Saturday, 23 May 2009

Whatever happened to point-and-click adventure games?

Is 17 years too long to have waited to review a game? Hopefully not, as I have just finished playing the LucasArts classic ‘Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’ for the first time, and I must say it was brilliant! Hard to believe I know, but that little pixelated world from way back in 1992 gave me so much more pleasure than anything I’ve played recently. Yes I know it has its flaws, and it’s probably the most linear game I’ve come into contact with for quite some time, but it reminded me how much I love adventure games. There is something wonderful about them, a certain je ne sais quoi, an intelligence and a love of great story telling. A great adventure game is like a beautifully crafted novel, it has a sense that real love went into creating it for you, that everyone responsible for it put their heart and soul into its development. These games are both precious to those who made them, and precious to those who play them, and I don’t know of any other genre where that can still be said.

A friend of mine recently asked me what my top three games of all time were. Obviously not something you can answer immediately, so I paused, flicked through 11 years worth of gaming nostalgia, considered all the attachments and feelings I had for particular titles, genres and platforms, and finally settled on three games that hold a dear and special place in my heart:

1.Grim Fandango

2.Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge


Notice anything about the top two? They are both from that seemingly long forgotten genre, the puzzle solving point-and-click adventure. My recall of these games (Half-Life included) brings back many a memory of complete immersion in these fantastic worlds, a host of characters you could not easily forget, hours of frustration and the most overwhelming sense of satisfaction when you figure a tricky puzzle out. But most of all, beautiful story lines, story lines that aren’t clichéd but have a sense of talent and intelligence behind them. In some ways the point-and-click adventure game was simply a vehicle for a wonderful story (I’m thinking specifically about Grim Fandango here), a story which always seemed original and always seemed fresh in comparison to the hammy and predictable narratives of other genres. And best of all the game made you feel good, it made you feel clever, they were tests of logic and reasoning, they weren’t just mind-numbing shoot everything in-sight, you really had to think. Unfortunately that’s a trend which only the Japanese seem keen to uphold in survival horror games like Silent Hill (which I believe has been sold off to an American developer now...sad, very sad).

If there is one thing I regret about being an OS X convert is that many of my adventure games no longer work, and without a copy of XP there’s no real chance of me being able to get them to work either. In light of this I was really excited to discover a utility called SummVM (, which is a cross-platform emulator for LucasArts games based on the Scumm engine (enter Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max). From this I thought I’d try a title I never had before, hence my discovery of the fantastic Fate of Atlantis, which, incidentally would have made a much better movie than the god-awful Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. However, playing this game was both a blessing and a curse, because despite loving ever minute of it, I just knew in the back of my mind that these games just aren’t being made any more, and that’s truly a very sad thing.

Or are they? To paraphrase Mark Twain, perhaps rumours of their death has been greatly exaggerated. Despite the disappearance of some of the major players in the genre, and despite the fact that you’re unlikely to find any such games lining the shelves of the XBox 360 or PS3 sections, the games have found a potential new home, the handheld market. The rise in popularity of the Nintendo DS has actually paved the way for a selection of puzzle-based adventure titles, culminating in the recent re-release of Broken Sword 1 on the platform, a truly remarkable thing for lovers of the genre. In addition, this has sparked a potential new console market, with the Broken Sword port making its way to the Wii also. The genre is far from dead, but its numbers are dwindling, and I fear that if there’s just no interest companies will stop all together.

It is a real shame to think there may never be another Monkey Island, or another Broken Sword, or an Indiana Jones game that isn’t a poor Tomb Raider knock-off. I suppose these titles seem a little old in their ways, and perhaps their conventions may seem a little strange, but at their heart was the desire to tell a great story, to intellectually challenge the player, and to create a memorable experience. Maybe it’s just me, but nothing else seems to come close to that anymore.

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