A good seven years before Dan Brown stunk up the bestseller lists with his tale of how Tom Hanks found the Holy Grail using just anagrams, Charles Cecil and his team at Revolution were taking the point ’n’ click world by storm with their own religion-flavored conspiracy thriller. Templar Knights, shady assassins, French people… as a who’s who of shifty ne’er-do-wells, Broken Sword packed them in.
Worse than any of these fiends is the game’s cocky American hero, George Stobbart. Conceived as knowing and snarky, he too often comes across as a jerk. As a café explodes in his face he enters to find bits of the manager all over the walls and a waitress in shock. “Ha, I guess I’ll have to get my own cappuccino,” says Mr Tact. Seriously, if he had to dropkick a kitten in front of a train to progress, we’d bet he’d do it.
It has its hardcore fans, but we’ve always struggled with Broken Sword (both on PC and the GBA port). On one hand, political intrigue and religious nutjobs give this mystery hotpot a tasty grown-up flavor. On the other, the writers seem determined to garnish it with goofiness. Every character has a loveable quirk (an easily flummoxed gangster or a Syrian urchin raised on Jeeves And Wooster) or ludicrous ‘oo ees eet?’ accent, undermining the melodrama of an otherwise dark tale.
Puzzle-wise, Sword veers away from the lunacy of Monkey Island’s ‘COMBINE flea deodorant WITH inflatable pelican’, opting for saner choices reflecting the real-world tone elsewhere. Item combining is never needed, the inventory rarely grows beyond ten items, and one object – the manhole cover lifter – is used so many times as to take the record for the most versatile item in gaming history. Forget health packs and shotguns – nothing can’t be done with a large metal prong.
We always felt the puzzling was more of an aside to the character-based bits – the game is 95% chatting to 5% doing – and a new hint system only serves to reinforce this interactive movie feel. Long gone are the days when hitting a brick wall meant sheepishly typing ‘how do you get the wire?’ into Ask Jeeves. Now you just click an onscreen question mark – it glows when it senses you’re stuck (i.e., you’re clicking on every last pixel on screen) – and off you go. A nice, if often too tempting, addition.
However, this is the only one of a few additions that really convince. The Director’s Cut’s Big Thing is a new side-story woven into the game following George’s French female cohort, Nico. Relegated to her apartment – sorry, ah-par-tee-mon – for most of the original, she now stars in a new opening segment concerning the murder of a media contact. Don’t get your hopes up, Broken Sword fans, the addition barely registers on the adventure-o-meter.
Not even an hour in length (including two asides that happen later), the new material is blighted with blunt, easy puzzles (Nico doesn’t have the screen time to build an inventory full of red-herring items) and a story we couldn’t give two hoots about. What’s really odd is that in the original game Nico does appear in George’s adventure in vaguely unexplained circumstances – why not use those moments as a springboard for fresh chapters in the Broken Sword saga?
These Wii-exclusive levels arrive with Wii-exclusive puzzles. Think Professor Layton’s brainteasers with Wii controls and you’re just about there. We were initially interested, but the final tally is disappointing. We counted ten remote moments in the whole game, and one was a rubbish jigsaw puzzle. We’ll admit to quite liking the code-breaking challenge – that took us back to childhood days poring over our detective FunFax – but it’s a miserly lot compared to Layton’s platter.
Visually, it’s a mixed bag. The story’s globe-trotting nature ensures a fresh stream of locations pumped through your telly-box and the sprite animation still charms all these years on, but this is quite a shonky port. Cutscenes have been horribly compressed, leading to all kinds of ugly pixel discoloration, something that seeps into some character design. Dialogue, too, sounds tinny and aged, especially compared against the fresher sounding voices recorded for the new material.
Oddest of all are the new facial portraits intended to help evoke the dialogue. Drawn by Dave ‘Watchmen’ Gibbons, they wisely eschew turning Stobbart into a neon blue atomic mishap, but neither do they offer anything more than unnerving cold, dead stares. This is especially dumb considering Stobbart’s habit of describing facial tics and changes in his internal monologue – tics and changes that don’t play out on screen. Order of stupid for table Broken Sword.
This is certainly better than Agatha Christie and Secret Files: Tunguska, but it would be easier to recommend had it come with a budget price tag. We so wanted this to be a success – money in the bank for one point ’n’ clicker might be the wake-up call LucasArts need to crack out their genre superstars. But this isn’t it.
Apr 1, 2009