Friday, January 25, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Adventure

This was the toughest category to narrow down so far. There was a time when adventure games, particularly in the point-and-click style, absolutely dominated computer gaming. Nowadays adventure game fans are lucky if one decent adventure game gets released a year, and even luckier to actually be aware of its existence.

But these were the types of games that really got me into computer games in general. I remember staying up late during a sleepover at a friend's house playing the first two King's Quest games. I can remember trips to my Dad's office to play King's Quest V, because our home computer wasn't speedy enough to handle it. And I remember back in the day before the internet calling the Sierra hint line since I couldn't just Google up a walkthrough when I'd get stuck.

There's also a ton of great adventure games I've never played, and I'm actually pretty excited to see the other guy's lists because a lot of these old games have become abandonware and you can download them, legally, for free.

5 - Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge

My favorite game in the hilarious Space Quest series starring Roger Wilco, the janitor. This particular game involved a plan by the evil Vohaul to unleash an army of cloned vacuum cleaner salesmen on an unsuspecting universe.

This was also the first game I played that paused when you typed your commands. This was a huge step above frantically trying to bang out the correct phrase in previous games of its ilk (I was killed many times in the original Space Quest trying to figure out the right combination of words to get Wilco to crush a deadly robot with a rock).

Vohaul is fat

The fine folks at Infamous Adventures, who provide free, graphically updated versions of some of these types of games, have recently announced they're working on a remake of this game and I'll be looking forward to taking the trip down memory lane.

4 - King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

In my opinion the best of the venerable King's Quest series, which took a sharp left turn towards awful immediately after this game (King's Quest: Mask of Eternity is a lot like Highlander 2: The Quickening in that you try to pretend it doesn't exist).

Yeah, well, I didn't like that boat anyway

I like this one best because it had my favorite story of any of the KQ games: in the end it's a classic "hero rescues the princess" story, but the stuff you did to get there was a lot of fun. It also featured the song Girl in the Tower which actually got popular enough to get some radio air time. That might have been a video game first (I have nothing to back that up).

3 - Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

If anybody were to put this game at #1, I would have a hard time arguing with them. Not only is it the sequel to the venerable Maniac Mansion which could also qualify for top 10 lists, but included in the game is a computer where you can play the original Maniac Mansion.

The game has a wacky plot and was developed when LucasArts were at the height of their adventure gaming prowess.

The gist of the story is this: a nerd and his two house mates travel back in time in a Port-a-Potty (called a "Chron-o-John") to turn off a toxic waste producing machine that an evil Purple Tentacle drank in the present day, giving it terrible powers. By doing this they hope to prevent said Tentacle from ever having to chance to drink the waste and become the dread beast the toxins morph it into.

You can see the Purple Tentacle means business

It gets better, because the "Chron-o-John" requires a diamond to operate but the one the heroes use is a cheap imitation diamond, and so the machine malfunctions and sends one person 200 years into the past (where you interact with George Washington and the like), one 200 years into the future (where the Purple Tentacle reigns supreme), and leaves one stranded in the present.

It's an awesome game and one that made me laugh many times.

2 - Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

It's tough to pick a best game in the Gabriel Knight series, which remains my absolute favorite adventure series to this day. There are only three games in the series and each is very different in terms of the graphics and controls since they were produced so many years apart, but the original GK sticks with the classic point and click model and for my money tells the best story.

And story is where the GK games really, really shine. All three of them are compelling, ranging from hunting lost Wagnerian operas that cure lycanthropy to solving the mystery of the holy grail (in a game that had a story that bore startling similarity to the Da Vinci Code 4 years before that book was published).

You can tell Gabriel Knight is a badass because he walks right through police tape

Fans of the series have been hoping beyond hope that a 4th Gabriel Knight game will happen someday, somehow, but it seems increasingly unlikely, which is sad because the two main characters were left in a very interesting place at the end of the third game and I'll probably never see how it all turns out.

1 - The Longest Journey

Without question one of the best stories I've ever seen told in this medium. It's as close to a perfect game that can be produced in this genre. It's a combination of fantasy and sci-fi with truly interesting, believable characters. I play this game and can't believe Neil Gaiman didn't write the novel first.

Just get it.

Worst Ever - Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh

The fact that I even have to mention this game and not just extend the adventure category to a top 10 makes me sad, but them's the rules.

The original Phantasmagoria was written/created by the same woman who did the King's Quest series, which is really surprising since the game was a major departure from the kid friendly KQ games (it included grisly murders, "adult situations", and even a rape scene). Phantasmagoria was part of the "full motion video/interactive movie" craze that swept this genre when designers though it would be awesome to use real actors and bundle a game across a zillion CDs instead of just plain old graphics (incidentally I think the only game I ever played that executed this remotely well was Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within). Most of these "interactive movie" games were horrible games, and this mode of design I believe had a huge hand in bringing down this genre to the niche market that it is today.

Phantasmagoria was bad, but Phantasmagoria 2 was a million times worse. The game starred a hallucinating computer tech who keeps having horrible, bloody visions of awfulness. What that means is the game tries to give you cheap scares because random blood/gore/other nonsense would happen whenever you performed the most trivial action. This wore thin because something violent/horrible would happen every time you did anything.

I don't remember the context of this shot from the game, but that might be because there wasn't any

Add to that the fact that the plot made absolutely zero sense (aliens were somehow responsible) and the puzzles made less than zero sense (combine the fungus with the blue alien, combine the starfish shaped alien with the horseshoe... if you don't get it it's because it MAKES NO SENSE) and you had an exercise in frustration that spanned across FIVE FREAKIN' DISCS. I think it was grim curiosity that kept me playing all the way until the end, much like when I saw Apocalypto in the theater. With every scene you just couldn't believe it could get any worse, but gosh darnit it did and when all was said and done you wish you could carefully drill the portion of the brain that was storing the memory.

Here's a great example of a cheesy scare scene in the game. The music really adds to the whole ambiance of suckage:

Here's a death scene. The acting, the music, the cheap effects... I mean my lord they combine to create an absolute cornucopia of awful:

See The Philosophy of Time Travel's list here.

See LastBestAngryMan's list here.


Nathal said...

My favorites

Bard's Tale II and III
Legacy of the Ancients
The Temple of Apshai

Andy said...

Yeah. Totally went home and Youtube'd all the old Phantasmagoria videos.

God those games were horrible. All of those "movie" games like games just blew.

I can't knock your or Dan's list. They both contain really good games.

Mia said...

MANIAC MANSION! I still jump a little bit when I hear the "tentacle theme music" What a great flippin game. Putting the hamster in the microwave and then giving the remains to its owner was ALWAYS worth being put in the dungeon. Always.