By Marty Mulrooney
Hardcoregaming101.net Presents: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is ‘an ode to one of the oldest genres in electronic gaming’ – aka adventure games – compiled and edited by Kurt Kalata. It is 772 pages in length and covers over 300 games, focusing on such prominent publishers as LucasArts and Sierra On-Line, as well as several other popular and not-so-popular series and games. It also includes a number of interviews with classic game developers such as Al Lowe (creator of Leisure Suit Larry) and Corey Cole (creator of Quest for Glory).
Hardcoregaming101.net Presents: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is certainly an intimidating tome upon first glance. However, this is by no means a complaint. The book is divided into three main sections. The first classifies games by developer (such as Westwood Studios and Revolution Software). The seconds classifies games by series (such as the Discworld or Secret Files games). The third and final section features individual games that don’t fit into either of the previous sections (such as Teenagent and Toonstruck). There is also a small section at the back of the book covering a handful of indie adventure games, such as Machinarium and Gemini Rue.
The word ‘guide’ in the title of this book is admittedly somewhat deceptive: each game is not only extensively detailed, but also fully critiqued too. Each game’s story and background is outlined in detail before the reviewer – usually Kurt Kalata himself, but occasionally a fellow contributor – delves deeper into the visual, audio, gameplay and thematic aspects of the title. Of course, with over 300 games reviewed it is only natural that the opinions offered will occasionally differ to those of the reader.
For example, the pages detailing Grim Fandango explain how “the third chapter sees Manny stuck in an island prison solving a bunch of boring mechanical puzzles”. This is something I didn’t quite agree with – I found the game well paced and engaging throughout and I rather enjoyed the mechanical puzzles. Elsewhere, the controls of Gabriel Knight 3 are downplayed and criticised, whereas I actually found them to be rather innovative and a highly positive aspect of the game – despite its numerous flaws in other areas.
Yet the writing is so strong and the arguments so well made that any differences of opinion can be safely attributed to personal preference alone. Kurt Kalata is obviously a huge fan of the genre and its history and this passion shines throughout the book – it often proves fascinating to read additional trivia for each game, gage the opinion of the author in comparison to your own opinion and then discover whether the game in question can still be played on a modern computer.
The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is easy to quickly dip into and reminisce about your favourite classic adventure games. However, after exhausting this initial reading approach, the true joy of the book presents itself. There are many obscure and unknown adventures that have been released in the past and this book covers many of them. It is fascinating to read about these games as a fan of the genre and I imagine it will encourage many gamers to go out and track down these older games, games such as The Adventures of Willy Beamish, Snatcher and Flight of the Amazon Queen.
Timequest – released in 1991, way before I became a gamer – is the perfect example. I had never heard of this game from Legend Entertainment, but the ambitious concept – fixing events throughout time that have gone horribly wrong – sounds awesome and I loved reading more about it, even if the review was a negative one overall. I was also delighted to rediscover Hopkins FBI, a severely flawed game from 1998 that I nonetheless remember with fondness.
The book itself is very well designed, with each game reviewed featuring a small image of the boxart at the top of the page, alongside the initial release date, platforms, designer(s) and developer information. Sadly, although screenshots are included throughout, the entire book is printed in black-and-white – the price for a full colour release would have been far too high for an independent book of this size. However, the book is also available for Kindle in colour as long as your device can support it and a full colour PDF is planned for release in the future.
To conclude, Hardcoregaming101.net Presents: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is a phenomenal book and a must buy for adventure gamers. Although there are some aspects that could at worst prove distracting – the occasional spelling mistake, the black-and-white screenshots, the opinionated writing – the overall experience of reading this book is both a fascinating and an entertaining one. Kurt Kalata has done a marvellous job of editing all the reviews together and the included interviews with prolific game designers from within the genre offer a highly informative and nostalgic sense of time and place. Not quite perfect then, but still utterly essential and a worthwhile investment – you’ll no doubt be reading this book for many years to come!
9.5 OUT OF 10