The ‘point-and-click adventure’ genre has long been a favourite of mine, filling me with nostalgia of the mid-90’s and embarking on rich, narrative adventures armed only with a mouse and an impossibly large inventory space. Companies like LucasArts, Sierra Entertainment and Revolution Software were leaders in the genre, which began to suffer with the advent of home consoles and more three-dimensional adventure games, but the genre is making something of a resurgence recently thanks to digital stores, such as Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam, offering companies a way to release the games relatively inexpensively.
Another key development is the ease of which the gameplay mechanics can be adapted to touchscreen devices, leading to a vast majority of re-releases of old PC classics and a new generation of adventure games, from companies like Telltale games, that utilise 3D character models to provide a more in-depth approach to the classic 2D backgrounds.
Here is our list of the Top Ten… “Point and Click” Adventure Games
10) The Curse of Monkey Island
Somewhat surprisingly, considering my love for the genre, I haven’t actually played the first two Monkey Island games, something that I really should rectify soon, especially since they are available as downloads on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade in the remastered format! However, despite not playing the original two games in the series, I did play the third game, The Curse of Monkey Island, after playing a demo on a CD that came with a magazine, back in the old days when that was the only way to experience new games!
The Curse of Monkey Island represents a massive leap in graphics over the original two LucasArts games, adopting a level of quality akin to feature-length animation films. The game also introduces voices to the likes of Guybrush Threepwood and LeChuck, allowing the characters and their sense of humour to develop further. While subsequent games would begin to utilise 3D models and more controller-based exploration and puzzles, this game represents the pinnacle of the series’ traditional ‘point and click’ roots, capturing the spirit of Monkey Island with a big-budget feel.
9) Full Throttle
One of LucasArts’ hidden gems, Full Throttle is an unusual beast – a blend of science fiction and motorbikes, it feels like an animated version of Mad Max with a heavy Hell’s Angel vibe. Unlike other point-and-click adventures of the time, the game featured a Road Rash-esque combative element where players were required to drive and defeat enemy bikers using weapons acquired throughout the game.
I haven’t actually completed this game after getting stuck on the final sequence, which featured one of the rare occasions where the protagonist could be killed, and giving up on it altogether (this was before a simple Google search for the answer!) but I remember it quite vividly and enjoyed the storyline and the unique juxtaposition of bikers and a dystopian future it depicted.
8) Grim Fandango
This was another one of Tim Schafer’s adventure games, once again the core concept featured an unusual melding of genres, in this instance, it was a combination of Film Noir mixed with the Aztec beliefs of the afterlife, which brought forth a truly unique voice. The game was notable for being LucasArts’ first footsteps into utilising 3D technology in its adventure games, which has influenced the way adventure games are made nowadays, especially with Telltale Games’ content.
Initially I was reluctant to embrace the new 3D technology being something of a 2D purist, but I managed to play this game sometime after its initial release and despite the advances in technology, it plays just like Schafer’s earlier games, combining wit, humour and adventure into a wonderful bundle. Quite rightly, it is considered a classic of the genre.
7) The 7th Guest
While I do enjoy the light-hearted and humourous aspects of the LucasArts adventure games, I have always been partial to the horror genre and how effectively it can be used in point-and-click games, especially in the instance of The 7th Guest, and its sequel The 11th Hour. These games terrified me as a young teen, combining full motion video (FMV) featuring live actors into the gameplay to create a realistic setting for the horror to take place in. While it might seem dated by today’s standards, the mix of FMV and haunting music really worked well in tandem to create a scary atmosphere.
Set in a mansion filled with malevolent spirits, the player had to traverse the haunted rooms, catching glimpses of the terrible scenes that led to the guest’s demises and solve a series of puzzles, ranging from the tricky to the near-impossible! Even though the game didn’t fit into the traditional mould of a point-and-click adventure, it managed to combine exploration and a thrilling narrative to provide a innovative and cinematic experience that has stayed with me, even decades later. With the resurgence of PC classics on touch-screen technology, The 7th Guest has reappeared on iTunes, seeing a second wave of popularity and scaring players all over again.
6) Heavy Rain
Offering players a unique experience every play-through with a myriad of subtle choices that affect the story in a variety of ways, Heavy Rain was a defining title in the current generation of adventure games, providing players with a truly cinematic experience, backed up with orchestral music and near-photo realistic character models, which were the result of extensive motion capture. The result is a “grown-up” game which provides a truly realistic experience, as the lines begin to blur between simple gaming and artistic expression.
Broken into over fifty small chapters, the story relied less on actual puzzles and inventory manipulation and more on exploration and quick-time events (QTE), making the game relatively straight-forward to complete and more of an interactive movie than other games in the genre. I loved the Film Noir aspect to the storyline and the way it introduced the typically PC-orientated point-and-click genre to the mainstream console player. It is a great example of how advances in graphics and technology have evolved the genre beyond its origins, with LA Noire as another attempt at this, mixing sandbox elements with the traditional investigation and puzzle mechanics to create a unique hybrid of the gaming styles.
5) Day of the Tentacle
Another Tim Schafer classic (his name crops up a lot in the point-and-click genre), Day of the Tentacle was the sequel to one of LucasArts’ first adventure games, Maniac Mansion, which uncharacteristically for the company, featured a high difficulty curve and allowed characters to die with a Game Over screen. Day of the Tentacle moved away from this approach, with a more player-friendly approach, allowing gamers to experiment with different strategies and solutions without worrying about dying or ‘breaking the game’.
One of the best parts of this game, besides its zany characters and use of time travel, is the fantastic character-swap function, which not only allowed players to explore three different time zones at their own leisure, but was actually a key element of the puzzle-solving with the player having to utilise multiple characters to solve a problem, such as changing events in the past to affect the future. While Grim Fandango might have revolutionised the genre with its use of 3D models and environments, Day of the Tentacle might be the most innovative game Schafer ever produced, thanks to its beautifully complex puzzles that involved players to think in different ways.
One of my favourite films is Who Framed Roger Rabbit and this game, which blends FMV and animation, manages to capture the anarchic feel of the classic movie, whilst creating its own voice. The game tells the story of artist, Drew Blanc (played by Christopher Lloyd) who is sucked into the animated world of his imagination and has to enlist the help of one of his creations to help him return to our world. Throughout his journey, he encounters an array of wacky cartoon characters and an increasingly bizarre series of puzzles to solve.
One of the things I love most about this game is its very dark sense of humour and its near-the-knuckle jokes. The cover art captures the twisted nature of the game, which features both a sickly, cute animated world and a darker, twisted environment at war with each other, with the two interchanging at times to showcase warped versions of the friendlier characters, such as Marge, who goes from a kindly cow to a S&M addict, obsessed with the milking machine.
The production values are amazing for a game of its time, combining the beautiful animated backgrounds with the digitised image of Christopher Lloyd to provide a game just as unique in its genre, as Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to the world of cinema.
3) The Walking Dead: Season One
Formed of former LucasArts employees, Telltale Games is one of the biggest studios currently producing adventure games, adopting an episodic approach to its releases and releasing on a multitude of platforms, such as smartphone, console and PC. By using popular licensed properties, the company’s games have made an impact and helped re-establish the point-and-click genre for a new generation.
Based on the hugely popular horror comic of the same name, The Walking Dead is a narrative-heavy adventure series, mixing elements of survival horror with a point-and-click mechanics. Players can die in this game through making the wrong decisions and taking too long to react. The game gives players the sensation that decisions made in earlier chapters will have dramatic effects on the ending, but apart from some minor detours in the narrative, the overall story remains the same.
One thing I didn’t expect when playing The Walking Dead was to become as involved in the character’s fates as I did. While it was slightly frustrating that events were scripted and my decisions had a limited impact on the overall storyline, it was fun to pick favourites amongst the survivors and get different attitudes based on how I’d treated them. By including the child character of Clementine to the game and making the player directly responsible for her safety, the game manages to create a strong paternal urge within players, making the events even more personal than watching a film, or reading the comic book. As with Heavy Rain, the game verges onto performance art and an interactive movie, further blurring the lines between entertainment forms.
2) Black Dahlia
It was a tough decision between the first and second spot on this list as both games are near and dear to my heart. Black Dahlia is an FMV orientated detective adventure, featuring Dennis Hopper in a small but pivotal role, and refers to the infamous murder cases of Elizabeth Short and the Cleveland Torso Murderer to weave a mystical and occult thriller with a smidgen of Film Noir in the mix.
Stepping into the shoes of Agent Jim Pearson (played by Darren Eliker) investigating a mess of cases left behind by his predecessor, who left under mysterious circumstances. The dense eight-CD adventure spans decades and manages to weave a fictional story around true life events. The murder case of the Black Dahlia is so notorious that it has been written about and made into a movie and still intrigues unsolved crime fanatics to this day, even appearing as a reference in the game, LA Noire.
While the game does feature some really hard puzzles, which are near-impossible at times, it is a brilliant example of the late-90’s FMV craze and the desire to use point-and-click adventures to blur the line between games and movies. As with all the best video games, the storyline has stuck in my memory long after I last played it and it brings a smile to my face to reminiscence about my first experience playing through it. While it may be something of an obscure title, I strongly urge fans of the genre to hunt it down and give it a whirl.
1) Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
When someone says ‘point-and-click’, my mind immediately flashes to this title – it might not be my first experience of the genre, but it is definitely the one that had the most impact and caused me to fall in love with point-and-click adventure games.
The opening animation perfect captures the romantic mood of Paris in autumn and sets the plot into action by thrusting our hero, George Stobbart, into the thick of things as he tries to uncover the identity of the identity of the murderous clown who nearly killed him. The game develops into a taut thriller, which manages to maintain a sense of humour throughout, never descending into parody but at the same time, avoiding becoming overly maudlin. Stobbart, an American tourist, reminds me of Cary Grant in North by Northwest, with his ability to maintain a wry sense of humour amidst the most dangerous of circumstances.
The game was immensely popular upon its release, spawning four sequels – the most recent of which came out this year, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign – and while the quality doesn’t always match that of the first game, it still manages to be one of the benchmarks in the genre. Incidentally, fans of the game should check out the Harrison Ford movie, Frantic, which is very similar in tone with an American vacationing in Paris and accidentally becoming embroiled in a conspiracy plot. While it doesn’t quite have the same humour as Broken Sword, it is the closest thing to an actual movie that fans will ever get.
So, there they are – my top ten ‘point-and-click’ adventure games. Obviously, there were plenty of titles that didn’t make the cut and perhaps there are even some that I’m even aware of. There’s the Gabriel Knight series, LA Noire, Sam and Max Hit the Road, the CSI games, Leisure Suit Larry and Phantasmagoria, just to name just a few.
Are there any titles out there that you feel should be represented that I’ve missed off the list? Do you have your own thoughts on what should be in the Top Ten? Feel free to unleash your opinions in the comments box below, or on Facebook and Twitter!