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Greatest Point-And-Click Games (Not By LucasArts)

Ashley Day

Feature


The very best adventure games, that aren't on SCUMM.

Published on Aug 8, 2011

As much as we love the graphic adventures of LucasArts, every single one of them, from Maniac Mansion to Escape From Monkey Island, is of such high quality that they would dominate any adventure list to the point where they exclude so many other games that are worth playing. With that in mind, here’s our rundown of all the point-and-click classics that you should play after finishing with the SCUMM library.

Simon The Sorcerer

Format: Amiga, CD32, Archimedes, PC, iPhone
Year: 1993
Publisher: Adventure Soft
Developer: In-house

Simon The Sorcerer is generally considered to be the British answer to Monkey Island, and although it replicated the LucasArts style perfectly, it was the very British sense of humour that gave it its own personality. The clever pastiche of traditional fairytales, spliced with references to popular culture, made the adventure one of the funniest games of the Nineties, and it became even funnier in 1994 when Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf) lent his voice to the CD-ROM re-release.

17 years later, the game still holds up well, with some tough puzzles and witty dialogue, though a few empty screens drag it out – a problem that was rectified in the equally good sequel. The less said about parts 3-5, however, the better.

Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars  

Format: PC, PlayStation, GBA
Year: 1996
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Revolution Software

From its incredible opening, in which a clown blows up a Parisian cafe, Broken Sword proved to be a different sort of adventure. It still did comedy and puzzles as well as anything else, but it also demonstrated a flair for cinematic storytelling, likeable characters and a riveting plot.

Charles Cecil’s well-researched script, loosely inspired by the 1982 book The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, turned religious conspiracy theory into a clever and enjoyable adventure long before Dan Brown made millions with The Da Vinci Code, and, ironically enough, Cecil later found himself contributing to a Da Vinci Code game due to his expertise. Broken Sword remains the superior game, of course, even with the infuriating goat puzzle that was removed from the 2009 director’s cut.

Beneath A Steel Sky

Format: Amiga, CD32, PC, iPhone
Year: 1994
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Revolution Software

Though another Charles Cecil creation, Beneath A Steel Sky couldn’t be more different to Broken Sword. Set in a dystopian, industrial future, dominated by depressing high-rise complexes, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Steel Sky was developed while Revolution was still based in Hull. The cyberpunk stylings, helped by design work from Dave Gibbons (2000 AD, Watchmen), gave the game a unique feel within a genre obsessed with comedy.

Throughout the adventure, the player is accompanied by a robotic companion named Joey, who can be used to solve puzzles and upgraded with spare parts. Despite producing three Broken Sword sequels, Cecil has sadly never created a follow-up to Steel Sky but has recently dropped a few hints that he intends to collaborate with Gibbons again in the future.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

Format: Amiga, PC, Mac
Year: 1992
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: In-house

Star Trek’s silver anniversary, which actually passed in 1990, was celebrated in a number of ways, but it’s this little-known adventure that we’re most fond of. There’s a startlingly authentic feel thanks to the appearance of the original cast, as well as sound effects and visual design that demonstrate a meticulous attention to detail.

Interplay’s adventure rather bravely incorporates combat elements – phasers can be used as items to solve puzzles in a rather deadly manner – but the inclusion actually works quite well, faithfully sticking to the lore of Star Trek without unbalancing the gameplay. Furthermore, an innovative episodic structure allowed the developers to tell several stories within one game, much like a series of the TV show, arguably influencing the episodic adventures of today.

Blade Runner

Format: PC
Year: 1997
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Westwood Studios

Created by a studio better known for its real-time strategy games like Dune II and Command & Conquer, Blade Runner is one of the few examples of a real-time adventure game – as the player moves around the game world, the NPCs do the same thing, meaning that the player must carefully choose where and when to act. Choice is a huge part of the game, actually.

There are multiple decisions open to the player at certain points, which can lead to one of 13 different endings to the story – another unusual feature. Released 15 years after the film on which it is based, Blade Runner lacked the input of Harrison Ford, so Westwood decided to use a new character and new story that ran concurrently with the plot of the film – a smart move that freed up the writers and offered fans a virtual sequel in interactive form.

The Longest Journey

Format: PC
Year: 2000
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Funcom

The modern age of adventure games, dominated by niche European PC developers, has drifted far from the comedy cartoon adventures of old toward a more realistic, more mature style. For the most part, these new adventures are crushingly dull, but if there’s one modern, mature adventure that shrugs off this reputation then it’s The Longest Journey. Taking place between two parallel worlds – the medieval, magic-driven world of Arcadia and the futuristic, technology-led Stark – it stars April Ryan, a girl who discovers that she can shift between the two.

April’s journey takes her from the relative comfort of Stark into the chaotic, warring realm of Arcadia, and thrusts her into a conflict that changes her life completely. Without spoiling the plot too much, all we’ll say is that April’s adventure is one of the most gripping and adult tales
in gaming and absolutely must be played. The puzzles, on the other hand – some of the hardest ever committed to CD-ROM – do the game few favours. But it’s worth persevering through them to experience this unique story.

Sanitarium

Format: PC
Year: 1998
Publisher: ASC Games
Developer: DreamForge Intertainment

The top-down perspective has more in common with a PC RPG than a traditional point-and-click adventure game, and that should give you some clue that Sanitarium is far from a typical example of the genre. Though puzzles are present and entertaining enough, it’s the story
and dialogue that makes the game so good. In it you play as Max Laughton, an amnesiac who wakes from a car crash to find himself trapped in a desolate, disturbing and ancient sanitarium.

As he works to unravel the mystery of how he got there and who he really is, the game shifts between the brutal fantasy world and Max’s own delusional subconscious, often blurring the line between the two, to the point where the player can never really trust what’s going on in the world.

One of the most graphically horrifying and psychologically disturbing games ever produced, Sanitarium was criminally overlooked when first released. Thankfully it’s now available and playable on modern systems via Good Old Games, so there’s no excuse not to give it a second chance.

Snatcher

Format: MSX2, PC-88, PC-Engine, PlayStation, Saturn, Mega-CD
Year: 1988
Publisher: Konami
Developer: In-house

While the point-and-click genre is mostly dominated by Western developers, the Japanese are also known for creating adventure games. Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher is fairly typical of the style – first-person perspective, story-focused and leaning more toward clue-finding and dialogue navigation than inventory puzzles – and it also happens to be the single greatest adventure that Japan has ever produced.

Set in a dystopian future version of Japan, it takes influence from Blade Runner and The Terminator and mixes it with Kojima’s flair for dense, encyclopaedic storytelling to create a thoroughly compelling and exciting interactive yarn. Sadly, the only English version of Snatcher to ever be released was on the Mega-CD and is now quite rare. If you value original ideas and strong story in your games, however, it’s well worth tracking down.

Policenauts

Format: PC-98, 3DO, PlayStation, Saturn
Year: 1994
Publisher: Konami
Developer: In-house

Kojima’s second adventure game isn’t quite a sequel to Snatcher, but it is a spiritual successor with similar gameplay and themes. Also set in the future, it tells the tale of a private eye on Earth who is compelled to investigate a case of police corruption and drug trafficking on a space station near the moon after his ex-wife is murdered and her new husband reported missing.

As with Kojima’s other games, the developer wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve and, in this case, it’s the unlikely mix of Lethal Weapon and sci-fi elements that we’re treated to. The game is funnier than Snatcher as a result, but it’s also equally compelling, Kojima demonstrating an ability to write dramatic stories in ways that he seems to have lost in the more recent and convoluted Metal Gear games.

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Format: PC
Year: 1995
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: In-house

The Gabriel Knight series, part historical fantasy yarn, part love story, is a series best taken as a whole thanks to the way that creator Jane Jensen expertly tells its story across three breathtaking chapters, but, despite this, it’s also a rather fractured trilogy. Each one uses a different art style, starting with traditional pixels and moving to full polygon 3D, and threatens to unravel its own integrity as a result.

If we had to recommend just one of the games, however, we’d go with this second instalment, purely because it’s one of the only games ever to use full-motion video and digitised actors without reducing itself to a laughing stock. With $4 million of development costs behind it, The Beast Within is surely one of the most expensive adventure games of the Nineties, but you can feel every dollar right there on the screen and in the script, voice acting and game design.

King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

Format: PC, Mac, Amiga
Year: 1992
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: In-house

Despite being Sierra’s flagship franchise, the King’s Quest series took years to hit its stride. Debuting in 1984, it featured awful EGA graphics, cumbersome text-adventure-style commands and frustrating timed puzzles and death scenes. We accepted it as the
norm at the time, but when Ron Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion arrived three years later, it showed that there were much better ways to make a graphic adventure.

It took years for Sierra to catch up, but when it did the results were spectacular. Series creator Roberta Williams teamed up with a young Jane Jensen to write King’s Quest VI and produced the single best game in the series, with puzzles and story equally matched in quality, an intuitive point-and-click interface, beautiful visuals, the first voice acting in the series, and multiple routes through the narrative. The King’s Quest series continued for another two instalments and one officially approved fan sequel after this, but it never quite reached the same heights again.

Leisure Suit Larry: Love For Sail!

Format: PC
Year: 1996
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: In-house

Creator Al Lowe tells us that Leisure Suit Larry 7 – actually the sixth in the series – was his best and funniest work, and who are we to disagree with him? You can tell from the cartoon-like screenshots alone that this is a game of rare quality, even now. The humour, as ever, is an acquired taste.

If character names like Dewmi Moore do nothing for you then you probably still won’t get anything out of Love For Sail, but everyone else will find that it tickles that one particular funny bone that can’t help giggling at every bit of innuendo it brushes against. And despite the silliness, this is ironically also Al Lowe’s most mature game design, dispensing with Sierra’s cursed death scenes and decisions that lead to unwinnable game states.

In Love For Sail, the Larry series finally grew up – a triumph equalled only by the fact that the next two games, made without Lowe’s involvement, abandoned the adventure gameplay, fumbled the humour and alienated every single one of Larry’s existing fans.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers

Format: PC, Mac, Amiga, PC-98
Year: 1991
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: In-house

A huge leap forward for Sierra’s sci-fi adventure series, Space Quest IV thrust players into a brave new world of point-and-click gameplay, VGA graphics and full voice acting. These huge technical advancements caught designers Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy in a reflective mood, and they took the opportunity to rather cleverly take the hero, Roger Wilco, on a time-travelling journey not through the years but through past and future instalments of the Space Quest series.

Fabricated sequels Space Quest X: Latex Babes Of Estros and Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II are both visited during the adventure, as is the original Space Quest, complete with period EGA graphics and characters who are offended by Wilco’s 256-colour sprite. And then there’s the narration that takes every possible opportunity to openly mock the hero every time he gets in a pickle.

It’s a clever premise that could only have been realised with the sudden advance of technology, but Space Quest IV doesn’t move forward in every single respect. Obtuse puzzles and unclear signposting epitomise everything that was wrong with Sierra’s earlier adventures, and Space Quest wouldn’t get over these flaws until its fifth instalment, but Space Quest IV is the most charming and imaginative by far.

I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream

Format: PC, Mac
Year: 1995
Publisher: Cyberdreams
Developer: The Dreamers Guild

Based on the short story by Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream tells the story of five people who have been trapped and tortured by a sentient computer for the past 109 years. The machine, named AM, constructs a set of virtual morality plays to test the values and worthiness of these five characters. Each is forced to make difficult ethical decisions on subjects like genocide, rape and insanity, and will often have to choose between doing the right thing and doing something terrible that helps thwart AM.

As such, I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream sidesteps the usual inventory puzzle dynamic and delivers something altogether more thought-provoking and mature. It remains a unique adventure, and because it was co-designed by Ellison himself, it stands as an example of the innovations that can be made when other types of artist get involved with videogames.

Flight Of The Amazon Queen

Format: PC, Amiga, iPhone
Year: 1995
Publisher: Renegade Software
Developer: Interactive Binary Illusions

Though there are no LucasArts games in this list, there are a couple that are so close to that style that they might as well have Ron Gilbert’s name plastered across the box. Simon The Sorcerer is one and Flight Of The Amazon Queen is the other. Transparently inspired by Indiana Jones, the game captures the jet-setting adventure and macho humour almost identically.

It does lack the style and sophistication of Lucas’s own Indy games, but the jokes are funny enough and the puzzles strike exactly the right balance between accessibility and challenge. It’s not the sort of game that can be encapsulated by a unique selling point or an innovative gameplay feature, but there’s something warm and comfortable about its traditional stylings.

The Fish Files

Format: Game Boy Color
Year: 2001
Publisher: Microids
Developer: 7th Sense

Most great adventure games are made for a home computer of some sort, with the exception of certain conversions to CD-based systems, which makes The Fish Files a rather strange anomaly. It’s exclusive to the Game Boy Color, the most unlikely of places to find a graphic adventure game.

Miraculously, however, The Fish Files holds up very well on Nintendo’s little 8-bit beauty. The visuals have a cartoon quality that outclasses most PC games of the Nineties, let alone anything else on the Game Boy, while the gameplay sticks so close to the classic LucasArts style that it’s hard to believe that George didn’t sue. The only thing that lets The Fish Files down is its inexplicable need to spoof The X-Files, a cultural touchstone that felt just as outdated in 2001 as it does in 2010.

Discworld Noir

Format: PC, PlayStation
Year: 1999
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Perfect Entertainment

The first two Discworld games are also graphic adventures, and very good ones too. But as 2D point-and-click adventures starring a wizard and a big dollop of British humour, they’re a little too similar to the superior Simon The Sorcerer. Discworld Noir, on the other hand, is an equally good game but with much more original gameplay.

The film noir stylings may draw comparisons with LucasArts’ Grim Fandango, but this is a different sort of game, eschewing inventory puzzles in favour of clue-finding and finger-pointing sequences that perfectly suit the dark detective narrative. As Lewton, Discworld’s first and only private eye, you collect and save clues only to recall them later to use on suspects and witnesses. It’s this mechanic that elevates Discworld Noir above its predecessors.

Cruise For A Corpse

Format: PC, Amiga, Atari ST
Year: 1991
Publisher: US Gold
Developer: Delphine Software

Made by the same studio behind incredible works like Another World and Flashback, Cruise For A Corpse may be a different sort of game but it displays the same commitment to originality and beauty. The adventure gameplay is a bit light, to say the least, but that’s hardly the point.

Cruise For A Corpse is all about the Poirot-style yarn, the immersive Twenties aesthetic and those incredible vector visuals, somewhere between animated cels and polygons, that only Delphine seemed to do so well.

The developer labelled its style as ‘Cinematique’ – a rather apt term that perfectly captures the very French look and filmic techniques that make Cruise For A Corpse as much a visual storytelling experience as it is a game. And in the adventure genre, that is great praise indeed.

Operation Stealth

Format: PC, Amiga, Atari ST
Year: 1990
Publisher: US Gold
Developer: Delphine Software

Released as James Bond: The Stealth Affair in the US, Operation Stealth is essentially the same game except with a few inconsequential references removed. Or, more accurately, The Stealth Affair is the same game as Operation Stealth but with the Bond references added, since the game was first published in Europe.

Another adventure from Delphine, this one is a more traditional game in terms of visuals, looking more like something Sierra would have produced, but is notable for other reasons, such as the ability to play around with gadgets.

Sadly, as a game with the word ‘stealth’ in the title, Operation Stealth inevitably features a few overhead sections where you have to avoid patrolling guards – a mistake that even LucasArts made with Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis two years later.

The Last Express

Format: PC, Mac
Year: 1997
Publisher: Brøderbund
Developer: Smoking Car Productions

In between developing Prince Of Persia 2 in 1993 and The Sands Of Time in 2003, Jordan Mechner did two things of note: he produced a short documentary that would ultimately lead to his move into Hollywood, and he also put that talent to use in the development of The Last Express, a rare deviation from platform games.

Mechner called upon the animation technique of rotoscoping, used in the first Prince Of Persia but on a much grander scale here, which lent it a luxurious feel that has aged much better than the murky 3D PC games of the era.

The greatest thing about The Last Express, however, is its structure: the game’s real-time flow moves the story along around the player, making it impossible to see everything in a single playthrough and ensuring that several endings are made possible.

 

Modern Classics

While the golden age of adventure games undoubtedly lies in the early Nineties, the past five years have seen a renaissance for the genre, thanks largely to the efforts of Telltale Games, a studio of ex-LucasArts staff who have reinvented the genre in episodic, downloadable format. As such, here are five essential adventures from the last few years. They’re not retro, but they’re still worth playing.

Machinarium

Amanita Design, 2009
The tale of a robot who finds himself on the scrap heap and must work his way through a world of depressing industrial machinery to save his girlfriend, Machinarium is unusual in that it features no dialogue whatsoever. But it does have some of the best animation we’ve seen in a 2D game and some fun puzzles that are more about playing around with the world than combining items in obscure ways. Creator Amanita Design (Samorost) is definitely one to watch.

Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People

Telltale Games, 2008
Of all Telltale’s episodic adventures, this is perhaps the most bizarre. You play a diminutive lucha libre obsessive with a severe case of self-delusion as he gets himself caught up in all kinds of mischief. Each episode features a playable Atari 2600 game, and the final episode sees Strong Bad caught inside a retro adventure game that’s an awful lot like the original King’s Quest.

A Vampyre Story

Autumn Moon Entertainment, 2008
The first game from the studio of Bill Tiller, best known as the artist who transformed the world of Guybrush Threepwood into a cartoon vision in The Curse Of Monkey Island. As such, A Vampyre Story is one of the best-looking adventures of the modern age, but it’s no slouch in other departments. The story and dialogue are funny, if a little long-winded, while the puzzles are imaginative, thanks to the way they’re solved by the lead character’s vampiric powers.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Capcom, 2005
First released in Japan for the GBA in 2001, Phoenix Wright was an unknown quantity until it came to the DS and blew us all away with its originality. The first-person gameplay recalls other Japanese adventures like Snatcher, but it’s the courtroom scenes at the end of each chapter that make the Ace Attorney series so compelling. The dramatic to-and-fro between lawyer and witness is a thrill totally unique to Capcom’s cult hit.

Still Life

Microids, 2005
Still Life looks boring but is saved by one of the most riveting narratives in modern gaming. It focuses on FBI agent Vic McPherson as she tracks a killer using all the gadgets at her disposal, but the game also regularly flashes back to the Twenties where you play Vic’s grandfather Gus as he works on a very similar case, except with more traditional methods. Both stories run parallel until the game climaxes into a stunningly tense ending.

 

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