that teases more than it resolves.  Alas, after the French Canadian studio shut down, a lacklustre follow-up by a different developer showed just how compelling the original was by comparison, superbly managing to breathe life into a story drenched in blood and death.

You might also like: Post Mortem, Still Life 2

 

#19 – Beneath a Steel Sky

Revolution Software has built its reputation largely on the Broken Sword franchise, so it can be easy to forget the wonderful game that put the company on the adventure roadmap, 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky. In a dystopian, cyberpunk-flavoured future ruled by computers and corporations, Robert Foster must discover why he has been dragged from his home in the harsh outworlds into Union City, and why the LINC computer that controls the city has apparently saved his life. The story is a remarkable blend of cold, sometimes chilling, science fiction with a brilliantly dry sense of humour – often topped off with a bit of genuine emotion, whether from your robotic sidekick Joey (possibly the best sidekick in the genre’s history) or from the family dynamics that play into the incredibly moving ending.

A game of this great size and scope resulted in an arduous and stressful production process for its small developer at the time, but the fruit of their labour is still an enjoyable adventure experience today. The dialogue is uniformly brilliant, the voice acting is top-notch, the art is colourful and vibrant (especially the beautiful introductory comic sequence, drawn by Watchmen creator Dave Gibbons, who also drew the game’s gorgeous backgrounds), and the entire experience feels like a true genre classic. Better yet, the game has been legal freeware since 2003 and is now available in iOS formats as well, ensuring there will never be any excuse for adventure fans not to play this landmark game.

You might also like: Broken Sword series, The Moment of Silence

 

#18 – Myst

Perhaps the game most guaranteed to produce a strong love-or-hate reaction amongst adventure fans, Myst first arrived back in 1993, and has delighted and dumbfounded in equal measures ever since. For many years, this adventure from Cyan Worlds was the best-selling PC game of all time and helped usher in the era of CD-ROMS.  Beginning on a surreal island in the role of an unnamed stranger, players are required to unearth four books that link to completely new “Ages” dreamed up by a man named Atrus.  But something has gone wrong.  Through two other books, Atrus’s two sons claim that their father has been killed, each blaming the other and asking you to retrieve their missing pages and set them free.  Which to trust?  Only by visiting the other worlds can you hope to piece the true story together.

With its simple but effective first-person slideshow presentation, Myst was one of the first games to create a world that not only looked real but felt alive.  Its four Ages (and Myst Island itself) provide diverse settings to explore, with virtually no plot or direction pointing the way.  Instead, there are a series of logical, interrelated puzzles to complete, with objects and information discovered in one Age sometimes required to solve puzzles in another.  Depending on which order you visit the Ages, this makes the puzzles feel either ingenious or frustratingly complex – or both, depending on your perspective.  The solitary exploration, non-linear gameplay, and absence of any guiding narrative are what make the experience so divisive, but no matter which side of the fence you’re on, with numerous ports and a proliferation of so-called “Myst clones” over the years, there’s no denying the game’s tremendous impact on the genre. 

You might also like: realMYST, Myst V: End of Ages, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

 

#17 – Machinarium

Amanita Design made waves in 2003 with Samorost, a peculiar, minimalistic point-and-click adventure playable for free from a browser. It merely teased of the designers’ enormous potential, however, and we longed with anticipation to see what the indie Czech studio could do with a bigger budget and a full-scale adventure.  We finally got our wish in 2009, and Machinarium immediately became both a commercial and critical darling. In a sweetly amusing story conveyed entirely through pictographic thought bubbles and on-screen action (there is no dialogue, written or spoken), a recently-scrapped robot must find his way back into a rusting metallic city to foil the bomb plot of a gang of criminals, win the robo-girl and save the day. Cute anthropomorphic robots are hard to screw up, but they're equally hard to master, yet Amanita has made a masterpiece that’s charming in ways that few other (if any) games can match.

Despite the grungy mechanical backdrop, Machinarium’s beauty is a wonder to behold. Entirely hand-drawn, the game's characters and backgrounds are truly jaw-dropping creations. Every scene is a work of art, its own reward for progression, as each decaying detail in this surreal world is carefully orchestrated and designed, inhabited by a cast of automatons that make it feel like a robot fairy tale awash in a muted colour palette. The gameplay is an ideal marriage of simplicity and complexity, its puzzles often involving manipulating environmental Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, yet rarely becoming overwhelming or confusing. The brilliantly eclectic soundtrack is a relaxing mélange of minimalist electronic, glitch-pop, ambient, and even the odd bit of folk. Really this is a near-perfect game, succeeding on almost every level, and the sheer amount of polish applied at every stage of the presentation makes Machinarium truly exceptional.

You might also like: Puzzle Bots

 

#16 – Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

When Jane Jensen approached Ken Williams with her ideas for a new adventure, many were skeptical about the chance of success for such a dark, grim tale of guilt, horror and loss. Of course, time proved all doubts wrong, as the first title in the Gabriel Knight series was an instant hit and is now frequently hailed as one of the highlights of the genre’s glory years. Sins of the Fathers introduced the beloved titular character, a down-on-his-luck novelist who owns St. George’s bookshop in the French Quarter, and his assistant Grace, a student spending the summer in New Orleans. Gabriel is plagued by nightmares as he investigates a string of ritual murders supposedly connected with voodoo, and his journey of self-discovery ultimately spans three continents and changes him forever. Powered by a slightly more complex version of the SCI engine seen in Sierra’s earlier VGA titles, Sins of the Fathers amazed players with its engrossing storyline that didn't shy away from mature themes.

Enriched by a lively supporting cast of fleshed-out characters, some of whom returned in the later series sequels, it's easy to see why the game holds such a special place in the hearts of countless adventurers around the world. The abundantly detailed backgrounds, from the Louisiana swamps to an ancient, tumbledown European castle, are gorgeous even today; the soundtrack by Robert Holmes is both evocative and haunting; and the puzzles are well thought-out and seamlessly integrated with the storyline, making players feel like real occult detectives. Last but certainly not least, the top-notch writing, highlighted by the beautiful poem whose verses open each new day, is among the best ever seen in a computer game. And unlike earlier Sierra games, no unpredictable dead ends mire the flow of the tale, resulting in an experience that is as powerful today as it was in 1993.

You might also like: Blackwell series

 


 

Next up: #15-11...

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About the Author

Comments

diego diego
Dec 19, 2011

Great idea, i loved the Top 20 list. Though, I’m already sad to see Toonstruck go this high, but oh well.. that’s the thing with the lists.

This would also be a good reminder for the games still to play, i’ve already got my eye on Faust from Day 1.

Kurufinwe Kurufinwe
Dec 19, 2011

I Already Hate[TM] this list… Tongue

Seriously, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I can’t help but see how inherently silly it is to try to rank things as wildly different as Faust and Toonstruck on the same scale—- and no amount of handwaving in the introduction is going to change that. But on the other hand, I’m already getting caught up in the horse race, glad to see that the Runaway series ended up with the dregs where it belongs, hoping that Day of the Tentacle will join it soon (rather than being at the very top of the list as it was last time), hating that The Dig is at such a low spot, wondering what I would put on the top spot (I guess Monkey Island 1 is, for better or worse, the quintessential adventure game), etc.

In any case, this list has already given me ideas for good games I haven’t played yet and that I should give a chance to, and I’m sure there will be many more in the coming days, and for that I am grateful. Smile

Cellardoor
Dec 19, 2011

Awesome, this’ll be something to look forward to each day! :-) Nice to see that Gold Rush! made the list.

ghettodoghammer
Dec 19, 2011

Why don’t you review some of these games, like Space Bar and Gold Rush? I would love to read your take on them, but they’re conspiciously absent from the review boards.

Jackal Jackal
Dec 19, 2011

We reviewed Gold Rush, but yes, there are some we haven’t, and revisiting these older games for the list has motivated us to get those covered. Really it’s as much a matter of availability and compatibility at this point. We don’t all still have 20-year old games on hand anymore, or have success getting them to run. But we’ll try! Kurufinwe, that’s the spirit! Grin

Arial Type Arial Type
Dec 19, 2011

Finally, the TOP 100! Every thematic website should have one of those) I remember earlier TOP 20s on AG, but they weren’t that fulfilling, and they were really only one man’s point of view.

So far I’ve only got one big complaint - The Dig. It is not only a great adventure game on its own, but it is also one of the best sci-fi games, with an original, developed story and universe. It is one of the earliest and most organic adventure/puzzle mixes that overshadow Myst. And I’m not even talking about the music, which is arguably one of the best scores in gaming history. The game is at least TOP 50 material.

And I’m also with Kurufinwe with hopes for DoTT. It has seen enough first places already Smile

dekaneas297 dekaneas297
Dec 19, 2011

Won’t there be a vote for top 2011 adventure games?

Jackal Jackal
Dec 19, 2011

That’s the Aggie Awards Totally different animal. And yes, that’ll happen in February, as usual, including the reader vote.

inm8#2 inm8#2
Dec 19, 2011

I think the last Top 20 list was in April 2004, so this Top 100 list is long overdue. There have been some great games in the last 7 years so it’s natural to expand the list. Plus, it helps people like me who like to organize lists of games they’ve played, plan to play, etc.

ncf1
Dec 19, 2011

already have to disagree, strongly. Toonstruck is far better than The Dig, for starters, yet precedes it. Runaway is just tripe not worth revisiting.. not sure I will bother with the rest to be honest.

gray pierce gray pierce
Dec 20, 2011

Bugger the fact you allready went through the ***1/2 section probably means no BS3, SF: Tunguska or Lost Horizon on the list. I never expected them to end up very high but not at all? Shame. Also imo: Runaway 2 wipes the floor with Runaway 3 whom I consider to be the least good of all installments.

Oscar Oscar
Dec 20, 2011

I’m not looking at the rankings at all. Already half the games posted are ones I haven’t played, and that’s why I read these lists. I don’t really care whether my favorite game is at #1 or #100 if it’s on the list.

zane
Dec 20, 2011

Looks good so far. Iv played half of these first 10 games and i agree with their positions. Iv never been a big fan of the dig, despite its nice production values. The puzzles are boring and tedious and the story goes real flat imo. The atmosphere is nice though and its certainly worth a look for anyone who considers themself an adventure-gamer.

Rolandesch Rolandesch
Dec 20, 2011

The first snow fell yesterday and now THIS! I cant believe that 2 of my wishes became true on the same day! I have to quote the great Homer on this because I am at a loss for words. “Tramampoline! Trampopoline!”
I have to put this list on my Top 100 things that happened this year Smile

tsa tsa
Dec 20, 2011

Woot, this is so much fun! I can’t wait to see how many of the games in the list I have played! And it’s a perfect opportunity to find out what games I missed but really must play. And yes, of course I already hate this list but of course when composing a list like this you are like a politician in the sense that you never do it right. One request: when everything is published, can you then make a list of links to the descriptions of all the games?

Jackal Jackal
Dec 20, 2011

Oh yes, there will be a complete list of all the games at the end, with links to their respective article pages, if that’s what you mean.

Agustín Cordes Agustín Cordes
Dec 20, 2011

Kudos for giving respect to The Dark Eye! That said, I will very disappointed if there are no Legend Entertainment titles featured.

sordy-wordy sordy-wordy
Dec 20, 2011

It would be nice to have the year of release next to each title.

But nice work! , i love these lists although you can never agree 100% with them.

Interplay Interplay
Dec 20, 2011

Some great choices on Day 2!  Good to see Laura Bow.  Also, very pleased to see Dark Fall 1 - a classic I only recently played.  The 7th Guest absolutely had to be included on this list.  It’s hard to overstate how exciting it was when my brother and I got a CD-ROM drive and loaded up this game.  It was so different and exciting.

Jackal Jackal
Dec 20, 2011

Sordy-wordy, the release year is listed in each and every write-up. Have to give people some incentive to actually read them. Grin

rtrooney rtrooney
Dec 21, 2011

So far I can’t agree or disagree with any selection. When it gets closer to the top ten or twenty is where my hackles might rise.

Arial Type Arial Type
Dec 21, 2011

It’s nice to see Spycraft and The Dark Eye made it to the top. While not mainstream or well-known, they fully deserve it.

Focused
Dec 21, 2011

What a fun feature! Several of these games bring back fond memories. I also see quite a few classics I haven’t played, some of which I had completely forgotten. I’m enjoying those informative write-ups as well.

I’m very excited to discover the remaining 80!

zane
Dec 21, 2011

List continues to look very good. Quest for glory 2 is a favorite of mine and would definitely rank better on my list (especially if you count the drastic improvement by the agd remake), but still a solid write-up of the game.

Fien Fien
Dec 21, 2011

I already love AG’s top hundred! I’m surprised and delighted to see The Space Bar and Spycraft included. So what if nobody agrees with the ranking. I bet not even the staff members themselves agree with it. Smile And this is undoubtedly the most interesting part. When we’ve reached 35-40, the territory will become all-too familiar: Syberia, Still Life, MI, more LucasArts, the Gabriel Knights, more Sierra, TLE, TLJ, etcetera

Emin
Dec 21, 2011

Awesome list, I’ll save it for future reference!

subbi
Dec 21, 2011

Should the Quest for Glory series even be nominated for the TOP100 Adventure game?
These games are clearly RPG’s in essence. If these are featured on the list, then also “The Elder Scrolls” series (and maybe others) should be featured aswel…

Jackal Jackal
Dec 21, 2011

In our books, they should. QFG is a breed all its own, but clearly as much adventures as RPG, unlike Elder Scrolls or any other RPG series.

diego diego
Dec 21, 2011

QFG is definitely “adventure” with “RPG” elements more than the other way around. It also helps they come from Sierra.  Wink

Vel
Dec 21, 2011

I just hope Day of the Tentacle does not retain its #1. =)

gray pierce gray pierce
Dec 21, 2011

Yay SH: The Awakened made it to the list! You might wanna review that review though considering you placed right in the middle of 4 star territory. Plus I think it deserves that extra star.

gray pierce gray pierce
Dec 21, 2011

Oops, actually that’s not correct. The further I get the more the ratings drop. That can’t be right, can it?

Jackal Jackal
Dec 21, 2011

Review scores have nothing to do with this list. Obviously most will be highly rated in both, but not all. For one thing, a review is ultimately just one person’s opinion, and this is a full staff effort, and a review is also frozen in time. It doesn’t factor in legacy, subsequent enhancements, etc. The Awakened, for example, was considered at least in part because of its remastered version, which did something no other game has ever done.

smulan smulan
Dec 21, 2011

Steam just now has an excellent offer of the Frogware Sherlock series including Awakened. Bargain prices.

aimless
Dec 21, 2011

I’m really enjoying this list, too.  I know the greatest game of all time probably won’t make the pinnacle but I can live with that…I guess.  It’s entertaining to read what seem to be well considered opinions about so many games I haven’t played and might like to one day.

gray pierce gray pierce
Dec 21, 2011

@Jackal: I see, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying that.

headbanger
Dec 22, 2011

Maniac Mansion should be in the top 20 the least…

cashif
Dec 22, 2011

IMHO it’s very dangerous to make all-time lists. But i think this list is very successful and useful so far. or was until #64, The Book of Unwritten Tales. it musn’t be in top 100 (imho again.)

rottford
Dec 22, 2011

Loom is No. 61??? It would be a sin to not include it in the top 25.

Arial Type Arial Type
Dec 22, 2011

Agreed, Loom is one of the most unique and wonderful adventure experiences, way ahead of its time. And BoUT, Drawn, The Awakened might belong to the “Top decent adventure games of the last 5 years”, but Top 100… Well, at least Shadow of the Comet made it. Now my soul can rest in peace.

inm8#2 inm8#2
Dec 23, 2011

I like Black Dahlia’s inclusion. It’s a great game, apart from some extremely difficult puzzles and a silly ending. The first 2/3 or so of the game are fantastic AG storytelling.

It’s funny that this site’s review is 2/5 stars, but the game made it onto this list. Huzzah!

Xsiah
Dec 23, 2011

I would have liked to see Toonstruck and Loom a little higher. They’re both very charming. I’m hoping to see The Curse of Monkey Island near the top.

cygma
Dec 23, 2011

from other comments here too, i see that the Loom is the first miss in this nonetheless great list..keep on giving them!as you may say the list depends on the staffs views on each game but still the readers show otherwise. i didnt expect it to reach #1 as it is in my own list (And yes im playing adventure games for 20+ years now) but it should be among t he 25 best titles based on story, MUSIC, interface ,g raphics (For its age)...

markerr
Dec 23, 2011

I just recently started playing Black Dahlia again so I’m really happy to see that it made it into the top 100.  It’s a wonderful game!

I found an installer that extracts all 8 cd’s into one neat bundle on your HD so you can play if from there with no cd swapping.  Also had an option to remove those lines from the FMV sequences and to slow it down on dual core machines so it runs really well on XP.

So it’s like playing for the first time…all over again :-)

JanaBanana JanaBanana
Dec 23, 2011

Nice idea I can’t wait to see top games. My favorite games so far are not on the list Smile)) Also this list is going to help me find out about games I missed to play.

MoonBird MoonBird
Dec 23, 2011

Syberia II: you might also like: “A New Beginning” *tries to clean up coffee that slpashed around the screen*

gray pierce gray pierce
Dec 23, 2011

You guys did tremendous work here so one really shouldn’t complain but…Dreamfall on #51? I mean in terms of gameplay it might not be perfect but storywise it’s by far the best game ever made! Imo it deserves a place in the top 20 but then again it’s not my call. Still I think not even in the top50 is very harsh on such a magnificent and awe inspiring game.

aimless
Dec 23, 2011

Hand me that rag, moonbird.  My monitor’s dripping, too.

Jackal Jackal
Dec 23, 2011

Sharing one’s lack of motor control doesn’t tell us anything contructive. I stand by the Syberia 2/ANB recommendation 100%.

MoonBird MoonBird
Dec 23, 2011

The only linking thing between the two is that they are 3rd person adventures. Even if I think my brain to breakpoint, I can’t see anything else in common. Even the gameplay is totally different. Syberia is uninteractive, ascetic and includes a lot of running, while on the other hand ANB is a crystal clear oppisite: Rich in hotspots, detailed and no running at all. I really would like to hear an explanation for this recommendation. I’m not trying to brag, i’m really just curious, because I can’t find the point there.


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