Top 20 Best PC Adventure Games of All Time
Want to know the Best PC adventure games of all time? When you finish, read our recommendations spanning the whole adventure game genre, retro & modern, across all systems, not just the Top PC Adventure Games…
10 Best PC Adventure Games – 2 Lists
We have two adventure-loving editors and they each will list their own 10 Best PC Adventure Games. The first list has more of a classic fantasy/sci-fi vibe to it while the second list has more of a mystery/thriller/horror vibe to it. You can check out whichever list appeals to your gaming tastes more.
List #1: Menashe’s Ten Best PC Adventure Games
If you have even a passing interest in either the adventure genre or sci-fi/cyberpunk fantasy worlds, you owe it to yourself to play Gemini Rue. The best two games in the genre from the past decade are probably Machinarium and Gemini Rue. The storytelling is simply astounding, and the plot twist is one of the best in any form of storytelling- whether books, movies, or games. You’ll never see it coming. Everything just seemed to come together for this game. The art style and hand-drawn graphics are breathtaking and incredibly atmospheric, the story is almost unrivaled in its impact on you, the voice acting is top notch, and best of all, it has one of the most emotional, atmospheric soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a game. Gemini Rue is a game that only comes around once in a while and you won’t forget about for a while once you’re done.
Machinarium is my favorite adventure game since Grim Fandango. Period. It’s game that makes an air-tight case for games being art. The graphics shouldn’t be called graphics. Call them masterful hand-drawn paintings instead. The soundtrack should be called enchanting melodies. And the simple but utterly charming story of a robot who has been exiled to a scrap heap will touch you. Machinarium is a prime example of why point ‘n’ click adventure games are not dead and just how much potential is still left. It was created by people who clearly love the genre with the aim to deliver a top-notch entertainment for all those gamers who really miss the magical world of adventure games. Every element–even the smallest ones–are crafted with exceptional care and polish by people who clearly knew what they were doing and loved it. This level of detail is hard to find in most modern games that seem to be mass produced, so it is a very refreshing feeling to see a title that is made with such care and passion.
The Longest Journey
Considered one of the finest adventure games ever made, The Longest Journey is up there with LucasArts’ and Sierra’s retro classics. The plot is so epic it can even get a little confusing at times, but the storytelling is wonderful and keeps a focus on character. You’ll especially appreciate when the modern sci-fi setting suddenly meets up with a fantasy world. It’s quite an adult game too; the dialogue is mature and intelligent, there’s quite a bit of swearing and some nudity throughout. The puzzles are mostly clever and there is a ton of conversations to be had. You’ll visit 150 locations over 50 hours of gameplay. All in all, it’s a beautiful game.
This game saved the genre all by itself, in the time of dire crisis. Without Syberia in 2002, we would not have 15+ adventures per year now days. Sokal’s emotional story of Kate Walker and Automatons touched the hearts of players around the world and renewed the faith in Adventure games once again. Setting focus on the characters and letting them develop the well written story was a brilliant plan that worked. Also, featuring great and detailed 2D pre-rendered graphics with well animated 3D characters, superb sound and dynamic background music, Syberia was and is a masterpiece.
To the Moon
Has a game ever made you cry? To the Moon might just have one of the most thoughtful and inspiring stories ever conceived in a video game. Its nostalgic 16-bit graphics are intertwined with touching, hand-drawn scenes and an overwhelming soundtrack which is guaranteed to tug at those heart strings. As the player, you will assume the role of one of two scientists who are traveling backwards through the scattered memories of a dying man’s life. His life has never been particularly satisfying, so it’s up to Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts to fool his mind into believing he has accomplished his ultimate life goals. With each step back in time, a new fragment of Johnny’s past is revealed. Don’t be afraid to shed some tears of manliness.
There are many creators of new worlds and cultures in books, tv, film, and games. Usually these visionaries take some pre-established premises and throw in some new twists to make things original. It is rare to find someone with enough imagination to make a world that relies on a completely new set of rules and fundamentals. Tim Schafer, possibly the greatest mind in adventure games, threw the rule book out of the window and imagined a world that had everything new from the ground up with Grim Fandango. When you enter the world of Grim Fandango, you are entering somewhere you’ve never been before. And you will be intrigued, enchanted, cracked up, and unwilling to leave the Land of the Dead. Both the characters and the world setting make for a rich lively world full of inventive ideas, whether you’re working as a travel agent to pay off your debt, walking along the bottom of the sea, escaping from The Edge of the World, or reciting poetry at a night club.
Gabriel Knight series
Jane Jensen is one of my favorite game developers and her abilities in writing and storytelling always shine through. Right now we’re going to look at the series as a whole all three games: Sins of the Fathers, The Beast Within, and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. Gabriel Knight is a struggling horror novelist who discovers that his destiny is to become a Shadow Hunter. The games stray from the lighter fare of Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, and instead focus on the occult, voodoo murders, werewolf attacks, and vampire conspiracies. The series has gone from pixelated sprites, to FMV scenes, to 3D models. Despite the graphical changes with the technological advancements, the core writing and storyline were always top of the line.
Get Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers at GOG.com
Get Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within from GOG.com
Get Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred; Blood of the Damned from GOG.com
Get the Gabriel Knight Series at Amazon
King’s Quest VI
King’s Quest VI: Heir today, Gone tomorrow is an adventure game so amazing, so well-written, so artfully designed, so masterfully crafted it still holds to this day. It’s story, characters, graphics, score…. every little piece of the production has perfection written all over it! The story tells of King Graham’s son Alexander, who travels to the Land of the Green Isles in search of his love, princess Cassima. As simple a premise as it may seem, the plot quickly becomes intricate and clever, weaving mythology and fairy tales into a tale of betrayal and love. Beauty and the Beast living in the same Kingdom as the Minotaur and Hades to name a few. Designer Roberta Williams teamed up with co-designer Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight) on this one and it shows. Their visioned combined has created a masterpiece of its time, and a classic for the ages. For many old-school adventure-lovers, it is by far the very best adventure game ever released.
The Monkey Island Series
Looked at as a whole, most adventure gamers will agree that the best adventure series of all time is the Monkey Island series. It consistently provided a certain charm, wit, and cleverness that became a model for the rest of gaming. And adventure game developers are still trying to recapture that personality in their games to this day. The complex love triangle between foolish Guybrush Threepwood, the undead Pirate King Lechuck, and their fixation, the tomboyish Elaine- has become the dynamic that the entire series hinges upon. While the more recent Tales of Monkey Island series didn’t reach the same pinnacles as the first three games in the series, they were definitely not a letdown.
The Walking Dead
The fact that so many gamers- not even aventure fans!- are saying The Walking Dead is the best game of the year so far for 2012 is really a big deal. Even if you don’t like the TV show you’ll STILL love The Walking Dead as a game. It’s that good. Once you start playing the game, some of the characters will actually start mattering to you. The storyline is complex and full of plot-twists. There is real character development. The dialogue is excellent. And there are some great scares waiting for you. Telltale Games have been making adventure games for a while now, but they’ve finally created their legacy!
List #2 – Toddziak’s List
Hello, everyone. I’m Toddziak and I will be responsible here mainly for adventure games and similar reviews, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my Top 10 Favourite Games list will deal with precisely that genre. This is the Top 10 Best PC Adventure Games. This chart is obviously totally subjective. I must confess that I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and generally crime and detective stories, so I’m really biased and that subtype of games will be predominant here. It doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate such great titles like The Whispered World, Machinarium or Keepsake. No, on the contrary. But ten is ten and I had to stick to it. So, without further ado, here is my list. I hope you will enjoy it. Let me know in the comments whether you agree with me or not.
10. Hitchcock: The Final Cut
We start with a game which is almost totally forgotten now. It’s a pity, because I’ve beaten it at least five times and each time thoroughly enjoyed it. Okay, maybe not “thoroughly”, because Hitchcock had a handful of issues. The camera often was very uncooperative, some scenes required almost superhuman dexterity and the game itself was generally unforgiving, so you could die quite easily. But all of those flaws don’t mean anything when compared to many advantages. Firstly, we have a gripping story of love, hate and murder. Joseph Shamley, our psychic detective straight from the noir crime story, has to solve a mystery of disappearing movie crew, who was filming a Hitchcock-like motion picture. It’s only a starting point to uncover many ugly truths about the missing people, but also our clients. Secondly, the atmosphere – creepy as a frozen hell – is brilliant. It feels like you’ve been sucked into one of the Hitchock’s movies. Fans of the talented director will certainly appreciate many allusions to his works. Finally, we have to remember about ominous soundtrack, gloomy graphics, ingenious puzzles and passable length. Hitchcock: The Final Cut is far from being perfect, but it’s still a fun game to play and without a doubt deserves a place in my Top 10 list.
9. Still Life
I love the smell of a gruesome, virtual murder in the morning. And so does Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent who pursues a stylish and brutal killer in the modern day Chicago. The plot is engrossing, full of twists and it forces us to gasp in awe at the brilliance of the script. What makes the story even more interesting is that we follow also the murder investigation conducted by Victoria’s grandfather in Prague of the 1930′. Both story lines seem to be interconnected. How awesome is that? But the plot is not the only strong point of Still Life. We have here memorable characters, great graphics, fitting music and lots of violence, which set a very suggestive mood to the adventure. The puzzles are well-thought and challenging. Maybe sometimes too challenging. I still have nightmares about hellish lock-picking and frustrating cooking. The other thing which let me down is the ending, which is a shameless cliffhanger. I know that the mystery was (poorly) unravelled in the sequel, but still it left a bad taste in my mouth. One does not simply end a crime story with a cliffhanger. Anyway, Still Life is a truly great game and I recommend it from the bottom of my detective-ridden heart to anyone who craves for a unforgettable and dark adventure.
8. Gray Matter
Gray Matter, a brainchild of our great and beloved Jane Jansen. You may wonder why I didn’t include on this list her other titles, namely Gabriel Knight’s trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those games really much, but it was Gray Matter which completely won my heart over. This is mainly due to the pair of very charismatic protagonists. The first one is Samantha Everett – a skilled illusionist who pursues legendary Daedalus Club, the society of magicians – and the other is David Styles (who looks like illegitimate son of the Phantom of the Opera and Severus Snape), a reclusive neurobiologist who mourns his deceased wife. Their fates interplay in most interesting ways and its a pleasure to follow the plot. The puzzles are not very demanding, but one thing makes this game stand out of the crowd of other adventure games – magic tricks! Since Samantha is an illusionist, she can use her magic tricks from the special book to get what she wants. They are very fun to perform and look quite impressive. The music in Gray Matter is also superb. The song from the main menu has stuck in my head forever. The graphics are not bad, voice-acting is top-notch, basically I cannot find anything mediocre in this game. But don’t take my word for it – buy this game and try it yourselves. You won’t regret it. I’m waiting impatiently for the sequel.
7. Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy
This one is such an atypical adventure game that some people claimed it doesn’t belong to the genre. But nevermind, in my head canon it is an adventure game, period. In Fanhrenheit we take control over a seemingly normal New Yorker going by the name of Lucas Kane. But normal New Yorkers rarely enter a trance and kill a complete stranger in a diner’s bathroom, which precisely happened to Lucas. He obviously freaks out and flees the scene. Soon the pair of detectives – Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles – are send to investigate the mysterious murder. The great thing is that we play as both sides of the investigation, pursuers and the fugitive respectively, so we can see the story from various angles. It certainly adds some depth into it. The plot is great, gripping, intense and surprisingly mature, however the ending involves too much of poor science-fiction bullcrap. Apart from that, the story deserves a medal. Fahrenheit doesn’t have puzzles in a traditional sense, but is rather an interactive movie based on quick time events. It’s a matter of taste, I guess, but I enjoyed them, even though some were quite tough. The graphics are maybe a bit dated, but soundtrack is holding up pretty good. Definitely try this game, especially if you can’t afford a Playstation 3 and Heavy Rain.
Another unusual adventure game on my list. Apart from puzzles characteristic to the genre it also includes potion making and a bit of sword fighting, but what is truly unique is its dark atmosphere. The story is set in medieval England in a small, decaying village of Cavorn, where a young girl has been murdered by her fiancé. Nicolas Farepoynt, an investigator with the ability to talk to the dead, is summoned to establish why the tragedy had happen. Of course, as it often turns out, the intrigue is far more complicated than it seemed at the beginning. I felt completely engrossed into this story and my involvement only increased as the plot progressed. The protagonist and his grisly gift are very intriguing. I could compare him to Geralt from The Witcher, but I find Nicholas more likeable (I feel really unpatriotic after writing such statement). Other characters are also well-written. They have a lot of vices like greed, vengefulness, cruelty and lust for power, which adds a melancholic flavour to this overall adult story. If you like dark and depressing games, Deamonica is a must, especially now that the sequel is on its way. I can’t wait.
5. The Book of Unwritten Tales
When I launched this game for the first time I didn’t expect much from it. I thought that it would be an average and forgettable fantasy like thousands I’ve already seen. Oh, how wrong I was! The Book of Unwritten Tales is a brilliant game, because it doesn’t treat itself seriously. It’s a pastiche of fantasy genre and it’s filled to the brim with pop-cultural references. What was movie Shrek to fairy tales, The Book of Unwritten Tales is to fantasy. The authors put there allusions to Star Wars, Discworld, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and many, many more. They even make fun of MMO games and RPGs. This production contains tons of jokes, which – would you believe it! – leave the player giggling like a madman. But the humour is not the only advantage here. The quest of a brave gnome Wilbur, a wanna-be mage, and his friends to save the world from the unspeakable evil is really entertaining, mainly because the cast is beyond marvellous. I’ve rarely seen game characters that felt so “alive” and “real” and the brilliant voice-acting only strengthen this impression. You cannot also pick at the puzzles, since they’re creative but not over-the-top. They’re just perfect. Like the game itself. The only tiny bit that I didn’t like is the ending. I find the plot of the last chapter a bit too far-fetched and relying too much on deux-ex-machina way of resolving the problem. But that’s really a minor flaw. The game is great and nothing can change that. Go and buy it immediately, so the developers will have money to make a sequel!
4. Broken Sword 1 & 2
At this point I pondered a long time whether to include the first or the second instalment of George Stobbart’s adventures on my list. I couldn’t really decide, because I love them both, so eventually I put the two of them under the same number. After all, they’re really similar… Okay, so there went my excuses, now lets proceed to the games themselves. In each Broken Sword the above mentioned protagonist George has to solve some paranormal mystery that threatens the safety of the world, whether it be the Templar Order or sinister Mayan god. In order to do it he must travel all around the globe, collect certain items and fight the bad guys. Fortunately, he is not alone on this quest. His faithful sidekick (and later a girlfriend) Nico is always there for him. The plot of those games are really enjoyable and they could easily pose as lost scenarios for Indiana Jones movies. Actually, George has a lot of boyish charm and witty remarks just like Indy. Maybe that is the reason why Broken Swords are so popular among gamers. That and great, well-balanced puzzles as well. The music and graphics are good, but if you don’t like retro style (how couldn’t you?), you can play the remastered version of both games. Still, I recommend the originals, because they’re just so good, that you can turn a blind eye to any flaw. Contrary to Broken Sword 3 and 4, which were passable at most. Maybe the 5th game will someday bring the glory back to the series.
Sanitarium, the first game that stands on the podium. Brace yourselves because now we enter the realm of psychodelic creepyness. Once you play this game, nothing will ever be the same. Don’t be fooled by ESRB Rating: TEEN. You’ve been warned. In Sanitarium we begin our journey as a patient of horrid asylum full of mutilated people. We don’t remember anything apart from the fact that we barely survived a car crash. But things start to become really weird when the statue of angel comes to live and we get transported to a provincial town where the only inhabitants are deformed children. The conversations that you have with them are among the most insane and disturbing lines that you can ever encounter. As we progress, the scenes become gradually more weird, scary, twisted, though-provoking and purely saddening. I almost shed a genuine tear here and there. One thing is certain – this game won’t leave you indifferent. Actually I feel more inclined not to call this just an adventure game, but rather a deeply psychological experience. That journey is without a doubt worth taking, as long as you’re not afraid of really nightmarish sights. I can mention here also good, but difficult puzzles, atmospheric soundtrack and gracefully ageing graphics, but there’s no point in dwelling on such trivialities in this case. Sanitarium is a true gem and should, no, must be played by any self-respecting adult gamer. Don’t hesitate, just buy it.
2. Gemini Rue
This game is a bit paradoxical – it’s the newest on the list, even though it looks the oldest. Well, that’s the magic of stylised graphics, which seems straight out of the early nineteens. Still, it’s just brilliant and perfectly fits the gloomy atmosphere of a cyberpunk world devoid of any hope. But enough about the quality of graphics, let’s focus on something which is essential to all adventure games – the plot. In Gemini Rue we have two main characters. The first one is called Azriel Odin. He’s a cynical ex-assassin who comes to a sombre planet Barracus in order to find his missing brother. The second protagonist is a mysterious young man with amnesia, Delta-6. He inhabits some kind of research facility (something like Aperture Science but even more ominous) and he wants to get out. I won’t say anything else not to spoil the fun of unravelling the story yourselves. I’ll just disclose that this game has one of the greatest plot twists ever. The story is simply grand and it deals with some serious issues concerning the condition of humanity and it asks the question what really makes us who we are. It’s nothing new in the cyberpunk and noir genres, but Gemini Rue does the job remarkably well. What else is here to say? The interface with its division to actions connected with eye, hand, mouth and leg requires a bit of getting used to, but overall it’s in accordance with retro spirit of this game. All in all, for me it was the best adventure game of the past year. You will miss a lot if you omit this masterpiece. You should check it out, not only if you’re a fan of Blade Runner.
1. Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis (or Sherlock Holmes vs Arsene Lupin)
And here it is: the place of honour. I couldn’t have chosen differently since I’ve been an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories from an early age, I love the Holmes games made by Frogwares and currently I’m obsessed with the BBC show “Sherlock” (make a game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and I’ll die happily). You couldn’t possible fathom the amount of love I have for this game. I could ramble for hours how brilliant Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis is, but I’ll try to contain my enthusiasm not to bore you to death. “Try” is the key word here.
Anyway, the game is a battle of wits between the greatest detective and most skilled gentleman thief ever. Arsene Lupin sends a note to Sherlock Holmes in which he announces that he plans to steal several objects of national importance to the Brits and Holmes job is to stop him. In order to do it, the detective has to pursue enigmatic clues which point to various famous places in the capital of England. We will visit among others the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, British Museum and National Gallery. Those spots are just beautiful and detailed, so when you visit them you feel almost like a tourist eager to see it all. I’ve spend over an hour – no kidding – just looking at paintings in the National Gallery and listening to what Holmes has to say about each picture. What other game will so painlessly encourage you to indulge in art contemplation? SH: Nemesis is abundant in puzzles, most of which will leave your brain at the point of boiling. But I would lie if I say that I didn’t enjoy them. I think they were challenging, but fun and rewarding. Just to round-up the awesomeness of this game I’ll mention the great soundtrack, good graphics and uncanningly brilliant voice-acting. I could be praising Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis till kingdom come and still I wouldn’t do this game the justice it deserves. Just play it and develop your own opinion. Maybe you will fall in love with Sherlock as badly as I did.
Edit: The new Sherlock Holmes game, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, has now been released. It is not the best game in the series (in my book that title would be forever assigned to Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis), but it’s still a wonderful adventure game that will engross you in a gripping tale of betrayal, sinister plots and mind blowing puzzles.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.