A lot of very boring people insist that adventure gaming is dead, that games like Monkey Island and Beneath a Steel Sky have come to an end in favour of ludicrous muscles and chainsaw guns. I sometimes wonder if these are the same people that insist that novels are dying out in favour of e-books.
While it is true that adventure games have been suffering recently, they are still hanging on. Telltale have been doing pretty well with their efforts, even with Sam N Max being nothing short of a let down, and rumours of a sequel to Revolution’s Beneath a Steel Sky are still strong. But adventure gaming has decided it needs to evolve, to throw away the user-friendly point and click interface and replace it with action game controls, crowbarring in combat and stealth sections!
Thankfully this is not the only school of thought. There are others, a small group of people who remain committed to point and click adventure at it’s finest. I was introduced to this group after latching onto Yahtzee’s 5 Days a Stranger, and I intend to show you how they are keeping adventure gaming alive.
To this end I am going to give you the run down of a single series of games, made by one man and released for free onto the internet. Games of such quality that there is no reason they could not be sold, yet they are not. There are some excellent games created and sold by members of this group, the users of this Adventure Game Studio, but this series embodies what it means to be fanatical about something, the will to make it free.
The series is called Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator, and it is awesome.
As the name suggests, you play Ben Jordan, a fresh-out-of-university Yank who has decided he wants to be a paranormal investigator. All fair and above board for adventure game territory. You get a call, you check it out, you solve the case, a case which is based around real folklore and legends.
The gameplay, as with other adventure games is simple and easy to get to grips with: click things on other things and see what happens. Likewise, where the series really shines is it’s story.
Adventure games live and die based on their stories, which is why I compared them to novels at the start. It’s way they are called adventure games, as the player you actually go on a full and meaningful journey from A to B, and rarely is there a plot hole for an imaginative mind to plug. They are interactive novels where you can’t peek at the ending.
The Ben Jordan series has a story arc. This in itself should be sufficient to peak your interest, yet this will only make more sense when I tell you that the plot stretches across eight whole games. And these aren’t short games either, even the shortest rivals the lengths of some of the classic games in the genre. But the real triumph is not in the length of the story, it is in its complexity.
You won’t realise how each game connects until towards the end, where you will suddenly facepalm in a cartoonish fashion and shout “By gum, I should have seen that coming!”. It never manages to even approach the hideous convolution of things like Lost or the X-Files, but it does seem to take those messages to heart. Each episode is self-contained yet also linked to the others by the finest of filaments, just to remind you (until the later stages at least) that you are following a young man through his life. There’s even the obligatory emo scenes where he gets angry and has a go at the people he loves, yet it’s so much less annoying than in Harry Potter.
It’s a good series, and it’s nearly finished. There are seven games currently available, with the final game currently in production. If you have at any time loved adventure games then give this one a go. Then give me a shout and I’ll point out a few more games well worth your time.
Adventure gaming isn’t dead. It’s just become public domain.
(Screenshots acquired from Grundislav Games, which is also where you can grab the Ben Jordan games. Score!)