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Action-adventure is a video game genre that combines core elements from both the action game and adventure game genres.

Action-adventure is a hybrid genre, and thus the definition is very inclusive, leading it to be perhaps the broadest genre of video games, and can include many games which might better be categorized under narrow genres. Typically, pure adventure games have situational problems for the player to solve, with very little or no action. If there is action, it is generally confined to isolated minigames. Pure action games have gameplay based on real-time interactions that challenge the reflexes. Therefore, action-adventure games engage both reflexes and problem-solving in both violent and non-violent situations.


An action adventure game can be defined as a game with a mix of elements from an action game and an adventure game,[1] especially crucial elements like puzzles.[2] Action-adventures require many of the same physical skills as action games, but also offer a storyline, numerous characters, an inventory system, dialogue, and other features of adventure games.[3] They are faster-paced than pure adventure games, because they include both physical and conceptual challenges.[3] Action-adventure games normally include a combination of complex story elements, which are displayed for players using audio and video. The story is heavily reliant upon the player character's movement, which triggers story events and thus affects the flow of the game.[4] Some examples of action-adventure games include The Legend of Zelda, God of War,[3] and Tomb Raider series.[5]

Relationship to other genres

When a game stops being an adventure game and becomes an action game is a matter of interpretation.[6] There are quite a few disagreements in the community and in the media over what actually constitutes an action-adventure game. One definition of the term "action-adventure" may be '"An action/adventure game is a game that has enough action in it not to be called an adventure game, but not enough action to be called an action game."[7] In some cases an action game with puzzles will be classified as an action-adventure game, but if these puzzles are quite simple they might be classified as an action game.[3][8] Others see action games as a pure genre, while an action-adventure is an action game that includes situational problem-solving.[7][8] Adventure gamers may also be purists, rejecting any game that makes use of physical challenges or time pressure.[3] Regardless, the action-adventure label is prominent in articles over the internet and media. The term "action-adventure" is usually substituted for a particular subgenre due to its wide scope.


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Although action-adventure games are diverse and difficult to classify, there are some distinct subgenres. Popular subgenres include:

First-person action-adventure

Makes use of first-person shooter gameplay, forgoing constant action in favor of important adventure game elements such as environmental problem-solving and a complex plot. Notable examples of this include Metroid Prime, Half-Life 2, Dishonored and Far Cry 3.

Third-person action-adventure

Gameplay is in the third-person. Notable examples include games like the Tomb Raider series, The Legend of Zelda series, the Grand Theft Auto series, the Red Dead series, the Hitman series and the Uncharted series.

Platform-adventure games

Emphasizes both exploration and puzzle-solving but also feature traditional platform game conventions. Examples of games of this type include the Tomb Raider series and the Metroid and Castlevania games; the term "Metroidvania" is derived from these latter two and used to describe games in this genre that generally are based on two-dimensional platformers.

Stealth games

Emphasizes avoiding detection by enemies rather than engaging them in direct combat, leading to a greater emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving than other types of action games. Notable examples include the Metal Gear series, the Assassin's Creed series, the Splinter Cell series and the Hitman series.

Survival horror

Emphasizes "inventory management" and making sure the player has enough ammunition and recovery items to "survive" the horror setting. Survival horror is a thematic genre with diverse gameplay, so not all survival horror games share these features. The Resident Evil, State Of Decay, The Last Of Us, Left 4 Dead and Silent Hill franchises popularized this subgenre and stand to date as the most popular franchises of its kind.

Survival games

Open-ended survival without the supernatural elements found in survival horror games.


See also: Adventure game § Common objectives and gameplay, and Action game § Defining elements

Action-adventure games are faster paced than pure adventure games, and include physical as well as conceptual challenges[6] where the story is enacted rather than narrated.[9] While motion-based, often reflexive, actions are required,[4] the gameplay still follows a number of adventure game genre tropes (gathering items, exploration of and interaction with one's environment, often including an overworld connecting areas of importance, and puzzle-solving).[2] While the controls are arcade-style (character movement, few action commands) there is an ultimate goal beyond a high score.[2] In most action-adventure games, the player controls a single avatar as the protagonist.[3] This type of game is often quite similar to role-playing video games.[10]

They are distinct from graphic adventures, which sometimes have free-moving central characters, but also a ×wider variety of commands and fewer or no action game elements and are distinct too from text adventures, characterized by many different commands introduced by the user via a complex text parser and no free-moving character. While they share general gameplay dynamics, action-adventures vary widely in the design of their viewpoints, including bird's eye, side-scrolling, first-person, third-person, over-the-shoulder, or even a 3/4 isometric view.

Many action-adventure games simulate a conversation through a conversation tree.[citation needed] When the player encounters a non-player character, they are allowed to select a choice of what to say. The NPC gives a scripted response to the player, and the game offers the player several new ways to respond.

Due to the action-adventure subgenre's broad and inclusive nature, it causes some players to have difficulty finishing a particular game. Companies have devised ways to give the player help, such as offering clues or allowing the player to skip puzzles to compensate for this lack of ability.[11]


Brett Weiss cites Atari's Superman (1979) as an action-adventure game,[12] with Retro Gamer crediting it as the "first to utilize multiple screens as playing area".[13] Mark J.P. Wolf credits Adventure (1980) for the Atari VCS as the earliest-known action-adventure game.[14] The game involves exploring a 2D environment, finding and using items which each have prescribed abilities, and fighting dragons in real-time like in an action game.[7] Muse Software's Castle Wolfenstein (1981) was another early action-adventure game, merging exploration, combat, stealth,[15] and maze game elements,[16] drawing inspiration from arcade shoot 'em ups and maze games (such as maze-shooter Berzerk) and war films (such as The Guns of Navarone).[17]

According to Wizardry developer Roe R. Adams, early action-adventure games "were basically arcade games done in a fantasy" setting.[18] Tutankham, debuted by Konami in January 1982,[19] was an action-adventure released for arcades.[20] It combined maze, shoot 'em up, puzzle-solving and adventure elements,[21][12][22] with a 1983 review by Computer and Video Games magazine calling it "the first game that effectively combined the elements of an adventure game with frenetic shoot 'em up gameplay."[21] It inspired the similar Time Bandit (1983).[23] Action Quest, released in May 1982, blended puzzle elements of adventure games into a joystick-controlled, arcade-style action game, which surprised reviewers at the time.[24][25]

While noting some similarities to Adventure, IGN argues that The Legend of Zelda (1986) by Nintendo "helped to establish a new subgenre of action-adventure", becoming a success due to how it combined elements from different genres to create a compelling hybrid, including exploration, adventure-style inventory puzzles, an action component, a monetary system, and simplified RPG-style level building without the experience points.[26] The Legend of Zelda series was the most prolific action-adventure game franchise through to the 2000s.[27] Roe R. Adams also cited the arcade-style side-scrolling fantasy games Castlevania (1986), Trojan (1986) and Wizards & Warriors (1987) as early examples of action-adventure games.[18]

Games like Brain Breaker (1985), Xanadu (1985), Metroid (1986) and Vampire Killer (1986) combined a side-scrolling platformer format with adventure exploration, creating the Metroidvania platform-adventure subgenre. Similarly, games like 005 (1981), Castle Wolfenstein and Metal Gear (1987) combined action-adventure exploration with stealth mechanics, laying the foundations for the stealth game subgenre, which would later be popularized in 1998 with the releases of Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, and Thief: The Dark Project.

The cinematic platformer Prince of Persia (1989) featured action-adventure elements, inspiring games such as Another World (1991) and Flashback (1992). Alone in the Dark (1992) used 3D graphics, which would later be popularized by Resident Evil (1996) and Tomb Raider (1996). Resident Evil in particular created the survival horror subgenre, inspiring titles such as Silent Hill (1999) and Fatal Frame (2001).[7] Action-adventure games have gone on to become more popular than the pure adventure games and pure platform games that inspired them.[28]


  1. ^ Rollins, A.; Morris, D. (2000). Game Architecture and Design. Coriolis Ed.
  2. ^ a b c Luban, Pascal (2002-12-06). "Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games". Gamasutra. Think Services Game Group. p. 1. Archived from the original on 21 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-168747-6.
  4. ^ a b Luban, Pascal (2002-12-06). "Designing and Integrating Puzzles in Action-Adventure Games". Gamasutra. Think Services Game Group. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
  5. ^ Gal, Viviane; Le Prado, Cécile; Natkin, Stéphane; Vega, Liliana (2002). Writing for Video Games (PDF). Proceedings Laval Ritual (IVRC).
  6. ^ a b Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design. New Riders. p. 446. ISBN 1-59273-001-9.
  7. ^ a b c d Aya (2005-08-02). "A Brief – But Comprehensive – History of the Action/Adventure Genre". Archived from the original on 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2009-02-04.
  8. ^ a b "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. pp. 28–42. Action-adventure – A game which is nearly all action (see action game), but that also includes a good deal of strategy and more advanced problem solving.
  9. ^ Ryan, Marie-Laure (2002). "Beyond Myth and Metaphor – The Case of Narrative in Digital Media". Game Studies. The International Journal of Computer Game Research. 1 (1). Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
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  12. ^ a b Weiss, Brett. Classic Home Video Games, 1972–1984: A Complete Reference Guide. McFarland & Co. pp. 119, 126.
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  14. ^ Wolf, Mark J. P.; Perron, Bernard, eds. (2003). "Foreword". Video Game Theory Reader. Routledge. p. x. ISBN 0-415-96578-0.
  15. ^ DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 224. ISBN 0-07-223172-6.
  16. ^ Maynard, Ashley E.; Subrahmanyam, Kaveri; Greenfield, Patricia M. (13 May 2005). "Technology and the Development of Intelligence: From the Loom to the Computer". In Sternberg, Robert J.; Preiss, David D. (eds.). Intelligence and Technology: The Impact of Tools on the Nature and Development of Human Abilities. Routledge. pp. 29-54 (38). ISBN 978-1-136-77805-6.
  17. ^ Boardman, Krist; Bernstein, Harvey (June 1982). "Inside Gaming". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 1 no. 4. Ziff Davis. pp. 22–3.
  18. ^ a b Adams, Roe R. (November 1990), "Westward Ho! (Toward Japan, That Is): An Overview of the Evolution of CRPGs on Dedicated Game Machines", Computer Gaming World (76), pp. 83–84 [83], Action adventures were basically arcade games done in a fantasy setting such as Castlevania, Trojan, and Wizards & Warriors.
  19. ^ "Overseas Readers Column - Konami And Stern Pact On "Tutankham" Video" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 194. Amusement Press, Inc. 15 August 1982. p. 26.
  20. ^ "Minority Report: Tutankham". Retro Gamer. No. 127. January 2014. p. 51.
  21. ^ a b "Fine Time in Tombs of Tut! Tutankham". Computer and Video Games. No. 26 (December 1983). 16 November 1983. p. 31.
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