Game: Broken Sword: The Angel of Death
Developer: Revolution Software
Three years after the previous Broken Sword game, we finally get the fourth in the series with The Angel of Death (known as Secrets of the Ark in America). The Broken Sword games have always been some of the best adventures around, so a new title is always highly anticipated, so it’s a shame that the latest addition to the series doesn’t quite reach the standards of the earlier games, mostly due to a poor interface and some implementation problems.
The Angel of Death again starts with George Stobbart, who is now running a Bail Bonds agency. The action kicks off straight away with a woman running in off the streets, asking George to help her with an ancient manuscript, and mentioning that she happens to be being chased by a bunch of big violent thugs. Nice of her to involve you like that. The first task is to find a way to escape the office. It’s a bit disappointing to find out that Nico, the journalist who has been in all the games, again seems to have parted ways with George at the start of the game. She turns up again later of course, but I’m not sure why they felt they needed to get rid of her and give George a new woman to fall in love with.
The first two Broken Sword games were 2D point and click adventures with wonderful hand drawn cartoonish graphics. The third game, The Sleeping Dragon, made the leap into 3D, and dropped the point and click interface in favour of contextual actions, while still keeping the same style of puzzle solving. While the interface wasn’t perfect, it worked reasonably well, but received a lot of complaints from adventure game purists (the guys who think every game should be the exact same style). So what we get from Broken Sword 4 is an interface that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s still in 3D, and George can still be controlled directly by the keyboard, but it also has the traditional point and click interface. The trouble with this hybrid interface is that neither aspect of it actually works all that well, and the problems show up straight away. Escaping the offices leads to a sequence involving a lot of climbing and jumping across gaps that seems more suited to a platform game. It’s not an action sequence, George can’t fall off, and it’s all controlled by point and click, but it just doesn’t work well enough. Clicking somewhere in a room will make George walk straight towards it, even when there’s an obstacle in the way, leading with you often walking straight into a pillar or box and stopping. Also, to make him climb often requires clicking in the exact right place to get him to do anything other than move a couple of steps and then get stuck again. For the most part, it’s this interface that’s responsible for letting the game down.
The storyline is typical of the series, involving the Knight’s Templar (of course), ancient manuscripts and legends. It isn’t quite up to the standards of the earlier games, particularly with the rather uninspiring start, but fortunately it does get better as it goes along, as does the whole game. Ultimately the game will lead the player around the world searching for clues as to what is happening and uncovering conspiracies, in exactly the way we expect from a game like this. The characters are mostly good as always, although Anna Maria, the woman who runs in at the start of the game, feels quite underdeveloped for George to suddenly be falling in love with her for no apparent reason. Several memorably strange characters turn up in the game, and they’re usually entertaining. In particular, you meet a rather camp young priest with an addiction to action movies who’s responsible for quite a few funny moments in the game and actually becomes involved in the plot towards the end. There are very few returning characters from the earlier games other than George and Nico however. In fact, other than a couple of characters that are just mentioned but don’t appear, only one earlier character turns up for a completely random cameo that seems very forced.
The voice acting is of a high quality as always for the series, with Rolf Saxon returning for the fourth time as the lead character. The only slip with the voice acting is with Nico. This is the fourth actress to play Nico, and while the first was the best, the others have done a good enough job of making her sound right, with a proper French accent. Until this game, when we get a rather poor French accent that seems to drop almost entirely half the time. It’s a shame they couldn’t have found someone with the correct accent for the role, but as mentioned, the rest of the voice acting is first rate.
Puzzles are obviously an important part of any point and click adventure game such as this, and fortunately the game does quite well in this respect, although it’s still far from perfect. Thankfully, it isn’t overloaded with crate pushing puzzles like Sleeping Dragon was, but it does have the aforementioned climbing problems, and there are a couple of stealth sequences that are irritating due to the camera angles and poor interface. Thankfully, although you can get caught or killed in the stealth sequences, the game instantly puts you back to right before you made the move that got you killed, so you don’t have to worry about not having saved recently enough or having to repeat sections of game. There are a few puzzles involving team work, where you have to work with the person you’re with to achieve your goals, and these are an interesting change from the more traditional puzzles. When it does come to the traditional adventure game puzzles, the game is on more solid ground and they are usually fair, although the responses to incorrect attempts aren’t well implemented. One of the joys of the first Broken Sword game was that you could attempt things and nearly always get a response that made sense to what you were trying to do. Here, the game just gives its generic equivalent to “I can’t do that.” While it makes the world less fleshed out, this wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that at times, the actions you’re trying seem like they should be perfectly valid solutions, and some thought really should have gone into creating a response that explains exactly why it won’t work. Otherwise, it ends up coming down to thinking of the solution the creators intended from amongst several possibilities with no clue as to which it should be. At other times, you might know what to do, but actually working out how exactly you go about doing it isn’t clued by your attempts. There’s also the occasional instance of that dreaded adventure game problem which has plagued the genre through the ages… pixel hunting.
There’s a final type of puzzle in the game, and it’s one that seems popular these days. It’s the use of a puzzle mini-game for hacking. At several points in the game you’ll need to hack into various systems to get information you need, and this brings up a puzzle game involving directing a beam through various points on a grid before ending up at the system you want to hack. You redirect the beam using various splitters, corners and mirrors. It’s a fairly good game, and the puzzles are well thought out, but later on they can become quite hard, which could lead to frustration.
Finally there’s the bugs to discuss. There’s the interface problems that I’ve mentioned before, and there was one instance where a hotspot I could click on the floor appeared telling me there was a pen there, even though there wasn’t. It turned out I later had to put the pen down there, and the hotspot had just turned up too early. Other than that, the game doesn’t really have any other in-game bugs, but there is one very major bug that can’t be ignored. The game has problems with multi-core processors, and if you try to run it on one, all characters have no textures on them, instead showing up as black silhouettes. The only way around this is to edit Windows’ boot.ini to set the computer to load up on just one core, unless you fancy fiddling with the BIOS. I could accept a bug like this from an old game from before multi-core processors existed, but this game was released in 2006, and there’s no excuse for them to not at least release a patch to fix it. But they haven’t.
Other problems include the fact that the dialogue is unskippable, and sometimes dialogue options don’t always disappear when you’ve used them. So if you click one again and it turns out there’s nothing new, you have to sit through a couple of lines of dialogue again. The ending of the game also comes very suddenly, with no dénouement at all, leaving the conclusion unfortunately feeling unfinished, unsatisfying and probably several other words beginning in “un”.
So overall this review has been quite critical, but it isn’t all bad. I can’t justify giving the game a really high score with all these complaints, but I’ll end with some good points to end on a positive note. Once you get into the story, it does get interesting, and it’s still worthwhile, even if not quite as good as the previous games. The characters are good, and there are many funny moments. In fact, there are moments, when the game is at its best, that can rank up alongside the classic parts of the rest of the series. In particular, a high point of the game is a hilarious section where George poses as a rather strict German health inspector at a factory for making Communion Wafers. I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone who isn’t a fan of the earlier games, but if you’ve played the other three games and enjoyed them, this is definitely worth a play, despite the flaws. And if you haven’t played any of the games, the original Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is highly recommended.
Save System Review: Can save anywhere.
Graphics: Not terrible, but the environments can look rather plain at times and they’re not up to the standards of the time it was released. They still haven’t managed to reach the standards of the wonderful looking 2D games in a 3D engine.
Sound: Mostly great, with a high standard of voice acting. Only Nico’s vanishing accent lets it down.
Bugs: As mentioned above, there’s a minor bug or two, the interface problems, but most seriously the lack of multi-core compatibility.
Gameplay: Some decent puzzles but too much climbing and not enough feedback on failed attempts at solutions.
Storyline: Not up to the standard of the other three games, but still above and beyond the plot that most adventure games can manage, with entertaining characters and dialogue.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Broken Sword sequel or simply Broken game? Make your decision on the forum.