What are the best adventure games? From 1976’s text-based Adventure – that gave the genre its name – through the point-and-click golden age of the ‘90s and up to more modern fare, few genres have endured quite so well as the adventure game. That multi-decade lifespan has produced some of the most astounding titles, so it is certainly a struggle to narrow down a list of the best adventure games.
Adventure games have prospered thanks to a focus on story and character. That, and a few tricky brain teasers, as opposed to violence set the genre apart. Characters usually get by through talking or thinking instead of resorting to fighting – though, Full Throttle protagonist Ben might have a few things to say about that.
We frequently return to our lists to make sure they are as up-to-date as possible and represent the very best the genre has to offer, so you can be confident that what we list below are nothing less than classics.
The best adventure games are:
Dialogue, character, world, and imagination cement Grim Fandango among the best adventure games. Set in the Mexican Land of the Dead, where everyone’s a skeleton or a demon, the recently deceased have to work off any crimes they may have committed before taking the treacherous four-year journey to get into the Ninth Underworld. It is a cleverly realised world with film noir influences and a big dollop of crime and corruption.
The game stars some of the finest characters ever written, including protagonist Manny Calavera, who must try to save Mercedes Colomar, the woman he thinks he wronged. Friendly, car-obsessed demon Glottis would not be out of place in the best Disney/Pixar movies, and Manny is one of the most effortlessly cool and likeable player characters in an adventure game. The often obtuse puzzles can derail the pacing, but just exploring and interacting with this beautiful world makes up for these irritants.
Tim Schafer’s journey through Mexican folklore still represents the pinnacle of proper movie-quality storytelling in videogames – just don’t mention those wretched demon beavers.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
While The Secret of Monkey Island changed the genre and put LucasArts on the Adventure Throne, Monkey Island 2 is a perfect improvement in every area.
Loveable loser Guybrush Threepwood is one of videogames’ most endearing characters. His burning desire to become a swashbuckling pirate and win the heart of governor Elaine Marley is noble. The problem is he is utterly inept, has more confidence than ability, and is a dab hand at ruining lives. He is also being hunted by the zombie pirate LeChuck, whose ghost he killed in the first game. Elaine, understandably, wants nothing to do with him.
The result is a game with dialogue that is witty and regularly laugh-out-loud, its situations wildly memorable (think back to the spitting contest, the skeleton dance, or the mardi gras fish fry), and puzzles that, while challenging, are always amusing.
Monkey Island 2 is the peak of the outrageous comedy adventure and one of the best adventure games on PC. They do not come funnier than this, and the Special Edition somehow makes this point-and-click game even better with pitch-perfect voice acting, painted backgrounds, and a remastered soundtrack.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Imagine Uncharted without the jumping and shooting, sporting a plot that hints at what an interesting Dan Brown novel might be like, and you will have a reasonable picture of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. Like the Monkey Island series, it is difficult to decide which of the first two titles is best, but, in this case, the first game just edges it.
Easygoing American George Stobbart’s holiday in Paris is interrupted by a bomber dressed as a clown, and from there he’ is pulled into the conspiratorial world of the Templars. The story is great, and developers Revolution keep the tone light despite a smattering of darker moments. But it is the chemistry between George and French photojournalist Nico Collard that forms the franchise’s backbone.
Thanks to sterling writing and voice acting, Broken Sword remains one of the best adventure games on PC. It does, however, feature the infamous ‘goat puzzle’, which has been gently mocked by many adventure games since, including all four Broken Sword sequels. Self-awareness is half the battle, at least.
When you think of the Discworld series the first two games will likely come to mind. Starring Eric Idle as Rincewind the wizard, they were both, well, terrible. For the third game, developers Perfect ditched 2D, Rincewind, and the attempt to adapt actual books in Terry Pratchett’s series. Instead, with his help, they crafted a gloomy – but still funny – film noir parody featuring British comedian Rob Brydon as Lewton, the Discworld’s first private detective.
Discworld Noir is a well-crafted adventure game shot through with the understated British humour of Pratchett’s novels, and a handful of decent puzzles. But what secures the game a place among the best adventure games is a pair of remarkably clever systems. The first is Lewton’s notepad, on which he notes down clues, suspicions, and anything out of the ordinary. But these musings are more than just memory aids: he can use them like inventory items, combining them to create more detailed thoughts to get closer to the truth – solving puzzles in the process. It is so smart it is astonishing that more games have not ripped it off. Oh, and he can turn into a werewolf. In this form, Lewton can see the world through smell, which is as clever as it is surprising when it happens.
Unfortunately Discworld Noir is the only game on this list that is not available digitally. Even if you find a copy it is damn hard to run on modern PCs. We optimistically tried it on Windows 10 and it crashed immediately after the opening cutscene. One of the developers of the game posted a walkthrough on how to get it running but the instructions are pretty complicated.
Beneath a Steel Sky
If there is one button that any game can push to make us pay attention, it is ‘cyberpunk’. Combine that with a great original story, the finest UK adventure game studio, and art by legendary comic artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), and we are putty in anyone’s hands. Such a game already exists, of course, and it is called Beneath a Steel Sky.
While Revolution founder Charles Cecil originally intended to adapt Watchmen with the assistance of Gibbons, we are glad the project did not pan out. Instead, they collaborated on this classic point-and-click game. Hand-drawn cutscenes, gorgeous pixel art, and the tale of Robert Foster and his attempts to escape from the dystopian Union City. The atmospheric world is influenced by the likes of Blade Runner, Judge Dredd, and Mad Max, and thematically explores societal oppression and corruption. It is a bleak Orwellian nightmare with… fart jokes.
Revolution ensure that what could have been a depressing slog is, instead, a deeply entertaining point-and-click adventure game. The plot twists, wonderful character moments, excellent puzzles, and stylish world all make one of the best adventure games around. Oh, and it’s free on GOG, so there is really no excuse not to play it.
Day of the Tentacle
When it comes to puzzles, Day of the Tentacle is one of the best adventure games you can play. It is never obtuse or mean-spirited, and that is all the more impressive when you consider the player is expected to manage three characters over three different time periods, their actions from one affecting the other. You have to think fourth-dimensionally, as Doc Brown would say, and it is a testament to Tim Schafer, Dave Grossman, and the rest of the team that somehow this never feels overwhelming.
Day of the Tentacle is still exceptionally funny, delightfully absurd, timelessly pretty, and contains the whole of LucasArts’ earlier adventure, Maniac Mansion – the game to which Day of the Tentacle is a sequel – as an Easter Egg. Despite the brilliance of the other point-and-click games on this list, if you were to ask us for one classic adventure you need to play, we’d say send you this way.
The Walking Dead: Season One
The stellar first season for Telltale’s most popular series remains its best despite fierce competition. Tales From The Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us both come close, but neither have the magnetism of The Walking Dead’s Lee and Clementine. Good-hearted lawbreaker Lee and recently orphaned Clementine establish a fiercely loyal bond as they weather an onslaught of tragedies and disasters. Chief among these is the zombie apocalypse, of course, but the agendas of every survivor they meet both help and hinder the pair, too.
Telltale’s ability to convince the player that they are in charge of the story – despite the whole thing being a smoke and mirrors act – is what makes The Walking Dead: Season One one of the best adventure games on PC. Scenes play out differently, certain characters can survive longer, and Lee can behave like an absolute dick. The main plot ploughs on but it can feel wildly different depending on who is steering it. For the shocking end of Episode 4 alone, it is a modern classic of a point-and-click game.
Night in the Woods
It is hard not to fall for Night in the Woods. Developers Infinite Fall packed personal experience, humour, small-town Americana, a creepy conspiracy, stylish visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and some of the most affectingly real scenes in videogames into one of the best adventure games ever made.
Night in the Woods tackles issues as depression, dysfunctional families, economics, societal pressure, growing up, joblessness, escapism, and death, but in a whimsical and good-natured way that ensures things never become hopeless. Characters gently poke fun at each other and do anything to distract themselves, no matter how stupid or dangerous. Every character is quotable and lovable, and while the story’s main focus, Mae Borowski – an anthropomorphic cat and college drop-out – initially seems like an entitled jerk, you will grow to love her as she opens up.
It might play like a platformer, but there are no heads to jump on, no points to collect, no bosses to defeat or worlds to conquer. Instead, there are friends to talk to, paths to choose, songs to play, and an awareness of the one shrinking world we all inhabit. Better make the best of it, then.
Slowly but surely, publishers Wadjet Eye have made themselves the modern kings of the classic-style point-and-click adventure game. Since 2006’s The Shivah, each of Wadjet Eye’s releases are worth playing – even the ones they did not develop themselves. The Blackwell series – Gemini Rue, Shardlight, Primordia – are all modern classics, but, in our opinion, the best of the bunch is Technocrat’s Technobabylon.
Set in 2087, the city of Newton is run by an AI called Central that sees and controls everything according to an unknown agenda. The internet has evolved into an addictive virtual cyberspace called the Trance. A murderer called the Mindjacker is killing mysteriously and with impunity. Assigned to the Mindjacker case are Charlie Regis and Max Lao, as well as Trance addict, Latha Sesame. Each illuminate different angles on the story, which unfolds spectacularly in this horrifyingly believable world.
It is the puzzles that elevate Technobabylon to the lofty echelons of the best adventure games. Every puzzle solution makes refreshing real-world sense. Don’t know an address? Pull out your in-game phone and Google it. Can’t open a door? Call the person who has the key, ask the all-seeing, all-controlling Central to open it for you, or just kick it down. Plus, it is cyberpunk, which is always a win in our book.
Life is Strange
Developers Dontnod managed the seemingly impossible with Life is Strange: they out Telltale’ed Telltale. Life is Strange boasts consequential choices, a better-looking and more expressive graphics engine, and, most importantly, an entirely original setting.
Main character Max Caulfield is a photography senior, working with classic Polaroid cameras, while everyone else sports expensive top-of-the-range digital gear. She is immediately endearing, appealingly weird, and… has the ability to rewind time. It is a testament to Dontnod team’s writing skills that this game-changing superpower is the least impressive thing about Life is Strange; Max’s relationship with former best friend Chloe, and how they reconnect after Max ran out on that life, is the heart of a story that puts the game in the hallowed company of the best adventure games on PC.
You will cry. You will make bad choices, rewind and make a completely different choice that you regret in a completely new way. You will stick with Max and Chloe until the end of the world. Literally.
Czech developers Amanita Design have produced some of the best adventure games, including Machinarium, Botanicula, and their long-running Samorost series. Their games are a little different, though: they are entirely dialogue-free. Instead, symbols and sounds are relied upon to tell the story – and they are unbearably sweet. Samorost 3 strikes just the right balance between clever puzzle design, gorgeously bizarre looks, and sheer cuteness.
Samorost 3 is about an alien gnome living with his dog on an asteroid. In his spare time he who discovers a mysterious flute and explores the origins of the cosmos. As you do. Unlike every other point-and-click adventure games on this list, the plot is of secondary importance. The Samorost series is all about warm, atmospheric visuals, adorable audio, and shockingly smart puzzles. Playing a Samorost game is almost like a pleasant drug trip, we imagine: it is full of inexplicable creatures, mind-boggling locations, and imaginative encounters. It’s a wordless Alice in Wonderland. But it’s in space. With a gnome instead of a girl.
Chuchel is as much a slapstick comedy as it is a point-and-click game. From the developers behind Machinarium and Samorost, Chuchel’s eponymous protagonist is a rotund, hairy, but lovable speck that looks like a bright yellow upside-down acorn. Alongside an equally goofy and colourful cast of blobs and everyday objects, you match your own childlike curiousity with Chuchel’s, clicking and experimenting with your delightfully hand-drawn cartoon world and giggling at all the mischief into which you can get him.
The laughs come thick and fast. Chuchel and his chums can drink too much water and urinate on each other. Your cute critter can even crack open the shell of a sentient egg with a spoon almost four times his own size after a psychedelic trip induced by licking a mushroom. The playful joy of your endearing misdemeanours is enhanced by the satisfyingly silly boings, zips, and plops, the game emits, imbuing Chuchel with an onomatopoeic quality that makes it one of the funniest and best adventure games on PC.
While Day of the Tentacle is the official sequel to Maniac Mansion, Thimbleweed Park – from adventure veterans Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick – feels like the authentic sequel; one where you get to explore the Mansion but also the surrounding area and local town. The weird, weird town.
Thimbleweed Park is one of the best adventure games around not just because it feels like a forgotten LucasArts classic or love letter to the company’s adventures; it feels like a worthy update. Developers Terrible Toybox keep Thimbleweed Park looking and feeling authentically retro, with chunky pixel art and huge verb buttons, but cleverly add to the genre, too. For example, there are random events that may or may not happen as you explore as one of the five playable characters. Wandering into a deserted alleyway, apropos of nothing, could see a character get abducted. Then there are more puzzles to solve before you get them back.
The characters are quirky, entertaining, and will stick in your mind for ages-a-reno even if you do not want them too-a-boo. The clever puzzles can require multiple characters to solve, and they can even have multiple solutions. Then there is the ending, an audacious denouement that feels like a mic-drop to the entire genre. Only the creators of Maniac Mansion could get away with it.
That’s the mystery of the best adventure games on PC solved. If you’re after more casework why not read our list of the best police games? You can return to using real world logic for solving your problems from now on, no need to try using every object in your pocket together.