I got sent a point and click adventure game to review the other day. It was developed by a German company called Realmforge and against stereotyping they included a lot of humour but it got me thinking about the genre in general. The game was called Ceville and while it was well made it featured exactly the same game-play I remember from the old classics. The genre has been frozen in time for over two decades now. If you read my Ceville review you’ll see I’ve been quite kind because it achieves what it sets out to do but to be honest I don’t want to see a revival in the point and click genre because the game-play is terminally boring and utterly flawed.
If we go back to the eighties you’ll remember one of the most popular point and click series ever, the Monkey Island games from LucasArts. They had a great cartoon art style, touches of humour and some classic corny characters and they ended up serving as a blueprint for a lot of games that came along after, in fact you could feel their influence on Ceville.
I think the Myst games improved on the format with some genuinely engaging puzzles. The first Myst came out in 1993 and it actually went on to be the best selling PC game of all time until The Sims was released. Myst is a clever design and it draws you in because it leaves all sorts of unanswered questions, inviting you to dive in and explore for yourself. This game is actually used in Primary schools now to engage the kids and get them thinking creatively. I went out to a school recently to talk to them about the games industry and they were all captivated by their Myst project despite having all the latest PS3 titles at home.
The Broken Sword series were also good point and click adventures although they seemed to lose their way when they attempted to make the leap to 3D. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars was a great game with a historical setting and some nice touches of humour but I remember playing the third one, The Sleeping Dragon on the Xbox and just hating it.
In the late 90’s there were a couple of point and click adventures which I enjoyed up to a point. Blade Runner from Westwood was a decent game and it actually made the transition to 3D successfully. Although as a big fan of the film I’m sure a lot of the appeal was just the fact I could play around in the Blade Runner universe. You could even use the zoom in and look round corners photo enhancer Deckard has in his apartment.
The following year in 1998 LucasArts did it again with Grim Fandango which was like a film noir adventure in the underworld. Sadly it was a commercial failure despite being beautifully made, something which perhaps hinted that the point and click genre was past its sell by date.
There are still a surprising number of point and click adventure games being made and many of the old classics are popping up on handhelds now. I get the appeal, you have something which offers a complete alternative to action dependant gaming, you can play at your own pace and if the humour and puzzles are done well they can be a lot of fun.
The trouble is they all suffer from the same flaws. Every point and click adventure game I have ever played has a puzzle in it which defies logic and the only way to solve it is to randomly try every piece of junk in your inventory until you stumble on the right solution. Going round in circles waiting for the next exit to reveal itself is something that drives me mad, I am not a patient gamer.
I also think the dialogue in most games is awful and this genre is no exception. Having to sit through years of it can be enough to send you to sleep and what is the deal with conversation trees which appear to offer choices when you can actually end up clicking on every question? All the fun of selecting your own order for a list, surely there should be an effect to the choices you make with conversation selection. In good point and click adventures there is but in many they seem to have forgotten the purpose.
This also applies to the linearity in general. Games are definitely more fun when there are multiple solutions to a problem but this is tough from a design point of view and if you want multiple routes you often need to produce more content which can be a strain for developers on tight budgets.
Anyway I think I’ve had my fill of point and click adventures. Like the platform game-play of Manic Miner or Attic Attack I spent so long playing them when I was younger that the appeal has completely worn off. Let them rest in peace.
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