I suppose I should start by pointing out the fact adventure games never really left in the first place but there’s no denying that after their early popularity in the late 80s and early 90s that they went through a bit of a slow phase. In recent years, they’ve been brought to the forefront yet again with Telltale Games leading the charge. Telltale has long been involved in the adventure game business with Sam and Max, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future all getting the interactive story treatment. They really started to get things rolling with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, both of which were very well received both critically and in sales. On the horizon that very same studio has Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones titles heading to market. Finally, at Gamescom, the gaming public found out that the masters of adventure games, Sierra Entertainment, is back on the map with a revived King’s Quest. Does all this activity point to the return of adventure games as one of the premier genres in the business? While that may be a stretch it certainly looks as if a resurgence of the once dominating genre is well in motion.
When Sierra Entertainment hit its stride back in the mid-80s it was responsible for many of the most loved games of its time. The list of beloved titles from Sierra is a long one with the aforementioned King’s Quest as well as Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Quest for Glory and a personal childhood favourite The Adventures of Willy Beamish (criminally underrated I say, criminally!). Perhaps their most well-known and critically acclaimed title was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father which itself is seeing a remake by Pinkerton Road Studios. You’d be hard pressed to find a gamer in the 30 plus range that didn’t play at least a couple of these games. If you’re a bit younger there’s a great chance you fell in love with Lucas Arts favorite The Secret of Monkey Island. Perhaps the nostalgia of it all is what’s leading the way for this new generation of adventure titles?
In an era where story sometimes takes a backseat to shooting another player in the face it could be argued that the gaming market is starting to feel deprived of intriguing and well thought out storylines. You can argue until your blue in the face but I will never be convinced the latest Battlefield 4 plot is anything but contrived and force fed. Luckily games like The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and the Mass Effect series have helped fill the void but they still have that primary focus of first or third person shooting. A classic adventure game keeps the story and puts the focus on puzzle and problem solving. Sure it slows things down a bit but it can be a welcome reprieve from the high action of those other games. The point, however, is that when you look at a number of the highest praised games in recent years a good number of them feature amazing stories with characters you care about. No matter how much action you throw into a game it puts one thing in perspective; story matters.
Looking deeper into recent releases, it truly indicates that adventure games are in fact making a comeback. The games might have been there all this time but they’re once again starting to receive top tier recognition from fans. Even some AAA publishers are jumping on board. Although it wasn’t as well received as many might have hoped Square Enix’s Murdered: Soul Suspect had many classic adventure game elements. Double Fine’s Stacking includes many of those elements as well. Daedalic Entertainment sets a high bar with their Deponia series and on the horizon we’re even seeing 1987’s Shadowgate get the modern treatment. I could keep going for a while yet… Heavy Rain, The Whispered World, Dreamfall Chapters... It’s quite clear the genre is alive and kicking.
The appeal of the adventure game is hard to resist and with history as proof, a tried and true videogame success. With companies like Telltale adding modern twists on to classic elements the newest adventure games are better than ever before and poised to claim a spot among the most popular games of our time. In the new era of Kickstarter funded games and independent developers getting a chance to show gamers what they’ve got it’s only going to get better. Consider the fact that Telltale’s The Walking Dead garnered its own fair share of GotY awards from various outlets and on a much smaller budget than an average AAA title. Take that same budget via Kickstarter and put it in the hands of innovative young developers and watch the magic happen. Machinarium is another example of an imaginative adventure game on a tiny, near non-existent budget!
Further to the point that story is one of the most important pieces of a great game you could make a strong case that even if Naughty Dog’s masterpiece The Last of Us had been made on a beer budget that it’s story-telling elements would have shone through like a diamond in the rough. It would have been a success either way; the graphics are just the icing on an already delicious cake. What’s the cost of a good story? Well depending on who’s telling it, it doesn’t have to be much.
Ultimately it’s clear that on a small budget, with a great story and time tested gameplay mechanics that amazing adventure games can be made. People are taking notice and the resurgence is marching on at a strong pace. What games are you looking forward to? Better yet, which classic games would you like to see brought back to life? You never know, it just might happen.