The best in adventure game software. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software) (Buyers Guide)
by Scott A. May
Adventure games are currently the most popular form of computer entertainment. If you can look at pictures, read a few words, and click with the mouse, that's all the skill needed to play one. A distant relative of the industry's early all-text adventures, today's adventures are more akin to huge, interactive versions of what the comic-book industry now calls graphic novels. It's a blistering hot field, thanks to continuing advances in cinematic techniques, digitized sound, effortless interfaces, and quality scripts.
Like its close cousins in the role-playing genre, adventure games are heavily influenced by mystic lands of magic, lost treasure, poor souls held captive, and brave heroes to the rescue. There are also extremely strong puzzle elements, in the form of clever word play or visual riddles, which often must be solved before turning the page.
The grand old master of the genre is, without a doubt, Sierra's King Quest series, created by Roberta Williams. Now in its sixth installment, each stand-alone adventure delves deeper into the lives of its cast of recurring characters, the royal family of Daventry. To ardent followers of the series, Williams' elegant prose evokes imagery as rich and rewarding as any in traditional literature. Combining beautiful scanned artwork, ambient sound effects, an open-ended storyline, and a comfortable mouse interface, King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (800-326-6654, $67.95) is by far the best. Although technically less dazzling, King's Quest V ($59.45) remains a solid choice, and in many respects, offers a more intriguing plot.
Another top fantasy adventure is The Legend of Kyrandia (Virgin Games, 800-874-4607, $39.99), designed by Westwood Studios, creators of the original Eye of the Beholder role-playing games. In this quest, you must defeat the evil court jester Malcolm, who has slain the king (your father), stolen the magic gemstone, and cast the entire land of Kyrandia into turmoil. Beneath this simple story lies an adventure filled with uncommonly rich characters - and surprising humor - enhanced by excellent graphics, sound, and animation.
Graphic adventures with a more modern twist include Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (LucasArts, 415-721-3300, $34.95), loosely based on Steven Spielberg's popular movie series. Join the offbeat archaeologist, master of the bullwhip and double-entendre, as he battles Nazi spies on - and below - several continents. It's the best Indy movie that was never made.
Those who prefer to leave graphics to the imagination will enjoy a game from Activision (800-477-3650) called Lost Treasures of Infocom, a fantastic collection of all-text adventures from a true pioneer in the genre. Volume One ($69.95) features 20 individual titles, including the entire Zork series, as well as such classics as Deadline, Witness, Lurking Horror, Infidel, Planetfall, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Volume Two ($49.95) offers an additional 11 titles, including Border Zone, Bureaucracy, Cutthroat, and Wishbringer. Beyond sheer entertainment value, both libraries contain bona fide collector's items, chronicling the history of early computer games. Despite their age, few of the adventures have lost their appeal. Fittingly, the groundbreaking Zork series has reemerged with state-of-the-art, digitized graphics in Activision's recently released Return to Zork ($79.95).
Science fiction adventures are staging a strong comeback, boldly led by such titles as Martian Memorandum (Access, 800-800-4880, $39.95), Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (Interplay, 714-553-6678, $49.95), and Space Quest V (Sierra, $59.45). One of the most original works in recent years is Inca (Sierra, $50.95), designed by Paris-based Cotel Vision. Sparked by myriad puzzles and arcade sequences, it's a surreal blend of fact and fiction, topped with gorgeous graphics and full-motion video. Another French developer on the cutting edge is Delphine Software, best known for Out of This World (Interplay, $59.95), a fascinating blend of rotoscoped action and cinematic-styled adventure. Those who desire more traditional excursions into science fiction will thoroughly enjoy Frederik Pohl's Gateway (Legend, 800-245-7744, $59.95) and Gateway II: Homeworld (Legend, $59.95). Both titles feature Bob Bates' intuitive and efficient windowed text interface.
Hardboiled detective fans have a lot of graphic adventures to choose from. Police Quest 3 (Sierra, $59.45) and Blue Force (Tsunami, 209-683-9283, $69.95) take players into the heart of darkness. These tough urban crime dramas unfold at a brisk clip, packed with intense action and mystery. For more old-fashioned detective fare, crack open The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes (Electronic Arts, 800-245-4525, $69.95), a large-scale murder mystery that's anything but elementary. This one's notable for its intuitive icon interface, context-sensitive musical score, and handsomely drawn artwork.
Of course, many of the best adventures aren't confined by traditional story-lines; they incorporate elements of arcade, role-playing, and real-time strategy. You'll find both action and suspense on the high seas with Pirates! Gold (Micro-Prose, 800-879-PLAY, $54.95), a full-blooded enhancement of Sid Meier's best-selling original. Set sail under an English, French, Dutch, or Spanish flag in one of six rich historical eras, ranging from 1560 to 1680. As a dashing buccaneer, you'll live a fascinating life, full of exploration and confrontations, from political posturing and trade negotiations, to exciting ship-to-ship combat and deadly fencing duels.
Horror buffs have plenty to howl about, beginning with Alone in the Dark (Interplay, $59.95), a bloodcurdling adventure inspired by H. P. Lovecraft. Explore every creaking inch of a creepy old mansion, fending off ghosts, ghouls, and insidious traps. Rendered with fluid, 3-D texture polygons, the designers succeed in creating a kind of virtual reality nightmare. Unsettling mood music and crisp digitized sound effects will keep you up all night, chilled to the bone. Other harrowing horror titles include The Legacy: Realm of Terror (MicroProse, $59.95), Dark Seed (Cyber-dreams, 800-238,4277, $69.95), Return of the Phantom (MicroProse, $59.95), Uninvited for Windows (Viacom New Media, 708-520-4440, $59.95), and Elvira II: Jaws of Cerberus (Accolade, $69.95). Players with itchy trigger fingers can even lead a space-age bug hunt in Space Hulk (Electronic Arts, $59.95), an utterly visceral adventure with strong arcade and strategy elements.
On the lighter side, nothing is sacred on Monkey Island 2: Lechuck's Revenge (LucasArts, $34.95), Ron Gilbert's agonizingly funny sendup of the pirate adventure genre. Role-playing games get an equally painful kick in the pants with Eric the Unready (Legend, $59.95), a text and graphic adventure with more inside jokes than you could shake a talisman at. You'll never look at a detective story with a straight face after playing Sam and Max Hit the Road (LucasArts, $69.95), a slap-stick misadventure starring everyone's favorite freelance police. Yet another hot LucasArts comedy is Day of the Tentacle ($69.95), a marvelously drawn B-movie parody. Finally, there's Freddie Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist (Sierra, $59.45), a terrific wild west spoof from Al Lowe, king of sophomoric satire and creative father to Leisure Suit Larry, world famous lounge lizard. For those who can't resist sexist gags and toilet humor, check out Leisure Suit Larry 5 (Sierra, $33.95), but don't say we didn't warn you.
Civilization. Grow your own society, loosely based on human history, both good and bad. Like an interactive civics lesson, but more fun.
The Even More Incredible Machine. Beneath the silly arcade front lurks a seriously fun, mind-bending strategy game.
Populous. First of the so-called god sims remains the genre's most polished.
SimCity. The microcosm that started a revolution. If only real cities were this much fun to build.
Railroad Tycoon Deluxe. If you build it, they will run - railroads, that is. A classic of hands-on entrepreneurial strategy.
LexiCross. Take a TV game show, zap it into an offbeat future, and you've got a classic multiplayer word puzzle game.
Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space. Find out if you've got the right stuff to beat the Russians to the new frontier. Complex, historical, and thoroughly rewarding.
Chessmaster 3000. (Windows version). This one has beauty and brains, an unbeatable move for serious chess fans.
RoboSport. Employ unusual think-ahead strategies to program robots for real-time combat. A two-player classic, with modem option.
Syndicate. Populous meets Blade Runner in this dark, violent, and marvelously original action-strategy game.
King's Quest VI. Latest edition of Roberta Williams' trend-setting adventure series is bigger and better than ever.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Side-splitting pirate parody doubles as challenging adventure yarn.
Inca. Uncommonly original and perfectly executed blend of disparate gaming styles, held together with stunning graphics and sound.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Filled with action and humor, this rousing adventure features a plot even Hollywood can't match.
Alone in the Dark. Turn out the lights, turn up the sound, and enter a spine-tingling world of horrifying entertainment.
Day of the Tentacle. Vintage B-movie spoof for kids and parents alike, accented with colorful, stylish cartoon graphics.
Eric the Unready. Fantasy role-playing may never be the same after running this gauntlet of in-jokes and pratfalls.
Out of This World. Strikingly original combination of rotoscoped animation, cinematic action, and problem-solving adventure.
Pirates! Gold. The perennial swashbuckling favorite returns with enhanced gameplay and knockout Super-VGA graphics.
The Lost Treasures of Infocom. Two-volume set offers glimpse of gaming history through 31 classic all-text adventures.