Console Adventure Gaming Defined

User Rating: 8.5 | Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars PS
This is the game that introduced me to the adventure gaming genre on the PC. Its charming love story, with political intrigue containing both present and historic elements, and its well-developed down-to-earth less-than-likely heros with sharp wits and culturally stereotypical personality types, even today wins over countless gamers, introducing them to the adventure gaming genre, and endearing them to a world of story-driven games with simple controls. This review is for the Playstation port of the game, which despite its difficulties and bugs, doesn't lose enough of its charm not to be reviewed more than kindly.

You play as an American in Paris named George Stobbart, enjoying your vacation outside of a French cafe. While relaxing and enjoying the scenery, an odd man dressed as a clown enters the cafe and scuffles off in a hurry. The cafe explodes, and the mystery begins. George eventually learns that the incident is linked to a modern version of an ancient organization called the Knights Templar, and a plan to take over the world. George will travel several European countries and locations in the Middle East, having discussions with some very cleverly scripted and drawn characters, with some clues in their comical banter. He'll solve some puzzles, which are by no means simple, but aren't so taxing as to put off the grey-matter-imparied. Among the characters, George will meet a cute French reporter who becomes George's love-interest throughout the "Broken Sword" series. The story is unique and engaging, but Revolution Software didn't stop there, providing a game that is really enhanced by the very-well-drawn classical cartoonish backgrounds, well-done animation for character movement, and an incredibly charming musical score. This Playstation port of the game loses something in visual clarity for the backgrounds and animation from its PC-original, but loses nothing in the incidental music. This is some of the best mood music in any game. The score really transports the player into a relaxing European mindset, tensing up only at moments which call for it. The music very much reminds me stylistically of some of the softer compositions from the British Light Music school, sounding in tone and mood similar to compositions like "The Haunted Ballroom" by Geoffrey Toye, or "Cradle Song" by Gordon Jacob. The voice-work and dialog are some of the best in any game, and keep it very much centered on its story-driven layout, adding to the overall believability of the story. You are likely to both laugh and marvel at the comical characters you will run into along the adventure.

Two-dimensional adventure games often-times use point-and-click interfaces of various varieties, and this game is no exception. However, the design of this particular interface is where this game really shines. Most adventure game systems have very limited options, both in activity and dialogue. Most adventure game systems around this time have either very limited options, or complex control schemes, both in activity and dialogue. The developers of this game created an interface in which new clues and information are kept in one inventory, while items discovered are kept in another inventory. When entering into dialog with another character in the game, both of these inventories appear. This gives the game a real sense of non-linear discovery, though perhaps artificial. You must find certain clues, items, or information, before such dialogue options will open with each character. That the game tracks these discoveries makes the appearance of new options at other points in the game a step above some of the non-sequitur changes experienced in other adventure games. Backtracking becomes part of the game, but unlike other adventure games, it doesn't really feel like backtracking, because the sense of discovery along with the dramatically unfolding storyline, keep the game from feeling contrived or stagnant, and unlike some adventure games, it is possible to die based on unwise decisions made during the game.

Execution of gameplay in the original PC release went through with a breeze. Loading times were low, and and the control schemes were easier handled with PC-based controls. I wish that could be said for this Playstation port of the game, but that would be a misrepresentation of the wildest kind. Loading times are extremely slow. The game is sitll easy enough to control in a great many areas, but some parts are downright crippled by having to use the Playstation controller. Accurately pinpointing very tiny areas, critical areas to allow progression through the game which were once easy on the PC version, are now virtually impossible. For instance, on one particular screen, the player must soak a rag up with water, and then squeeze it into a tiny hole in the ground several screens away, filling it up and triggering the next activity. On the PC, the hardest thing was getting back to the area with the hole fast enough for the rag not to dry out. On the Playstation, that is the least of your worries. Getting there fast enough doesn't cut it as once there, it becomes virtually impossible to target the hole with the rag in order to fill it up before the rag eventually dries up. Considering you have to traverse several screens, putting up with loading times on each movement, this part of the game can literally keep you going for hours for no good reason. Other points in the game where such pin-pointing is immediately necessary in order not to lose your character's life are just as difficult. Dying on these screens forces the player to go through the drudgery of reloading a save file and waiting for the game to load. Many a gamer has given up on this game at one of these many frustrating points in the game, and who could blame them? It is for this reason that I have to severely cut back my score for gameplay, at least on the Playstation version. Point-and-click interfaces are fine, when they work, and in this case the Playstation port of the game is clearly broken. It is a testament to the game itself that these issues didn't harm its popularity with Playstation gamers.

Revolution Software literally introduced a renaissance in the adventure genre with the original release of this game. Its perhaps the best-known game in that genre, and few games since have so fully reinvented adventure gaming as we know it. This game is my favorite in that genre, in any of its various platform releases, and I am not the only one who recognizes it as such. That is perhaps the best testament to this game's ongoing popularity, in that its fans have never forgotten the lesson of what is possible, and keep waiting for other developers to raise the bar. Of course, that may never happen again, but at least we still have the "Broken Sword" series.