#4: Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
"The city holds many memories for me, of cafes, music, of love...and of death."
Generally, we tend to divide adventure games into three categories: Sierra, LucasArts, and Other, and for good reason; no companies have ever been able to duplicate the productivity, or the success of the two adventure kingpins.
Over the last five years, however, a small company from England called Revolution Software has been positioning themselves to ascend to the abdicated throne. To date, they have released six excellent adventure games—games that have gone mostly ignored, and tragically so, in America. The third of these games, released in 1996, was Broken Sword, and it is one of the few true five-star adventure games.
To this writer, the greatest adventures have plots that start humbly and slowly build as the mystery is uncovered (which is why I'm such a sucker for detective games). Broken Sword begins so humbly, as you, George Stobbart, innocent American tourist, are dining outside a lovely Parisian cafe. The vacation ends suddenly when the cafe is blown up by a...clown? There are precious few clues to be found as your journey takes you throughout the city. Soon, with the help of a beautiful reporter, your journey will take you all around the globe as you uncover a dark secret regarding the Knights Templar.
After firing this game up and playing through it again, I was dazzled. The graphics are absolutely fabulous, the animation is splendid—and this game is six years old! It holds up better than almost any game in the countdown. The various locales to visit in this game are beautifully hand-drawn, and an amazing variety of supporting characters provides personality (and a bit of well-written humor) along the way.
What's really impressive is the balance in the game, in every area imaginable. The game is long, but never runs into pacing problems. It is suspenseful and dark, yet light and humorous at all the right moments. The puzzles are plentiful, but never so difficult to cause frustration (okay, except for the stupid chessboard). There may be a bit too much dialogue for some, but it's always enjoyable to listen to, and much more restrained in this aspect than The Longest Journey.
We've looked at many games that had a cinematic nature, and Broken Sword is surely one of the greats. It was the unforunate victim of the single most inept marketing job in history by a Toonstruck-focused Virgin, who changed the US name to Circle of Blood and adorned it with the single ugliest cover art in history (take a look here). Thankfully, European sales were very strong, and the PlayStation conversion of the game sold well enough to warrant a very good sequel. Revolution is currently working on the third game in the trilogy, which they promise will completely redefine the adventure genre. We wait to see if their claims will be true, but if not, we'll always have this masterpiece to return to. For its balance and its beauty, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is the #4 adventure game of all-time.
Last time: Due, I suppose, to a combination of not playing the game in two years, first-semester college jitters, stock market fluctuations, the Yankees winning the World Series, and a whole lot of Cherry Coke, I managed to rank Broken Sword at an apalling #17. This marked the only time in the countdown's history that a designer of the game actually registered his displeasure with the ranking, and can you blame him? Anyway, I'm a lot smarter now, and figured out where the game actually belongs.