Top 100 All-Time Adventure Games

 

#10 – Portal 2

Valve faced a monumental task when it chose to make a full-length sequel to the brilliant physics-based puzzler Portal.  With such a hard act to follow, would the second game be able to live up to the near perfection of the original?  Would the premise and style of the first game, a perfect fit at just a few hours, be able to sustain itself across a game more than twice that size?  Would the portal gun gimmick or GLaDOS’s sociopathic yet amusing monologues start to feel repetitive?  These questions were decisively answered in 2011 with Portal 2: Yes, absolutely, and a resounding no!  A follow-up that surpassed the original seemed impossible, but in retrospect the first game was really just a warm-up for the main event.  A wider variety of environments and tools, the inclusion of more memorable “characters”, and vastly improved visuals made the ongoing attempt to escape Aperture Labs feel just as fresh and even more exciting than the first time around. 


While Portal was essentially a running tutorial much of the time, Portal 2 is the full game it was preparing us for, though not without some additional training for all the new toys like light bridges, liquid goo and catapults that were brought into play.  The longer game time allows the puzzles even more space to gradually grow and increase in complexity.  An impressively challenging co-op campaign was added, allowing players to experience portals in a whole new way, this time with friends.  It’s hard to think of anything the sequel didn’t improve. GLaDOS naturally returns, and the new characters manage to be almost as amusing , which isn’t surprising as they’re voiced by Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons.  And revelations about the history of Aperture Science and GLaDOS herself make the whole experience that much more intriguing.  Valve seems unable to set the bar so high they can’t leap over it themselves, and Portal 2 is a testament to that.  It’s nothing like any adventure you’ve every seen, but it’s a must-play for fans of any genre, and an instant classic that propelled its way right into our top ten. 

 

#9 – Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive

Many adventure games follow a straightforward path: there's a beginning, a middle and an end, with no place for player choices and their consequences. Even in games that offer multiple endings, it's almost always a matter of a very clear crossroad near the end. But The Pandora Directive proved to be so much more advanced in 1996. In fact, the fourth installment of the Tex Murphy series (though only the second to use the now-familiar FMV/3D exploration style) ensured that every single choice – even the most seemingly unimportant – truly matter.  As a result, the outcome of each player’s adventure varies greatly depending solely on the choices you make, ranging from a satisfying ending that sees our hero triumph and win the heart of his lady to a grim, hopeless and depressing conclusion in true film noir fashion.

Back in the trench coat, fedora, and gumshoes of the titular detective, you must decide: will you be a jaded, cynical PI or will you play nice and be a gentleman? How will you treat the various women that gravitate around Tex? And what about Chelsee? Will you be faithful to your blossoming romance with her? Will you answer the phone or will you pretend to be outside? The many options present a deeply engrossing and incredibly rewarding experience. Penned once again by Chris Jones and Aaron Conners, this sprawling masterpiece about a government conspiracy concealing aliens allows you to role-play Tex as you like, and every finale is definitely worth exploring. Add to the mix some challenging puzzles, a vast live-action cast brought to life by some great performances, dozens of 3D locales full of nooks and crannies you can thoroughly explore, and The Pandora Directive did what seemed impossible only two years earlier: it beat its own accomplished predecessor at its own game.

 

#8 – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge

How do you follow up one of the most popular comic adventure games of all time?  If you’re LucasArts circa 1991, you make an even better one.  While still a comedy with plenty of laughs, Guybrush Threepwood’s second outing is a slightly darker affair than its predecessor. He is a more mature adventurer this time, a fact reflected in the tone and art style of the game. Voodoo torture with agonizing animations is commonplace, and the ghost pirate LeChuck is at his scheming worst in his quest for revenge against Guybrush, now seeking the legendary Big Whoop. The changes didn’t hold back the public though, as the game was massively hyped by the mainstream press and lapped up en masse at the time of release.

And rightfully so! The sequel is a fantastic game: insults, spitting contests, voodoo – what's not to love?  Well, the hugely controversial ending for some, though for others it’s just another jewel in its crown.  Retaining much of the same crew that worked on The Secret of Monkey Island, it improved on its predecessor in almost every way. The graphics were gorgeous and really brought to life the characters we’d already come to love, the SCUMM engine was even more refined, two different difficulty levels were offered, the first-rate story featured puzzles that required plenty of thought but no frustration, and the innovative music was top-notch. When it comes to comic adventures, you can’t get much better than Monkey Island 2.  It’s no surprise that like its older brother, its recent remake is appealing to a whole new generation of gamers all over again.

 

#7 – The Last Express

Where do the accolades start for Smoking Car Productions’ The Last Express? Is it the rotoscoped graphics that give the game a uniquely classy sense of style? Is it the painstaking historical recreation of the final voyage of the Orient Express before World War I? Is it the stunningly immersive real-time progression of gameplay? Or is it the thrilling and extraordinarily literate writing? Why choose? There really isn't anything quite like Jordan Mechner’s 1997 adventure. While the story of American doctor Robert Cath and the international intrigue he encounters on a train journey from Paris to Constantinople does head to some pretty fantastical places, it is equally balanced by a genuine sense of realism and authenticity. Mechner's team went to great lengths to portray everything from foreign languages to daily weather patterns with historical accuracy. The characters portray the broad and tumultuous sociopolitical climate of the era, as Cath encounters everyone from German businessmen to Serbian militants. And in a still-unparalleled design decision, live actors were filmed and then hand-traced in a style reminiscent of early 20th century illustration.

Making things feel even more authentic is the game’s real-time progression: The Last Express doesn't wait for you. The train barrels relentlessly toward Constantinople, stopping at several famous locales along the way. Similarly, the other passengers have their own agendas to attend to; they move around the train, have conversations, go to sleep, eat dinner, conduct secret meetings, and so on. As Cath, players have more or less total freedom to explore the train and observe, interact with fellow passengers, or sneak around trying to find information. This gives the game an astounding level of replayability for an adventure game, since you'll never be able to see everything in a given playthrough; while you're off exploring one car, something else (something probably very interesting) is going on in another. And if you don’t like the direction your recent choices have taken, rather than simply restore an old save file, simply rewind time and begin that segment of the journey all over again. It all adds up to a tense, immersive, and innovative adventure that few other games have equaled.

 

#6 – Day of the Tentacle

When LucasArts’ Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman were given an opportunity to continue Ron Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion series in 1993’s Day of the Tentacle, they attacked that goal with a completely unhinged sense of whimsy and irreverence for American history. The extraordinary result was a legacy of hilarity that made genre immortals out of bookish Bernard, rocker Hoagie, and ditzy Laverne, setting new standards (yet to be matched decades later) for comedic puzzle design in the process. Although once again featuring three playable characters, the game marked a radical departure from its predecessor, reinventing the franchise as a story of unlikely heroes spread out across 400 years of past, present, and future times in an attempt to stop the insane Purple Tentacle from ingesting toxic sludge.  Filled with quirky charm and outlandish scenarios, this game has it all, from a frozen hamster to fake barf to a flushable inventory-swapping Chron-O-John.

The game succeeds on every significant level – a unique and beautiful art style that defines “cartoonish” perspective; spectacular voice acting across the board that exponentially increases the quality of the already-brilliant dialogue (at a time when the CD-ROM was still a relatively new luxury); ingenious puzzle design, featuring most of the greatest time-travel puzzles ever designed; and a phenomenal attention to cinematic detail that can only be described as “Schafer-esque.” It begins with what is still the only comedy adventure game intro that truly feels theatrical, and the final shot before the credits roll is the perfect payoff. It is hard to find enough superlatives to describe a virtually flawless game – Day of the Tentacle was and for now remains the greatest comedy adventure ever.

 


 

Next up: #5-1...

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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 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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