We've rummaged through the archives to evaluate the best stories, the most memorable characters, and the most satisfying puzzles on a quest to decide which PC adventure games are the very best. We haven't strictly defined the genre—we've included traditional point-and-clicks as well as new forms—but as a general rule these are exploration, puzzle, and story-driven games that value atmosphere, dialogue, and discovery over action or stats.
The bulk of this list was written by professional adventure game connoisseur Richard Cobbett in 2016, though as of April 2017, the PC Gamer staff has tossed a few newer games into the great adventure pile. There's enough adventuring here, spread across four pages, to last you a year... or maybe more.
We'll continue to update this list with new and old games as the resurging genre continues to deliver hits.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
As far as most adventure gamers are concerned, the fourth Indiana Jones film came out in 1992. And then there were no more. Fate of Atlantis not only gave Indy an adventure worth a thousand crystal skulls, but offered players three distinct ways to experience it—with wits, fists, or accompanied by Sophia Hapgood, psychic turned treasure hunter. The adventure went all over the world, all beautifully painted in Lucasarts’ classic style, and what it lacked in big cinematic set-pieces, it more than made up in 2D action. Fate of Atlantis casts Indy as the thinker's action hero.
Quote: "We're not dating Jones; this is not a date! If it was a date, I would've stood you up!"
For those who lust after old hardware—the satisfying click of mechanical keyboards, the magnetic buzz and whirs of a CRT, the hot breath of a stranger standing right behind you in an empty house—then Stories Untold is a must. It features four episodes of sci-fi horror where your primary interactions are centered around a set of old hardware. In the first episode, you sit at a desk and play and old horror text adventure. But soon, the reason you can see the room around you and how the text adventure relates to that becomes clear. Each subsequent level has its own twist (or two) on the setting and old electronics within, making for some of the most unique, eerie adventure gaming out there.
Quote: “Someone else is in the house. This can’t be.”
Life is Strange
Released: 2015 | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Buy it: Steam
Life is Strange was one of the biggest surprises of the last few years—a Telltale style episodic game that stood alone, and a clever gimmick backed up by tremendous heart. It’s the story of a nervous girl who discovers she has the power to rewind time, right on the edge of a disaster about to hit her town. Yet the drama really comes from her relationships, from the genuinely difficult choices to make, and the clunkily-written but still efficient coming of age story at its heart.
Quote: “Go **** your selfie.”
Any time you create something as notable as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (aka “Screaming YouTube Payday”), there’s going to be the lingering question—OK, so what else have you got? Frictional responded with Soma, building on its horror heritage, but putting the scares into an endlessly more complex, beautiful, and somehow even more claustrophobic environment. Unlike a lot of recent horror, it avoids an over-reliance on jump-scares and repeated gimmicks where possible, and soon reveals it has more to it than just scares. It’s a solid bit of SF that’ll still make you want to hide behind the sofa. As long as your sofa is in the same room as your PC, which it probably isn’t.
Quote: “I think it’s back! Keep your eyes peeled!”
Her Story has now won enough awards for creator Sam Barlow to melt them all down and create some kind of towering super-award, and not without reason. Her Story isn’t the only good FMV game ever made, despite what some will say, but it is a genuinely brilliant attempt to use the format for the kind of interactions it was created to offer, instead of bending over backwards to make it do things it never should have been asked to in the first place. It’s a bit of a shame that what begins as a murder mystery soon takes a swerve into a more fantastical character study, and that your purpose in the game isn’t quite what it seems. Even so, digging through the tale by searching for keywords and clips and piecing together the order for yourself is as compelling as any detective fiction.
Quote: “You have no murder weapon. You have nothing. And all these stories we’ve been telling each other? Just that. Stories.”
Released: 1999 | Developer: Perfect Entertainment
The third Discworld game finally shed its predecessors’ fixation with being as much Python as Pratchett. An inspired take on Ankh-Morpork full of HP Lovecraft parodies, noir monologues and detectiving in a world of trolls, vampires and werewolves, it worked beautifully, and even had some dialogue and other input from the man himself.
Quote: “I’ve had some bad days since I started work as a private investigator. But I’ve never woken up dead before.”
Christopher Lloyd, as Drew Blanc, explores a saccharine land of kiddy cartoons that takes a hard right into BDSM cows, evil clowns popping bunny balloons in the eye, and Tim Curry being... well, Tim Curry. Just pity the translators. Much of the game is about finding matching pairs of words to build a machine: SUGAR and SPICE for instance, and they weren’t allowed to change any.
Quote: “I have one mother of a deadline hanging over my head... and apparently a lifetime of therapy to look forward to.”
To The Moon
Something adventures do better than any other genre is the more thoughtful story, with no need to be broken up every five minutes to punch a demon or race a car. To the Moon is one of the best recent examples, focusing on regret and hope and lost memories in reverse in an anachronistic order. Built in RPG Maker but still an adventure at its soul, it’s a great mystery, a sombre story, and a very moving experience.
Quote: “He’s got just a day or two left.” “That’s plenty of time.”
Expectations were high for Telltale’s Walking Dead creators when they founded their new company, and they were met with this fascinatingly low-key follow-up. No zombies. No axe-wielding psychopaths. Just the story of a man, Henry, escaping his life by taking a job watching for fires in Wyoming, and the relationship he develops with his boss, Delilah. At least, to begin with. Some of the mystery that follows is opinion-splitting material, but Campo Santo nails both the loneliness and the camaraderie of being vulnerable and isolated in even mostly-safe situations. Even when the thriller part fades, the exquisite character piece remains.
Quote: “I’m back at ‘My Shitty Boss Is Going To Get Me Killed Hill’.”
The touching background story of young love and sexual identity is arguably the most talked about part, but it’s digging through the artifacts of a strange time not so long ago that makes this less an adventure game than time travel. A very absorbing take on the genre.
Quote: “I don’t want Mom or Dad... anyone... to know...”