The inquisitive George Stobbart and the streetwise Nicole Collard return for their third game in the Broken Sword adventure series. The most notable change is the move from 2D hand-drawn backgrounds to a full 3D environment, complete with direct character control as opposed to the point-and-click interface adopted by its predecessors. The story begins with George flying to the Congo to visit his professor for a secret assignment, which will kick-start yet another international adventure filled with exotic locales and mysterious characters. The new 3D environments and control allow for real-time combat, stealth, and the ability to use items directly on objects to help solve puzzles.
After an agonizing six-year hiatus, adventure gamers everywhere rejoice at the prospect of joining George and Nico in another globetrotting adventure to save the world, once again, from supernatural forces bent on taking it over. Has it been worth the wait? Is Revolution's decision to move to 3D a wise one? Will the action segments alienate the ever-fickle adventure crowd? Is this truly the future of adventure games as Charles Cecil would have us believe?
Sometime between The Smoking Mirror and The Sleeping Dragon, George and Nico parted ways. The game opens with George, now a patent attorney in Idaho, journeying to the Congo to visit a scientist named Cholmondely, in order to check out his machine that supposedly provides limitless energy. It seems a little farfetched, but at least it is more exciting than Idaho. Unfortunately, George is not the only person looking for this guy, for when George arrives, Cholmondely has been shot and lies dying on the floor. With only a postcard, and the final gasps of Cholmondely, George decides he is in too far now not to investigate.
As George romps through the Congo, Nico, still working for La Liberté, is three months behind in her rent and still waiting for her big break. Until that time, she has to suffer the whims of her editor and meet with a hacker named Vernon Blier, who claims the world is about to end and he knows why. Nico arrives to his apartment in time to hear shots ring out and finds herself framed for murder. Two days later, after being released from prison due to a lack of evidence, Nico investigates Vernon and what he was working on in order to track down the person who framed her.
Eventually, George and Nico's paths cross, and it turns out they are both working on the same case. The story culminates with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, and it is up to you whether they succeed or not.
So onto the big question: What's with the action elements? If I wanted an action/adventure, I would have purchased Tomb Raider, but I have certain expectations for this series. Does the game measure up? Is this truly the future of adventure games? Is it the death knell of point-and-click adventures?
The action falls into two categories: the Dragon's Lair-like, plot-related scenes, and the Zelda-esque environmental action scenes.
The only time you can die is during the plot-related scenes. In one scene, a villain holds a gun to your head, and you have a second to pick up something and defend yourself. If you don't react in time, you will die and be given a chance to try again. These scenes are well-integrated into the story and serve to keep up the pace. No longer do you passively watch the cutscenes during all of the exciting moments - now you are part of the action.
I enjoyed the adrenaline rush, but the action may not be for everyone. The implementation was not done as well as it could have been. It is consistently a "do this or die" decision. It would have been fun to throw in some options that ended up getting you in worse trouble, to make you think about what you are trying to do. When you have no real decision-making ability to change an outcome, the scene is exciting the first time but no real surprise afterward. There are only two scenes were you are given an opportunity to do more than just react, but they consist of running away, so be prepared to master those controls.
In most scenes, you will not be aware that there is an action element ... until you are killed. Herein lies the fatal flaw of the system in my eyes. You cannot advance the dialogue or skip scenes you have already seen, so if you are killed after watching two minutes of a cutscene, you have to watch that same two minutes again. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it served to kill the mood of the scene and frustrate me. It brings the momentum of the scene to a screeching halt.
The environment puzzles too come in two different flavors. First, we have everyone's favorite, block puzzles. If this is truly the future of adventure gaming, I think block puzzles will soon achieve the notoriety of mazes and sliding tile puzzles. They really serve no purpose, are added merely to extend the length of the game, and once you know what to do, you still need to spend five or ten minutes moving all the blocks into place in order to progress forward. A couple of these would have been great, but the seven or ten that are in the game are a little too much.
The other environmental element is the climbing, jumping, and sliding inherent in the 3D world. Gameplay reminded me of Splinter Cell but actually more closely resembles that of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in its gameplay and difficulty. You have to keep you eyes open for ledges and windows throughout the game. You cannot die in these puzzles, but these are where I became truly stuck. I ended up asking for help rather than spending another four hours looking for that ledge or window that I needed to climb up but couldn't find. Sneaking around guards also plays a big factor in the Prague level. Just like in Zelda or Splinter Cell, you need to avoid the guards by walking slowly, climbing around them, and generally being sneaky. I enjoyed it and found it fairly easy since I had already mastered Splinter Cell, which is infinitely harder - but this can be frustrating to the new player when he gets shot by the same guard for the fourth time.
Poor, poor Nico. I constantly felt bad as she repeatedly stumbled drunkenly into every wall in her path. I give fair warning to all of you who hated the controls in Grim Fandango - the controls in The Sleeping Dragon are worse.
My first point of contention is the camera-relative movement. Every time the angle of the camera changes, so do your movement keys. At least in Grim Fandango, you could set the controls to character-relative movement, which provided an island of consistency in a sea of changing camera angles. To be fair, if you don't stop moving, your controls will stay the same throughout screen transitions, but as soon as you stop moving or change direction, they conform to the camera angle.
Second, the entire game was built with console controls in mind. With four movement keys on the PC, you will notice every angle that is not exactly 90 degrees relative to the camera when you slam once more into the wall. A control stick does not have this problem. The action buttons were also designed with a controller in mind, and, in my opinion, they do not translate all that well to a keyboard. If you do not have a gamepad for your PC, I suggest you buy the console version of BS3. If you don't mind playing around with wonky controls or you already have a gamepad, stick with the PC version for the cheaper price.
If the last 3D game you played was Grim Fandango, then things have come a long way. You will be awestruck by some of the visuals. If you have played every third-person shooter there is and are anticipating the release of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3, then you won't be as amazed, but still The Sleeping Dragon is a pretty game.
It is a little more resource-heavy and requires a better system than most adventure games. Most everyone should have a computer that is able to run this game, but the recommended specs may be higher than you are used to, so keep that in mind when you are purchasing.
The best part of the graphics in my opinion was walking up and down stairs. It is a rare game where the animators make the effort of providing animation specific to stair-climbing, and it is a beautiful thing to behold when George's feet actually land on each individual step.
Veterans of the series with recognize many faces, and even some locations, in this iteration of the Broken Sword series. While this adds to the experience for us who have played the previous games, will it just serve to confuse newcomers? Can someone new to the series start here and be able to follow what is going on?
Every time an old character is introduced, Revolution does a fairly good job in giving a little background explaining how we knew him or her and what he or she has been up to in the intervening time. Honestly, I am not sure if newcomers will fully understand situations without having played at least the first game. Would I recommend this game to someone who hasn't played the others? Probably not. Given the shortness of the game plus some of the other issues mentioned above, I would instead suggest he get his hands on the first game to see if he enjoys the story at all before he invests his money in this one. You can still get the GBA version in stores, I believe, and you can get the PC version at Playing Games or Sold Out Software.
My review up to this point may sound a little harsh. But I truly enjoyed this game. It is a nice fit with the series, and it is very much a Broken Sword game.
Things I didn't like were the abundance of block puzzles, not being able to advance dialogue and cutscenes, the controls, and the shortness of the game. I spent a total of 10 hours and 26 minutes playing it. Running through a second time for this review, I played only for five and a half hours, skipping loads of dialogue on the way.
I enjoyed the action elements. The first time through, they added an element of excitement to the plot and helped me really feel a part of the action. The original voice actors returned to provide the voices of George and Nico, which is good - I am not sure if I could accept different voices for them. Finally, this was very much a Broken Sword story, which will serve to please most fans and help overcome any of the flaws.
Is this the future of adventure games? I believe it could be. It was a valiant first attempt, and I liked it. If the development community uses this as a launching pad, and what we see here is just the infancy of incorporating interactivity into cutscenes, then we could be witnessing the birth of something truly extraordinary. There will still be a vocal group out there, crying foul at any change from the good ol' days of point-and-click, but that will never change.
If you are a fan of the series, I can heartily recommend this game.
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Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror, Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, Black Mirror, The, Blade Runner, Curse of Monkey Island, The, Black Dahlia, Escape from Monkey Island, Discworld Noir
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