Top 10 Old School PC Adventure Games
Young gamers today just don’t know how easy they have it. Video games are everywhere and have become a part of popular culture.
Finding games you’re interested in is as easy as firing up the internet, and purchasing games is as easy as clicking on a link. Back in the day, finding a game that you liked and purchasing it wasn’t so easy, but somehow we managed. We started out with text-based games – many which came on a floppy disk (some of you may not even know what that is). But eventually, gaming got better and the golden age of gaming began.
In the early 1990′s, graphical PC adventure games began to be released on CD-ROM’s by what were then the “big” gaming developers – studios like Virgin, Sierra Online and Westwood. These PC adventure games were ahead of their time, often offering up stories that rivaled anything currently on t.v. And as gamers, we devoured them – often playing certain games multiple times, highly enamored that words and graphics had finally come together at last on our PC screens in a way that allowed us to interact with them. These titles also often challenged us, forcing us to solve elaborate puzzles in order to figure out how to progress in the game.
By today’s standards, most of these games might seem outdated. But their stories are as universal now as they were then. And so I give you my Top 10 list of old school PC adventure games. Many of these titles can still be found on sites like Steam and Gog, so be sure to check them out.
10. The Journeyman Project
The Journeyman Project was actually a trilogy of first-person science fiction adventure games. What made the games so completely awesome was that they involved time travel. Who doesn’t love time travel?
The story surrounding the games is set centuries into the future. The world has survived nuclear war and humanity has now established a utopian society. It’s the 24th century and time travel is finally invented in what is known as the Journeyman Project. Unfortunately, time travel means that you end up with time criminals – folks who will go back in time and make changes to the past. This, in turn, causes temporal rips in the space/time continuum. And obviously, we can’t have that. So it’s up to Gage Blackwood, Agent 5 of the Temporary Security Agency to fix these rips and set things right.
The first game of the series, The Journeyman Project, was one of the first PC games to actually use high-quality rendered graphics. Yes, you can say thank you now. The story begins here when an alien ambassador arrives on earth to finalize Earth’s admission into the Symbiotry of Peaceful Beings (sounds weird, huh?). But then a temporaral rift is detected and Earth’s history is suddenly changed. And oops… apparently, Earth is no longer cool (or peaceful) enough to be allowed into the alien organization. It’s up to Agent 5 to save the day.
In the second game, Buried In Time, Agent 5 spends most of his time in actual historical locations. Being that his job is to fix history, I suppose that makes sense. But it’s not quite as much fun as the futuristic setting of the previous game. This title did have more live action scenes, so kudos for that.
In the finale of the trilogy, Legacy of Time, we start to see how games had begun to evolve. The third game itself uses a unique 360 degree interaction system, without resorting to 3D effects (which were still relatively unheard of at the time). It was also one of the first games to be released on DVD-ROM. Oh, those were the days! In this one, Agent 5 has to fix a really big blip in human history. Some aliens have decided to destroy an ancient Earth civilization. Obviously, that doesn’t bode well for future humanity, so he has to go fix that big “oops,” too. A time agent’s job is never done…
Yes, kids! Believe it or not, we had some great horror titles back in the early 90’s. And some of them were downright scary.
Shivers was one such game and harkens all the way back to 1995. In Shivers, you get to step into the shoes of a teenager who is dared to spend a night in a haunted museum. Uh-oh, that never goes well, does it? Especially when the museum is called “The Museum of the Strange and Unusual.” Of course, being a teenager, you’re stupid enough to do it, so you go inside and discover that there are evil spirits inhabiting various elements of the building. These spirits are attempting to suck up your life force so you have to figure out a way to capture them before the sun rises. Oh, in the meantime, you also have to keep them from killing you and bring other ghosts some peace. No problem, right?
But wait, there’s more! Because in order to do all of the above, there are some rather challenging puzzles you also have to solve. Because this is the real world of horror and nothing is ever easy.
Shivers is like taking a step into an episode of Twilight Zone. Except that death, literally, lies around every corner. No, really – touch the wrong object and you are done for.
Shivers also had a sequel: Harvest of Souls. This one featured some cool rock music videos by a fictional band: Trip Cyclone. What was cool about that was that the videos provided hints for solving yet more puzzles. Because these games love their puzzles. In Harvest of Souls, you find yourself in a haunted town. Interesting sidenote: Harvest of Souls was one of a few titles that worked with the Sierra Internet Gaming System (SIGS). This allowed players to chat in real-time online for clues while still playing the game. This was one of the first games of its kind.
Myst is one of those gaming titles that make players cringe. Not because they hated it, but because it was – and maybe still is – one of the hardest games to play EVER (and that includes Dark Souls). Some of the puzzles were downright impossible to figure out and I’m pretty sure that game guides and walkthroughs were invented because of this particular title.
But Myst was pretty – it was the most gorgeous game we had ever seen. As the player, Myst drops you into a mythical world, the island of Myst. There, you have to use special books and travel throughout this world and make decisions that affect the end of the game (yes, this was a relatively new concept at the time). Myst was so immersive, that in spite of its difficulty, gamers embraced it with much love (and much cursing). It also helped drive the adoption of the CD-ROM format. You’re welcome. There were four sequels to Myst, as well as a multitude of spin-off games and novels. But none compared to the first.
Like Dark Souls, you start out in Myst with very little information. You pretty much just have to figure it out. You also need to pretty much click on every little thing in the environment and pray for luck. If not, you’ll get stuck. At some point, you’ll probably admit defeat and consult a walkthrough – there’s no shame in that.
Interestingly enough, there is no threat of violence or dying in the game, but it was probably one of the most popular titles of its time.
Games like Shivers and Phantasmagoria are the reason I got hooked on horror video games. And Phantasmagoria is still one of the weirdest and freakiest games I have ever played. It’s one of those games that doesn’t just challenge your brain but also seriously messes with your head.
Phantasmagoria was one of the first games to use a live actor and was almost more of an interactive movie than an actual video game. It told the story of a writer who, along with her husband, has just bought a remote mansion. We know what that means, right? I mean, OBVIOUSLY, it’s haunted. The writer starts having nightmares and because she just couldn’t leave well enough alone, she releases a demon.
The game revolves around the player learning more about the demon and figuring out how to escape from the house. The house has a lot of history, in addition to demons, including a murder or two. In other words, don’t buy a spooky mansion and think you’re going to survive with your sanity intact. That’s a good lesson to take from this.
Phantasmagoria was designed by Roberta Williams, who was also behind the Kings Quest games. It was also highly controversial because it was one of the first games to feature things like graphic gore, violence and even a rape scene. It managed to get banned in Australia and a lot of major retailers refused to carry it. Admit it, you want to go play Phantasmagoria right now, don’t you? Obviously, it was one of Sierra’s best selling games. Controversy (and blood and gore) sells.
Phantasmagoria had a sequel, A Puzzle of Flesh, which had a cover that featured the awesome image above. It was a completely different story about a man who worked at a pharmaceutical company. Obviously, though, he learns that nothing is as it appears to be. After an email from Hell (no, really), he gets offered a job as a murderer. Why not?
6. The 7th Guest
I played a lot of horror games on the PC in the 90’s, can you tell? The 7th Guest was one of the first I ever played and helped get me hooked. It was another one of those interactive movie puzzle adventure games that were so popular at the time.
The 7th Guest is a horror story told from the point of view of the player, who is also an amnesiac. Apparently, it’s a lot of fun to scare folks who don’t even know who they are. This amnesiac has to go searching through yet another creepy haunted mansion, solve puzzles and watch videos that begin to tell the story of the house (as well as give hints as to who the player is).
This game is brutal in the sense that it teases you if you’re slow in solving puzzles. With little statements like, “We’ll all be dead by the time you solve this!” echoing in your ears, it makes it doubly hard to actually concentrate.
The 7th Guest was a huge hit with both critics and gamers. In fact, Bill Gates himself called the game “the new standard in interactive entertainment.” Not bad, huh?
Sadly, only one sequel for the game was ever released – The 11th Hour. In this game, it’s 60 years later and the main character is an investigative reporter for a t.v. series called “Case Unsolved.” Oh yeah, you know where this is going. For some reason, this game didn’t do as well as its predecessor and that was the last of that.
5. Lands of Lore
The one thing I remember most about Lands of Lore is that it was the first game to feature a big name actor as one of its voices – Sir Patrick Stewart (although, at the time, he had not yet been knighted). And honestly, being a Star Trek geek, that’s why I bought the game. Little did I know that I was in for the RPG of a lifetime.
There were actually three games in the series, so I’ll lump them all in under this category, as they were all equally grand (well, except for maybe the last).
The first, The Throne of Chaos, was the Patrick Stewart-voiced title that introduced me to the world of graphical dungeon crawlers. The plot revolved around King Richard LeGrey (Stewart) who is sending you, the player to go check out a witch that might be causing some problems for the kingdom. You can choose from four different races of players before beginning the game and there is a lot of traveling and dungeon-crawling and all sorts of wonderful gameplay to keep you entertained for hours.
The second game in the series, Guardians of Destiny, didn’t feature Patrick Stewart (much to my chagrin), but was still a pretty darn good game. The plot follows the witch’s son, so this time, you get to do magic. Now THAT’S my idea of a good time. You only have the option of playing one character, though, but there’s still a lot of dungeon-crawling and exploring. This game also featured multiple ending possibilities.
The final title in the Lands of Lore series was simply called Lands of Lore III. This one was more hack and slash and its storytelling didn’t quite live up that of the first two games.
4. The Legend of Kyrandia
Once upon a time, there was a gaming studio called Westwood Studios. And they put out these often-humorous, but endearing games called The Legend of Kyrandia. And those games were freaking awesome.
There were a total of three games in all, beginning with Book One. In this game, King William and Queen Katherine have been murdered by the evil court jester Malcom, a madman who possesses magical powers (of course). You play their son, Prince Brandon, who has been hidden in the forest by his grandfather, also a sorcerer. Malcom eventually turns the grandfather to stone and Brandon, oblivious to his past, soon figures out exactly who he really is. Malcom, who is so ever the devil, has stolen the Kyragem – a mystic stone that contains the kingdom’s energy. It is your duty, as Brandon, to get the stone back and defeat Malcom.
In Book Two, the story continues as you play Zanthia, a young wizard who discovers that Kyrandia is in trouble. Again. There’s another magical stone that needs to be retrived (for some reason or another) and Zanthia is just the girl to do it. And guess what? Malcom is back as the villain, because he really is one of those villains you love to hate.
It is Book Three, though, that stands out in the Kyrandia series. Why? Because you finally get to play Malcolm! And it turns out that as Malcolm, you have to use your wit and cunning (and sense of humor) to prove that you’re not responsible for anything everyone is accusing you of in previous games. Geez… people are so quick to judge, aren’t they?
3. Tex Murphy
Tex Murphy is my number one all-time favorite futuristic down-on-his-luck private eye. Set in a dystopian San Francisco, these games feature a world that glows red with radiation, where genetic deformities are more common than not and where infamous city landmarks are completely abandoned – having fallen into a state of disrepair after World War III.
But it’s Tex himself, the self-deprecating sarcastic PI that makes these series of games work. And that has everything to do with his portrayal by Chris Jones. Poor Tex is generally honest and good-natured, but he does suffer from a bad back and having imbibed too much alcohol (who can blame him?). And even though he lives in the future, the character is a total throwback to film noir detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlow right down to the fedora he always wears.
Tex appeared in a total of five games and will, fortunately, be returning soon in Project Fedora. He spends most of his time using his well-honed observation skills in order to solve murders. Although he has also saved the world – yes, he really is that good.
My personal favorite game from the series is Under A Killing Moon, in which Tex is controlled from a first-person perspective. It was the first game of the series to have a full virtual 3D environment. Tex is at his lowest – recently divorced, out of work, low on cash and living in a rundown part of Old San Francisco. In order to pull himself out of this slump, he begins to hunt for work. It finds him, but obviously, nothing is ever that easy. Tex finds himself in what seems to be The Maltese Falcon, but it turns out there’s a dangerous cult involved.
In 2011, NowGamer ranked Tex Murphy as the 8th Best Game Detective.
2. Kings Quest
When people think of PC adventure games, the first title that usually comes to mind is Kings Quest. This series of games is probably one of the most beloved series in all of gaming history, and that has everything to do with Roberta Williams and her writing.
The first Kings Quest game ushered in what was to become the golden age of gaming – that time right before everyone owned a console or PC. It was these games that Sierra Online built its reputation on, going on to produce other such beloved titles like Gabriel Knight, Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry.
The Kings Quest series chronicles the saga of the royal family of the Kingdom of Daventry. The stories span over two generations and cross many lands – both natural and supernatural- in the fantasy world that Williams created based on fairy tales.
Even famous fictional characters had to get in on the action of the Kings Quest series. Characters such as Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood and Count Dracula all appear in one form or another throughout.
In Kings Quest, characters must solve puzzles to advance through gameplay using items found earlier that have been stored in inventory. Even the most useless thing (like a dead fish) can come in handy at one point or another. In fact, it’s no joke when King Graham says “Take anything that isn’t nailed down.” He really means it.
Characters in the Kings Quest games also have the misfortune to die often. So if you choose to play these games, remember the creed of all PC gamers everywhere – save, save, save.
1. Gabriel Knight
Of all the games I played in the early 90’s, none captured my imagination more than the Gabriel Knight series. Maybe it was the supernatural elements or the fact that Gabriel was hot (and voiced twice by Tim Curry) or that the story was penned by the extremely talented Jane Jensen, but whatever that special something was, Gabriel Knight had loads of it.
The games’ basic premise revolved around author (and bookstore owner) Gabriel Knight. Of course, he’s more than just a writer and discovers in the first game that he is also something known as a Schattenjager – a Shadow Hunter. This means that he gets to see the underbelly of the world and often comes into close contact with those things that go bump in the night.
In the first game, Sins of The Fathers, Gabriel starts out in his bookstore in New Orleans. Something dark has begun to take hold of the city and it has everything to do with voodoo. After Gabriel discovers what he is, he takes it upon himself to find out what’s going on and in doing so, ends up confronting those resonsible for his own family’s suffering. In the end, Gabriel must decide between two options: love and forgiveness or fulfilling his duty. The game’s ending revolves around his decision.
My personal favorite of the series is The Beast Within, the second Gabriel Knight game. In this game, Gabriel travels to Germany, where he begins to investigate what turns out to be werewolves. Real freaking werewolves, people! This one was my favorite story as it has a lot of twists and turns. And it was so good, I must have played it at least 30 times before my CD-ROM drive finally gave out.
The third in the series, Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned was The DaVinci Code before The DaVinci Code was ever written. Gabriel begins to learn about the Knights Templar, as well as a treasure they might have brought back after the crusades: The Holy Grail. But, of course, because the word “blood” is in the title, you know there has to be a supernatural twist. This time, it comes in the form of vampires. Don’t worry, though, this was back when vampires were still cool and not like those sissies from Twilight.
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