Back when home computers were modest machines that ran BASIC with just kilobytes of RAM, text-based games were all the rage. Improved processing power has resulted in games that feature lifelike graphics and cinematic visuals. As such, humble text-based adventure has seen a decline in popularity. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone the way of the Dodo. In fact, text-based games, or interactive fiction, are still popular, with quality titles being released even today.
1. Emily Is Away
Relive the awkward nostalgia of teenage romance framed in the window of an instant messenger in Emily Is Away. Set in the early 2000s, the game puts the player in the shoes of a high school senior and his relationship with a girl named Emily. The narrative of the game unfolds through a chat client styled after AOL Instant Messenger. Players chat with Emily about various things from pop culture to parties. How the player responds will guide the story as you follow the relationship through their last year of college. Emily Is Away was released for free in 2015 and earned positive reviews from gaming critics.
A sequel titled Emily Is Away Too was released in 2017. This spiritual successor allows the player to chat with two people simultaneously and includes references to a number of popular websites from 2006. Unfortunately, Emily Is Away Too is not free to play; however, the game is very affordable. You can grab it for only $4.99 on Steam.
2. Digital: A Love Story
In Digital: A Love Story it is 1988, and players have just received their very own computer. The player begins to send and receive messages through bulletin board systems and meets a user named “Emilia.” As the player’s relationship with Emilia blossoms, they are slowly drawn into the world of computer hacking. Eventually, players find themselves at the center of a wide-ranging conspiracy.
Digital: A Love Story is a linear game, meaning that the story does not have multiple branches. Therefore, the story cannot be influenced by the actions of the player. Furthermore, a player can never send a “wrong message,” and the player can never lose. That being said, the player will have to complete certain tasks in order for the plot to advance.
3. The Dreamhold
You awake in a cell with no memory of how you got there. As you try to piece together the chain of events, you realize you are being held captive by an evil wizard. The Dreamhold is a classic text adventure: no graphics, no pointing and clicking. Instead, players simply type commands and see what happens next.
The game’s developer, Andrew Plotkin initially made the game in order to introduce players to interactive fiction. As such, the game functions as a sort of tutorial to the genre. The Dreamhold allows newbies to test the waters of text-based adventures and learn how they work. To help players who are unfamiliar, The Dreamhold features hints that appear when you get stuck as well as a reference for common commands.
Because the game was designed with newcomers in mind, The Dreamhold is considered to be relatively easy for players familiar with the genre. If you have experience with text-based adventures, The Dreamhold has an expert mode which increases the difficulty of the puzzles and removes the in-game assistance. You can play The Dreamhold online within your browser. In addition, iOS users can grab The Dreamhold on their iPhone or iPad.
4. Her Story
When we think of interactive fiction, we almost always picture text-based games. However, 2015’s Her Story mixes things up by adding video elements. In this mystery game players are given access to an old computer system. The computer contains various files and programs, some of which explain the game’s mechanics, while others advance the plot. The player comes across a database of video clips, with the clips being of a woman getting interviewed by the police. The clips are incomplete, forcing the player to piece together the context of the answers.
The player discovers that the woman is being questioned about her husband who has gone missing. Foul play is suspected, but the woman has an alibi. The player must sort through documents and video evidence in order to uncover the truth. Her Story was very well received by critics and is available on a variety of platforms.
The games mentioned on this list are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the interactive fiction genre. Which ones are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!