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The List: My Top 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time, part five

By Damien Wilkens
19 August 2011 Fear. Fighting. The French. No, it's not a biography of Louis XVI. It's more of my favorite games of all time. In fact, this may be the most soulful iteration of The List yet.

And by that, I mean I was listening to Roberta Flack as I typed this.

#80 - Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
Systems: PlayStation, PlayStation Network, PC, Mac, Game Boy Advance, DS, Wii, iOS
Originally released: 1996

What is it?
The first installment in what has become a standard-bearing series in adventure gaming, with fantastic animation and voice acting that instantly brings to mind a Don Bluth feature. You play as American tourist George Stobbart, who is witness to a mysterious clown blowing up a coffee shop with an explosive accordion. Yeah. Things only get weirder as George tries to conduct his own investigation, running into sexy French reporters, psychic police inspectors, and Templar conspiracies.

As you can see above, it's also one of the most ported games ever, as the complex plot and dialog stand up just as well today as they did over a decade ago.

Why did it make the list?
I have a massive soft spot for point-and-click adventures (right above the knee). You're going to see a lot more of this as the list goes on, as traditionally they are some of the most complex and well-written offerings of the medium. Just by sheer nature of the genre, there are so many opportunities to tell a deep and engaging narrative, and it bums me out that they're practically a dying breed in this day and age.

What makes Broken Sword such a standout is the subtle batshit insanity of the characters. If Monkey Island is John Cleese, Broken Sword is Graham Chapman. Granted, a game about an evil Templar clown is bound to get silly at points, but it's the interaction with those background characters that make the journey so satisfying. As with any game of its type, there are moments of dumbfounded frustration as you try to figure out how the jar of peanut butter is supposed to help you through the door, but once you do, you're always rewarded with witty banter and a dry turn of phrase.

And let us not forget the music, which can only be described as "spiffy."

Best Moment: At one point in the game, George meets an English aristocrat named Lady Piermont, who not only helps him with some hotel recon, but makes progressing in the game nearly impossible due to your perverse desire to hear every crazy thought her brain transmits to her mouth.

Fun Fact: The Wii and DS remakes feature character art by Dave Gibbons, who also did work for 1994's Beneath a Steel Sky, which very nearly made this list. It's always good to see companies support struggling unknown artists like this.

#79 - Tobal 2
System: PlayStation (Japan only)
Originally released: 1997

What is it?
The sequel to that fighting game that came with the Final Fantasy VII demo. Tobal 2 builds upon the ideas introduced in the original, taking the quirky bare-bones core and turning it into something incredibly deep.

It's also known for having, quite frankly, the weirdest goddamn character designs of any fighting game in existence. I want to say that Akira Toriyama was on something when he came up with a funky kickboxing surgeon and a giant blue chicken warrior, but this is the same man that loves to name characters after food and undergarments.

Why did it make the list?
"This is a bit of a weird one," Damien typed, realizing he'd already mentioned the giant blue chicken warrior.

On the surface, Tobal 2 is little more than a Virtua Fighter clone with horrid fashion sense. A big part of the reason people ignored the original Tobal is because it was so weird and ugly. The game was released before the world discovered the wonderment of textures, and if not for the Final Fantasy VII pack-in, there's an extremely good chance it never would have gotten an American release. Case in point, Tobal 2 never made it over here, despite the interest of several third parties.

At this point you're probably wondering how the hell this made it on the list then. Well, reader who's mind I somehow have the ability to read, I'll tell you: Quest Mode. Aside from the one-on-one fighting action, Tobal 2 includes a full-length dungeon-crawling RPG, complete with towns, shops, leveling up, and bosses. The sheer time that can be killed in this mode is incredible in and of itself, but then there's also the fact that you can capture any of the 200 monsters that you encounter in the game. They then become playable.

I'll repeat that.

You can capture monsters in a dungeon and then use them in the fighting game.

Best Moment: Well, there aren't a ton of games out there that allow you to powerbomb a chocobo, so let's go with that.

Fun Fact: One of the reasons the game never came to the US was because Square claimed that memory issues prevented English dialog from fitting in the game's text boxes. This would be a valid reason if not for the fact that a fan translation was able to do that very thing three years earlier.

#78 Archon: The Light and the Dark
Systems: Atari 8-bit, Apple II, Commodore 64, Amiga, PC, Mac, NES, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, PC-88
Originally released: 1983

What is it?
Battle Chess before Battle Chess ever existed. In fact, to mistake it for mere Battle Chess will result in the game ripping your face off, then using that same face to punch the bloody, skinless crater where your face once occupied. You won't find any wussy rooks or bishops here. This is a battle of good versus evil. Laser-unicorns versus shadow-basilisks.

I believe literally every person that owned a personal computer before 1990 not only played Archon, but worshiped Archon.

Why did it make the list?
Because it's one of the earliest examples of the medium creating otherwise impossible interpretations of the familiar. Despite some shared characteristics with a board game, Archon can't be duplicated in the real world, unless, of course, you own a laser-unicorn. If you do, I have no idea why you're reading this. Clearly you have better ways to spend your time.

The game is, at its most basic, a war between the armies of light and dark. Each side has its own warriors of varying strength, and any two that occupy the same space must engage in a battle that you control. Aside from the pieces themselves, you also had to factor in whether or not the space was light or dark, which came with its own set of advantages or drawbacks that changed over time. Factor in that each side also had a spell-caster that could teleport, revive, and even rewind time, and you had a game that could eat away hours of your life. Archon is one of those classic games that just hooks you from the start and never lets go. It was easily the Commodore 64 game I played the most as a kid, to the point that I needed to replace the keyboard at one point.

Seriously, those dragons are right bastards.

Best Moment: Winning. The game is a struggle each time you battle the computer.

Fun Fact: Archon's trademark cover artwork is an homage to Dutch artist MC Escher. Outside of Sony's Echochrome, you don't see a whole lot of Escher-based gaming, sadly.

#77 - Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Systems: PC, Xbox
Originally released: 2005

What is it?
The story of Jack Walters, a Boston detective with major psychological trauma. He's then hired to find a missing person in the town of Innsmouth and Oh god! What the hell was that?!

It is, quite simply, first-person horror perfected. While many games claim to be influenced by Lovecraft, Dark Corners of the Earth is Lovecraft, right down to its very core. To that end, it's not just your life that you're trying to protect, but your sanity.

It's sort of like Eternal Darkness in that sense, except, you know, good.

Why did it make the list?
It defies just about every preconceived notion one could have about a first-person video game. There is no HUD, and guns are scarce to the point that they don't even become available until hours into the game. Enemies aren't simple bullet-sponges of varying size; they're threats to be taken very seriously and dealt with carefully. Quite often, Jack finds himself incapable of even comprehending the abomination in front of him, let alone trying to figure out a way to fight it.

And that's how it should be. Too often, American horror can find itself a victim of its own prejudice, wanting to create tension and fear for an audience that most believe aren't patient or sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Maybe there is some truth to that, considering that Dark Corners of the Earth wasn't exactly a commercial juggernaut, but I will forever welcome attempts to buck that trend. The way the game handles fear and sanity is still completely unlike anything that's been seen since, and, if nothing else, I can only hope that a game comes along with these design principals in mind, leading to more horror games that aren't afraid to take genuine risks.

Best Moment: Dagon, which also wins the award for most pants-shittingly intense boss battle of my life.

Fun Fact: There were at least two sequels planned, one titled Destiny's End. Sadly, the developer, Headfirst, went bankrupt only a year later.

#76 - Team Fortress 2
Systems: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Originally released: 2007

What is it?
A team-based first-person shooter that was a decade in the making. The original Team Fortress was proof that anything could happen in gaming, as it started as a free Quake mod before the developers became full-time employees of Valve.

Team Fortress 2 was a major departure from the original. Gone were the gritty, semi-realistic characters, replaced by wacky creations that looked more at home in a Pixar movie. And it worked.

Why did it make the list?
I think it's important to point out something before we move on, because I really can't express to you how amazing it is that a multiplayer FPS made it on this list. I absolutely loathe most online first-person shooters. Outside of a very brief flirtation with Quake, I never cared for them at all. For starters, I'm not very good at them. Second, I assumed that most people that play them are elitist dickwads that can and will crush my hopes and dreams into a fine paste, sprinkle it over their oatmeal, then make less than flattering observations about my sexual orientation.

Playing Team Fortress 2, I find that those assumptions are largely true, but that's okay, because these are usually the same people that run into my well-placed turrets. See, what makes Team Fortress 2 so magical is that I don't need to have an epic aim or great defense. I can leave that to the snipers and scouts. I can just be a simple engineer, supporting my team from the sidelines and constructing machines to defend the base. That's not even taking into account the huge personality of the characters, and the hilarious bits of black comedy that break up all of the bloodshed.

The fact that I've never even really played the feature-packed PC version should also speak volumes of my newfound love for this game. If I were to make this list again years from now, chances are it would be even higher.

Best Moment: After a well-deserved victory, your opponents are rendered completely defenseless, allowing you to demolish them even further and rub rocket-flavored salt in their wounds.

Fun Fact: This game is now freeware courtesy of Steam. You have zero reason to not try it.

In the next installment, expect monkeys, tassels, and split personalities.


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