10 of the best Sierra adventures

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It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for another 10 of the Best Tuesdays! After our recent talk of adventure games, I thought it high time we indulged ourselves with a list of some of the greatest titles from Sierra, one of the most beloved adventure game makers of all time.

Sierra was formed in 1979 by Ken and Roberta Williams, and the company was a pioneer in the field of graphic adventure games — indeed, Roberta Williams’ Mystery House is believed to be the first ever illustrated text adventure. The company really hit its stride between the mid-’80s and ’90s, though, when they put out the majority of what were initially known as their “3-D animated adventure games”.

Sierra’s history is much more complex and colourful than that simple synopsis, but that’s a story for another day. Today we’re going to be focusing on the best games from what many to believe their “golden age” — the time at which they were primarily known as a developer and publisher of wonderful adventure games. So let’s dive right in!

In roughly chronological order…

King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown

Sierra adventures: King's Quest

First released for IBM PCjr in 1984 and subsequently ported (and enhanced) to various other systems over the course of the next five years, King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown is one of Sierra’s most influential games, introducing the concept of the “3-D animated adventure game”, as they called it, along with setting the template for graphic adventures in years to come.

Taking on the role of Sir Graham, it’s your job to track down three lost treasures and prove your worthiness to rule the kingdom of Daventry. In terms of concept and execution, it’s arguably little more than the simple treasure hunts that early text adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure offered — but the addition of the animated visuals and charming text set it apart as something truly special.

As an early Sierra title, interacting with the game was accomplished through manually moving Graham around the screen and typing in commands to a text parser. A 1990 remake ported the game to Sierra’s more advanced SCI engine, allowing for better graphics and music as well as additional text, but this version maintained the parser-driven interface. Purists tend to prefer the original release which runs on the Sierra AGI engine — you can grab this version on GOG.com today.

Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood

Sierra adventures: Winnie the Pooh

One of the first games developed by Al “Leisure Suit Larry” Lowe, Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood is a simple adventure game intended for children — but a great example of how Sierra was willing to experiment with format, even in the early days. It released for Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and MS-DOS computers.

Taking on the role of a self-insert protagonist exploring the Hundred Acre Wood, it’s your job to retrieve the various items that the Blustery Wind has scattered around the area and return them to their appropriate owners. Along the way, you’ll have to contend with occasional interference from thick fog, the aforementioned Blustery Wind and, of course, Tigger — but at heart this is a simple treasure hunt once again, featuring the beloved characters of A. A. Milne’s short stories, as depicted in their Disney incarnations.

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In order to be more accessible to youngsters, Lowe eschewed a parser-driven interface in favour of a simple multiple-choice system. Commands to go north, south, east and west as well as taking and dropping items are always available, but each individual location has its own unique actions that can be performed. Many of these are for the sake of simple jokes — but the delightfully written responses for everything you do in the game make it an absolute joy to play, even as an adult.

The Black Cauldron

Sierra adventures: The Black Cauldron

Released in 1986 for MS-DOS PC, Amiga, Apple II, Apple IIGS, Atari ST and Tandy 1000, The Black Cauldron was another experimental title for Sierra, with that experimentation being once again born from a desire to make the game appealing to younger or less experienced players. While the game offers the direct control over the main character that King’s Quest does, the text parser interface is replaced by a simple choice of four actions (select inventory item, use inventory item, “Do” and “Look”) that can be selected with the mouse or function keys.

The Black Cauldron is based on the Disney movie adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain novel. You take on the role of assistant pig-keeper Taran, who is attempting to stop the evil Horned King from getting his hands on the magical pig Hen Wen and, from there, acquiring the legendary Black Cauldron. It’s an early example of an adventure game that features plot branches and multiple endings based on the actions you take in the game and, despite its chunky old-school graphics, is still worth a play today.

Police Quest II: The Vengeance

Sierra adventures: Police Quest II

While 1987’s Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel provided an interesting take on the adventure game by combining it with authentic police procedure, 1988’s Police Quest II adopted more of a “Hollywood crime thriller” feel as protagonist Sonny Bonds and his perpetually useless partner Keith pursue escaped drug dealer and serial killer Jesse Bains.

Police Quest II, which came out for MS-DOS PC, Amiga, Atari ST and NEC PC-9801, was one of the earlier games to use Sierra’s new SCI engine, which allowed for more high-resolution graphics (relatively speaking) as well as the use of sound cards on PC. While it continues to use a text-based parser, the gameplay is considerably more streamlined from its predecessor, with more of an emphasis on the ongoing plot than exhaustive following of police procedure.

Due to narrative continuity, it’s still worth playing the first Police Quest prior to this one — particularly its VGA remake, since the massively expanded amount of text in that version makes it much more interesting — but for many fans of the series, Police Quest II remains its particular high point. And you can nab the complete collection on GOG.com today!

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

Sierra adventures: Space Quest III

As with most of Sierra’s other long-running series, everyone has their own favourite installments in the Space Quest franchise, so pretty much all of them are well worth playing. 1989’s Space Quest III for MS-DOS PC, Macintosh, Amiga and Atari ST remains a particular high point for many, however, with its varied settings, enjoyable narrative and pleasingly silly sense of humour providing a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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Space Quest III is a particular delight for those who enjoy cultural references; over the course of the complete narrative, Space Quest III lampoons all sorts of things, including Star Wars, Terminator and even Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. The writing is consistently sharp and witty, the puzzles are enjoyable and the game is well-designed.

Music in the game was composed by Supertramp’s drummer Bob Siebenberg, and the PC version was one of the first to support the Sound Blaster sound card. Unfortunately, the fact the PC version of the game included an incorrect version of the audio driver means that the digitised sound effects can only be heard in the Amiga, Mac and Tandy versions of the game! The PC version is available on GOG.com.

The Colonel’s Bequest

Sierra adventures: The Colonel's Bequest

The first of two adventures from Sierra to star short-lived heroine Laura Bow, 1989’s The Colonel’s Bequest for Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS PC was an unusual adventure game in that it was technically possible to “finish” it without solving any puzzles at all. Instead, the game unfolds as a series of time blocks in which our heroine has the opportunity to investigate the area, talk with characters and discover clues.

The Colonel’s Bequest is a murder mystery in which Laura Bow must discover — or at least attempt to discover — the truth behind the death of Colonel Dijon following the reading of his will. Along the way, she’ll need to find out more about the backgrounds of various characters and their relationships with one another, as well as seeking out clues.

Unusually for an adventure game, The Colonel’s Bequest is designed to be quite replayable. Time advances whenever Laura witnesses an important plot event, whether or not she has “solved” everything up until that point, so at the end of the game you’re provided with some hints about the things you missed in the hope that you might go back and try again. Give it a shot for yourself on GOG.com.

Rise of the Dragon

Sierra adventures: Rise of the Dragon

Dynamix was originally an independent developer, but Sierra purchased them in 1990 — and under Sierra they put out some of their most fondly regarded games. The company primarily became known for flight and mech simulators, but they also put out a few great adventure games, too, one of which was 1990’s Rise of the Dragon for MS-DOS PC, Macintosh, Amiga and Sega CD.

Rise of the Dragon is a futuristic first-person adventure game in which you take on the role of William “Blade” Hunter as he attempts to get to the bottom of a series of mysterious drug-related deaths. While very short and rather easy for veteran adventurers, Rise of the Dragon was noteworthy for its uncompromising adult tone and excellent interface — which, unlike Sierra’s own adventures at the time, incorporated an “intelligent” mouse cursor that would dynamically change according to whether or not you were hovering over an interactive element in the scene.

While the Sega CD version has full speech — including an early video game appearance of Cam Clarke — the MS-DOS version is the best way to play this today, and, of course, this is the version available on GOG.com today.

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Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out

Sierra adventures: Leisure Suit Larry 6

Like Sierra’s other main series, everyone has their own favourite Leisure Suit Larry games. This is a popular choice, though, since as a game from the relatively late era of Sierra’s “golden age” of adventure games, it features a solid implementation of their point-and-click SCI interface, plus some lovely visuals and a real sense that creator Al Lowe had thoroughly got into the groove of what the character and series was all about.

The Leisure Suit Larry series is a range of “sex comedies” in which the titular middle-aged dude tries his best to get laid. In this installment, a failure on a dating show sees Larry end up on an island paradise at a health spa — and wouldn’t you know it, the whole place is filled with absolute babes? As always, though, Larry tends to come off worse from all these encounters — in some rather memorable ways in this particular installment.

Al Lowe’s humour is an acquired taste for some, but if you enjoy the sort of silly gross-out comedy that typified the mid-’90s, you’ll get a kick out of this one. And, like many of Sierra’s other games, you can nab it from GOG.com today.

Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness

Sierra adventures: Quest for Glory IV

The fourth and, to many, best installment of Sierra’s curious hybrid of RPG and point-and-click adventure, Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness is one of Sierra’s best games, full stop — particularly if you enjoy the full “talkie” CD-ROM version, which features the incredible John Rhys-Davies on narration duty.

Each Quest for Glory has a distinct “theme” to it, and as the name suggests, Shadows of Darkness tackles horror in its many and varied forms. As you progress through the game, you’ll encounter Giger-esque body horror, traditional western horror legends and even a touch of Lovecraftian fun times, too. It’s a consistent delight from start to finish — and, with its three character classes, eminently replayable.

You don’t need to have played the previous Quest for Glory games to enjoy this one, but they’re all worth a pop. And, conveniently, they’re all there for the taking on GOG.com.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

Sierra adventures: Gabriel Knight

Saving the best for last, for sure; Jane Jensen’s wonderful creation Gabriel Knight remains a beloved and influential character to this day, and his first game for Sierra is still arguably his best outing.

Unfolding in and around the city of New Orleans — and later beyond — 1993’s Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers sees the eponymous hero researching a book on the local spate of “Voodoo Murders” — is there any truth to them being voodoo-related, or is it just someone attempting to cover their tracks? The truth is rather more complex than you might imagine!

The CD-ROM version of this game is legendary, since it features Tim Curry in the title role, along with Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn and a number of other big names. A more recent 20th anniversary release of the game controversially changed the voice cast, but expands on the original’s narrative somewhat; purists prefer the original Sierra version, though. You can nab both over at GOG.com.

As always, this is a non-exhaustive list! What are your favourite Sierra adventures? Let us know down in the comments!

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