Game genres have evolved quite a bit since the dawn of PC gaming, offering action-packed experiences that allow you to pilot X-Wings, shoot Nazis, and save princesses, but the “adventure” genre didn’t disappear as these other, more directly interactive games gained popularity. In fact, 2017 is an incredible time to play adventure games — from story-driven “walk and talk” games, to point-and-click adventures with extensive dialogue choices, there’s an adventure out there for nearly every kind of player. Here are a few of our favorites available on PC.
Perhaps the most influential among recent exploration-heavy adventure games, Gone Home’s story is essentially finished before you even begin its four-hour campaign. Taking control of a young woman named Kaitlin, who has just returned to her Oregon home to find it completely abandoned with little sign of her family’s whereabouts, you explore and uncover every tiny detail of the house, going through each room and leaving no coaster unturned as you search for information on Kaitlin’s parents — and more importantly, what happened to her sister, Samantha. There are very few “puzzles” in the traditional sense. Instead, Kaitlin is guided through the game through notes, left by Samantha, that not only act as gameplay hints, but tell an heartfelt coming-of-age tale that will leave you emotionally exhausted by the time the credits roll. A phenomenal voice performance by Sarah Grayson, which perfectly captures the angst and uncertainty of being a teenager, is just the icing on the cake, as are the numerous references to ‘90s Riot Grrrl culture and Street Fighter II that you’ll find sprinkled throughout the house.
One of the greatest PC games of all time — and one that spawned four sequels as well as a spin-off game — Myst is classic point-and-click puzzle-solving at its very best. Set in the titular fantasy world, Myst places you in the role of the “Stranger,” as you explore the eponymous island and uncover the secrets of a mysterious, lost civilization called the D’ni. Originally released in 1993, the first version of Myst doesn’t use a traversable 3D engine for its puzzle gameplay, and instead uses Hypercard to render its 3D environments on to a network of static perspectives that the player clicks through to explore. RealMyst, an updated edition released in 2000, added free-roaming 3D graphics, and the game’s DNA lives on in director Rand Miller’s recent spiritual successor, Obduction. For more insight into the world of Myst and protagonist Atrus’ family, you may want to check out the series’ three novels, released together as The Myst Reader.
The Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games has amassed a small army of popular franchises over the last generation, adapting the likes of Batman and the Game of Thrones television series into successful “choose your own adventure” games, but none stick out to us more than The Wolf Among Us. Adapting the Vertigo-published comic series Fables, The Wolf Among Us stars sheriff Bigby Wolf on his mission to solve a brutal murder in Fabletown, a modern city populated by fairy tale characters like Snow White, the Woodsman, and Bigby, the Big Bad Wolf himself. Using your detective skills and a dialogue system that forces Bigby to teeter on the line between “doing my job” and “accusing the innocent,” The Wolf Among Us is tense, gripping, and emotionally-grounded throughout its five episodes, despite its fantastical premise. Unfortunately, those five episodes are all that Telltale has released thus far, and we’re itching to dive back into this fairy tale world to uncover more of its secrets.
Adventure games don’t need photorealistic visuals or fully explorable 3D environments in order to establish a setting or tell a story, and Oxenfree is proof. Using a minimalist, cartoony aesthetic that makes characters’ faces unrecognizable until they’re shown in short cinematic sequences, Oxenfree still manages to give its group of teenagers distinct personalities thanks to terrific performances, and dialogue that sounds like it could actually be spoken by teenagers — a feat that is much harder to pull off than it might sound. Taking place on a remote island controlled by supernatural elements that force events to repeat and characters to temporarily lose control of their bodies, Oxenfree is a thrill ride from start to finish, even though the majority of its gameplay simply comes from choosing dialogue options. It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that we were perfectly satisfied with just having the characters sit in a circle and talk for an extended period of time.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Most video games portray war with a least a small degree of “fun” thrown into the mayhem and bloodshed, but Ubisoft Montpellier took a very different approach with Valiant Hearts. Set during World War I, this puzzle-adventure game follows several different actors in the war, including a German soldier forced to fight against the French he had called friends, and Belgian nurse Anna, who works to save as many lives as possible while searching for her missing father. Though the game includes a small amount of combat, much of Valiant Hearts’ brilliance comes from the ways it sees its characters escaping danger and working together to survive. Its pathos and empathetic narrative are strong enough that it makes more “traditional” war games seem sadistic and opportunistic in comparison, and a selection of collectibles you come across are based on real letters and objects that the developers came across while doing research.
A classic point-and-click adventure in the vein of The Secret of Monkey Island — which director Tim Schafer helped design — Broken Age is told in two distinct parts, each of which focuses on a teenager and the events that will unfold to bring their stories together. Like the majority of Double Fine Productions’ work, the game oozes personality, with colorful environments, goofy puzzles, and a cast of supporting characters that includes the one and only Jack Black, as well as Wil Wheaton and Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward. Hearkening back to its predecessors, Broken Age’s puzzle can be infuriatingly obtuse at times, but the excitement of finally finding the solution or discovering an important item never lessens, and the game’s halfway-point twist is quite clever. Plus, even when you fail to make progress, the game’s gorgeous, bright art style ensures that you’re never too upset.
Life is Strange
Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange mixes together a lovable cast of characters — bolstered by an amazing lead performance from Ashly Burch — with a simple, yet effective time-travel story to create a unique take on the “teen drama.” The northwestern town of Arcadia Bay is filled with secrets, and no one is painted as entirely “good” or “evil.” Even the most dastardly of characters have traits that will force you to empathize as you work towards a greater good. Protagonist Max’s time-rewinding capability allows her to relive events in order to create the best possible outcome, which is a clever and flavorful way to experiment with players’ FOMO in branching narrative games. She is also capable of building a present even worse than the one she had been living in, and she must question whether or not her newfound time manipulation is actually more trouble than it’s worth. Life is Strange is heartfelt and earnest, and even with some cringe-inducing dialogue, we fell in love with Dontnod’s world and were heartbroken by its final narrative choice.
Writers are often told to “show” their stories instead of “telling” them with unnecessary exposition, and Inside developer Playdead appears to have taken that to heart. There isn’t a single line of dialogue during the entire game, as it instead tells its story of a mysterious dystopia where humans have become mind-controlled slaves using only environmental clues, ambient audio, and tremendous animation. Though we can’t even see the unnamed protagonist’s face, we get a full sense of the fear and confusion he is experiencing as guards, dogs, and terrifying mermaid creatures attempt to kill him, and with each step forward, we feel a little bit closer to unraveling the game’s mystery. In reality, Playdead always has another trick up its sleeve, and it never takes its foot off the gas for the roughly four hours it takes to complete the game. Its similarities to the studio’s previous game, Limbo, are impossible to ignore, but Inside perfects the formula with even more creative puzzles and an ambiguous story that will leave you scratching your head for weeks.
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