In the early days of gaming, the adventure genre offered gamers an experience far more immersive, engaging, and intellectual than the platformers and shoot-em-ups of the time. That still holds true today. The adventure genre has evolved into a near-cinematic experience that enables gamers to enjoy exploration, puzzle-solving, and thoughtful storylines along with adventure in these games.
The adventure genre is often associated with the point-and-click LucasArts games of the 1980s, but there are actually plenty of modern adventure games on the market that you can play right now on your gaming rig
We’ll take a closer look at the 13 best adventure games you can dive into today. We picked the best adventure games of prior decades that you can download from platforms like Steam
, and we also picked some of the more recent games that are elevating the genre to new heights.
Adventure game characteristics
In 2019, the adventure game is pretty difficult to define because it has incorporated elements from first-person shooters, open world games
, and even movies. But there are still three basic elements that you’ll find in every adventure game: narrative, puzzles, and exploration.
Most adventure games are all about story. The genre has always been known for its compelling storytelling, strong characters, and, in some cases, the player being able to control the outcome of the story.
Some adventure game narratives are bombastic and silly, like you’ll find in the Monkey Island series
. Other narratives are ultra-serious, like The Walking Dead
. Some narratives are extremely minimalist and use only visuals and atmosphere to communicate the story rather than plot and dialogue.
Many narrative games give players the opportunity to participate in the story by being able to select dialogue or make important decisions for their character. That’s an element that’s been incorporated in a huge variety of RPG games.
Puzzles are also a staple of the adventure game. Because the gameplay doesn’t revolve around platforming, shooting, or tactics, most of the challenge comes from puzzles that you have to solve in order to advance the story. Common puzzles that you’ll find in an adventure game include:
- Mechanical puzzles
- Logic puzzles
- Word puzzles
- Cryptic puzzles
- Line puzzles
- Pattern guessing
Sometimes, the puzzle is just trying to figure out where to go and what to do.
Exploration is another important aspect of the adventure game - after all, what’s an adventure without exploration? In most adventure games, players are generally available to explore the world to find items, meet NPC characters, and complete objectives. Usually, the entire game world isn’t immediately open for exploration, but may be unlocked after solving puzzles or completing tasks.
Some adventure games are solely about exploration, placing players in the middle of a strange and mysterious world with hidden areas and secrets to be discovered. These are the types of adventure games that use atmosphere as one of the main storytelling devices.
Best adventure games with keyboard controls
Here are some of the best adventure games you can play on PC. First up are the adventure games in which you use the keyboard to control the movement of your character.
1. Grim Fandango by LucasArts
If you mixed Disney’s Coco with 1930s film noir, you’d get Grim Fandango. Released in 1998, this colorful and delightfully grim adventure game is often considered to be one of the best adventure games of all time.
takes place in the Mexican Land of the Dead, a purgatory that souls cross on their four-year journey to the afterlife. You play as a skeleton named Manny, who works as a “travel agent” for the Department of Death. Manny, who’s got the style and attitude of Rick Blaine from Casablanca
, winds up escorting a pure soul named Mercedes on her journey, all while uncovering a conspiracy by the Land of the Dead’s criminal underlords.
Grim Fandango is loved for its story and characters, with many fans feeling that it would make a terrific movie. It’s also notable for its superb design, which blends Mexican folk art with art deco influences, backdropped by a beautiful soundtrack that mixes jazz and Spanish styles.
2. Gone Home by Fullbright
In Gone Home
, released in 2013, you play as a 21-year old girl who comes home from living abroad to find that her house is empty and her family has gone missing. The player traverses the house and searches for notes and letters that explain where the girl’s family is.
Some critics feel that Gone Home was more of a ”walking simulator
” than a real adventure game, but Gone Home
has all the elements of the adventure genre. The player is tasked with exploring a particular environment and with piecing together the puzzle by assembling the notes and letters. There’s definitely a story that you have to uncover, but most of the storytelling is done through the moody environment. Gone Home
makes for a great post-completion discussion because it’s really up to the gamer to interpret the story.
3. The Witness by Thekla!
, released in 2016, might just be one of the most difficult indie games
of all time. The game places you on an abandoned island and you’ve got to navigate it by getting through obstacles. In order to get through an obstacle, you’ve got to solve a line puzzle.
Most often, the key to solving the line puzzle can be found in the environment (for example, the alignment of hedges or shape of tree branches). The player must pay careful attention to the environment in order to deduce how to solve each line puzzle.
While the puzzle-solving and exploration aspects are obvious, the storytelling is quite… introspective. We’ll leave it at that.
4. Firewatch by Campo Santo
In the 2016 game Firewatch
, you play as a ranger named Henry who’s patrolling the serene and lonely wilderness of Wyoming. It’s the perfect setting for a tense mystery, which is what Henry ultimately must unravel. The graphics are beautiful, the exploration is fun, and the atmosphere and story will keep you guessing until the end.
Best point-and-click adventure games
The best-known adventure games are point-and-click games, in which you control character movement and actions by using your mouse. Here are some of the best point-and-click adventure games from then and now.
5. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge by LucasArts
The Secret of Monkey Island
is one of the most famous and beloved adventure games ever made, but the 1991 sequel improved on it in all ways. In Monkey Island 2
, you play as “wannabe-pirate” Guybrush Threepwood as he does battle against his arch-nemesis, the zombie pirate LeChuck. All the Monkey Island
games are known for their sardonic humor that frequently breaks the fourth wall. There’s little seriousness to be had. The standard swashbuckling of the pirate genre, for instance, is replaced with “insult sword fighting.” And the cartoony graphics perfectly match the game’s silly vibe.
6. Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer
Kentucky Route Zero
, released in 2013, is an episodic point-and-click adventure game in which you play as a truck driver who’s traveling along fictitious Route Zero to make a delivery. It’s best not to give too much of the story away, but know that the game can best be described as “magical realist.” The 2D art style works really well in delivering an atmosphere that’s both melancholic and glowing with intrigue. The first four acts have been released on Steam and on the developer’s website, and the climactic fifth act is yet-to-be-released.
7. The Blackwell Series by Wadjet Eye Games
series (released from 2006 to 2014) follows Rosangela Blackwell, a reluctant spiritual medium who’s accompanied by a spirit guide named Joey Mallone. The two of them basically solve murders and help spirits move on to the afterlife. While it might sound like your typical “medium procedural,” the game series is interesting because it dives into mental health themes.
Best action-adventure games
Action-adventure games feature most of the elements that adventure games do, but they also feature gameplay that centers around combat. Nonetheless, there are lots of titles that feature a lot of puzzle-solving, exploration, and narrative intrigue as well. Here are some of the best action-adventure games you can buy today.
8. Portal by Valve
is probably the most popular first-person puzzle game ever made (unless you count the sequel). You play as a human lab rat who’s testing out a “portal gun” that can open two interconnecting portals. You use the portals to navigate obstacles, solve puzzles, and occasionally, combat enemies. Sure enough, you come to realize that all is not as it seems in this laboratory. The puzzles in Portal
are fun and challenging, but they won’t leave you feeling frustrated and they’ll give you a huge amount of satisfaction when you figure out how to complete them.
9. Shadow of the Tomb Raider by Square Enix
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
, released in 2018, is the final installment of the Lara Croft “origin storyline.” The game sees Lara Croft traveling through South America in her effort to stop the Mayan apocalypse. There’s a healthy dose of action in this game, but, like all Tomb Raider
games, there are also challenging puzzles to solve and exotic environments to explore.
Best text adventure games
Text adventure games (also known as “interactive fiction” or a “visual novel”) basically started the adventure game genre back in the early years of gaming. In text adventure games, you experience the story and control your character by reading and entering text. Text adventure games have been reimagined for modern gamers. Here are some of the best ones available today.
10. Digital: A Love Story by Christine Love
Digital: A Love Story
, released in 2010, takes place in 1988 and tells the story of a protagonist’s online relationship with a girl and their effort to investigate the “death” of various artificial intelligences around the globe. The entire game is presented as if you’re on the interface of a 1980s computer, which is a pretty neat way to sell the period. Gameplay revolves around sending and deciphering messages in a chatroom, so there’s fun to be had for the IM generation.
11. Violet by Jeremy Freese
won the Interactive Fiction Competition in 2008. You play as a student who’s dating the titular girlfriend. She threatens to break up with you if you don’t complete your 1000-word dissertation, and so the gameplay sees you trying to solve puzzles that prevent you (or not) from getting too distracted. It’s a fun, silly, and maybe even relatable adventure game that offers some surprisingly deep themes about relationships.
Best choose-your-own-adventure games
Choose-you-own-adventure games enable the player to dramatically affect the outcome of the game by making conscious decisions or by inadvertently failing story-related tasks. These are some of the most “cinematic” video games on the market. Here are the best choose-your-own-adventure games you can buy.
12. Life is Strange by Square Enix
In Life is Strange
, released in 2015, you play as an 18-year old photography student named Max. Max discovers he can rewind time - which he discovers at a very opportune moment, as there’s an event that’s about to destroy his town. It’s an engaging, story-driven game that’s got some really unique gameplay mechanics with its time-traveling feature.
13. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games
The Walking Dead
, first released in 2012, was hailed for its incredibly cinematic qualities and for making the player feel as though they were truly controlling an intricate story. The game is based on the comic books and not the television show, so there is a sense that your actions in the game will affect the fate of its characters.
Best PCs for adventure games
Since adventure games are highly cinematic and story-driven, you’ll want to play on a high-quality display. Our HP gaming monitors
feature high-resolution displays, rapid refresh rates, and high contrast ratios for visually realistic images.
Typically, adventure games don’t require high-end processors to play, but if you’re going to play action-adventure games like Portal
or Shadow of the Tomb Raider
, you’ll definitely want to invest in a powerhouse gaming computer like HP OMEN. Our HP OMEN gaming laptops
are equipped with strong processors and graphics cards so you can run games on high graphics settings and at fast frame rates.
Lastly, make sure that you invest in a top-quality gaming mouse
. Adventure games, after all, usually involve lots of mouse play, especially point-and-click adventure games.
With the right gaming gear, you’re sure to enjoy the awesome storytelling and interactivity that adventure games have to offer.
About the Author: Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.