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An action-adventure game is a video game that combines elements of the adventure game genre with various action game elements. It is perhaps the broadest and most diverse genre in gaming, and can include many games which might better be categorized under narrow genres. The first known game in this genre is the Atari 2600 game Adventure (1979).
With the decline of the adventure game genre from mainstream popularity, the use of the term (and the hybrid term "action-adventure") has been more liberal. It is not uncommon for gamers to apply the term "adventure" or "action adventure" to describe the genre of fiction to which a game belongs, and not the gameplay itself, sometimes to the dismay of adventure game purists.
There is a distinction between thematic genres and gameplay genres, as in this case they have very different meanings and etymology. "Adventure" is a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure and has no thematic or narrative meaning nor any connection to adventure movies. Similarly, while action games usually do have violent themes similar to action movies, this is not a requirement.
Action-adventure is a hybrid genre, and thus the definition is very inclusive, leading it to be perhaps the broadest genre of computer and video games. 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, especially crucial elements like puzzles. Action-adventures require many of the same physical skills as action games, but also offer a storyline, numerous characters, an inventory system, dialog, and other features of adventure games. They are faster-paced than pure adventure games, because they include both physical and conceptual challenges. 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. Some examples of action-adventure games include The Legend of Zelda, God of War, and Tomb Raider series.
Exactly when a game stops being an adventure game and becomes an action game is a matter of interpretation. 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." 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. Others see action games as a pure genre, while an action-adventure is an action game that includes situational problem-solving. Adventure gamers may also be purists, rejecting any game that makes use of physical challenges or time pressure. Regardless, the action-adventure label is prominent in articles over the internet and media. The term "action-adventure" is usually substituted for a particular sub-genre due to its wide scope.
Although action-adventure games are diverse and difficult to classify, there are some distinct sub-genres. Popular sub-genres include:
- First-person action-adventure, which make 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. These are sometimes called Real-Time Adventure games or RTAs for short.
- Isometric platform games, often most associated with the ZX Spectrum. These games featured freely explorable environments with three dimensional gameplay, and two-dimensional graphics using an isometric projection.
- Platform-adventure games, which emphasize both exploration and puzzle solving, but also feature traditional platform game conventions. One of the first games of this type was Metroid.
- Stealth games, which emphasize 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.
- Survival horror games, which emphasize "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, however, so not all survival horror games share these features.
Action-adventure games are faster paced than pure adventure games, and include physical as well as conceptual challenges where the story is enacted rather than narrated. While motion-based, often reflexive, actions are required, 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). While the controls are arcade-style (character movement, few action commands) there is an ultimate goal beyond a high score. In most action-adventure games, the player controls a single avatar as the protagonist. This type of game is often quite similar to computer role-playing games.
They are distinct from graphic adventures, which sometimes have free-moving central characters, but also wider variety of commands and fewer or no arcade 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. 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 sub-genre's broad inclusive nature it causes some players to having difficulty finishing a particular game. To compensate for this lack of the player's ability, companies have devised ways to give the player help, such as helpful clues, or allowing them to skip puzzles outright.
The history of the action-adventure genre began with the text-based Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), which was the first adventure game ever created. First written for the PDP-10, it was later ported to countless other platforms, including the Atari 2600 video game console, on which it was renamed to Adventure (1979) and contained graphical elements. In 1978, a programmer for Atari, Warren Robinett, was given the task of transferring Colossal Cave Adventure to the Atari 2600. With the new iteration, Atari planned to allow the player to fight in combat, thus leading to the first action-adventure game.
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