There was a long, dark period near the beginning of the aughts where it seemed like adventure games were a dying breed. After a boom in the 90s, it seemed players’ (and developers’) appetite for the adventure genre had been sated, particularly for the sort of traditional point-and-click adventure games that had been so tremendously popular and essential around the rise of PC gaming.
But as we’re discovering as this medium reaches a sort of middle maturity, genres are cyclical, rising and falling in popularity in a steady, almost predictable rhythm (as illustrated by fighting games, space sims, or countless other examples).
Adventure games are no exception, and have been buoyed by experimentation within the genre (wildly successful in some cases, like the ubiquitous #Telltale games) and by the democratization that crowdfunding and the rise of independent development have fueled. Some of the best of these games have redefined what adventure means as a genre, and we wanted to call out a handful of them for their exceptional contribution.
An extremely atypical adventure more in the mold of #PapersPlease than a conventional point-and-click game, #Orwell is set in a cold, dystopian future ruled by an appropriately Orwellian big brother. The twist, however, is that the autocratic, privacy-invading overseer in Orwell’s world...is you.
With unprecedented access to people’s private data and a vast network of information collecting technology, Orwell tasks you with uncovering the identities of the terrorists behind an attack on the nation’s capital.
But the real question Orwell asks is how far you’ll go to find the truth, and how sure you are that the people whose lives you’re so invasively probing are guilty. It’s a fascinating new take on some old tropes and an interesting way to present some well-tread themes.
The Stanley Parable
Speaking of interesting takes on old themes, #TheStanleyParable begins as a fairly rote walking simulator with an omniscient narrator, but quickly changes course, exploring concepts like player agency and unreliable narration in a quirky, provocative, and genuinely funny subversion of adventure game convention.
The core appeal of The Stanley Parable is how even very slight deviations on the part of the player result in totally different outcomes as you play through its iterations again and again.
The joy of it isn’t striving for any particular outcome, but enjoying the ride (and the often surreal consequences) as you test the boundaries of the game, and keep discovering how much further they extend than you expect.
#Inside represents all of the lessons of #Limbo built into a deeper, more interesting, more thematically complex shell. Instead of Limbo’s very minimalist (albeit beautiful) stroll through the woods, Inside takes you to a mysterious, cruel world whose edges become sharper, both clearer and harsher, as you traverse it and solve its puzzles.
With a deeply bizarre and oddly compelling ending I wouldn’t dare spoil, Inside starts strong and finished even stronger. It’s not only one of my favorite indie adventure games of the past few years, but one of my favorite games of 2016 period.
#Event0 is a relentlessly (post)modern game. It encapsulates all of our fears about complex machine intelligences and how technology is isolating us from one another and packages them in a beautiful, compelling package.
At the heart of Event is conversation. The player builds a relationship with Kaizen, the artificial intelligence powering the spaceship they’re voyaging aboard, and has to navigate its unique insecurities, frustrations, and the challenges of being a disembodied intelligence.
It’s a fascinating science fiction premise that benefits greatly from the player’s ability to interact with and influence Kaizen, and those interactions are critical to deciding how this narrative finally plays out.