Game: Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars / Broken Sword: Director’s Cut
Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Sold Out / Ubisoft
Year: 1996 / 2009
Platform: PC / Nintendo DS
This review is slightly different from the norm. That’s because it’s not just one review, but two for the price of one. Not much of a bargain since they’re free anyway, but there you go. I’m going to write about both the original Broken Sword and the recent DS Director’s Cut remake of it. I’ll start with the original and then discuss the changes made to the new version further down, culminating in a double score. Such innovation.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (or Circle of Blood for the American release for some reason) was released way back in the depths of time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and good adventure games were getting released more often, i.e. 1996. It’s one of the true classics of the genre and still stands up as one of the best games of its type years after its release.
Broken Sword begins with American tourist George Stobbart relaxing at a table outside a Parisian café when a killer disguised as a clown rather rudely blows the place up. As if we needed more proof that clowns are evil. So George decides to start investigating, and soon meets a photojournalist called Nicole Collard. The mystery becomes more complex and turns out to involve ancient manuscripts and the Knights Templar. Of course. Every mystery involves them. They’ve become a bit of a cliché in recent years, especially since the success of the Da Vinci Code, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the writing here.
It’s not only the plot that is well written here though. More important are the characters. George is one of the most likeable heroes I’ve played in a game. The dialogue is sharply written and often very funny, as it is for all the characters. By the end of the game, you’ve become attached to George and Nico, and throughout your globe spanning travels, you’ll encounter a huge array of eccentric characters. There isn’t a dull one amongst them. The game also provides a lot of comments for trying different things. You don’t just get dialogue options (which are displayed as little pictures illustrating the topic) but you can also show all the items in your inventory to the people you meet, often with amusing results. After all, who wouldn’t be baffled by a stranger coming up to them and randomly showing them a grease paint stained tissue or a clown’s nose?
Characterisation is aided further by the wonderful quality of the voice acting. Every character has a distinct personality that is enhanced by the brilliant actors portraying them. George comes across as a friendly, laid back tourist. Nico comes across as an initially suspicious journalist that grows attached to George over the course of the game. The dialogues between the two works brilliantly, building an interesting relationship that evolves as the plot develops.
The puzzles are mostly well thought out with only the occasional sticking point where something is a bit hard to fathom. Most of them are inventory based, with the occasional logic puzzle thrown in. But there is the infamous goat puzzle. A goat that blocks the way to where you need to go, and butts you every time you try to pass. A goat that has driven even the most experienced adventure gamer to madness. The problem isn’t the difficulty of the puzzle but rather that it is solved in a way different to anything that comes before it, meaning that there’s no reason to assume that you can solve it that way. Still, this one puzzle stands out because of the overall quality of the rest of the game.
The interface of the PC version of Broken Sword is fairly straight forward. Right clicking on anything is used to look at it and hear George give the description. Left clicking depends on the context. The mouse cursor changes depending on which hotspot it is over. If it shows a magnifying glass, then you can examine it in more detail by clicking, if it shows spinning cogs then you can use it, a mouth means you can talk to someone, etc. It’s simple to use and means that the interface never gets in the way when you’re trying to solve a puzzle.
The DS version has a revamped interface that works perfectly with the stylus controls. Sweeping the stylus across the touchscreen reveals any hotspots in the area. You can then move the stylus over one of the hotspots, and lift it up to select it. If there are multiple actions you can take with the object, then moving over the hotspot will reveal the choice of actions. It’s better than the normal method of just touching the screen that DS adventures usually employ, eliminating the problem of not being able to find the hotspots due to the lack of any mouse cursor feedback.
The main change to the DS version is a new segment of game at the start where you play as Nico. This adds around an hour or more to the game, and gives some background on her character. For the most part, the style of this section fits in well with the rest of the game, with good writing and decent puzzles. Unfortunately, they do spoil it a bit by throwing in a couple of those hated slider puzzles for no good reason. There’s also a couple of cipher breaking puzzles, which are fine if you like that sort of thing, but anyone who has trouble with code breaking could struggle. It’s slightly less of a problem due to another new feature of the DS version, which is a built in hint system. Touching the hint button in the corner gives progressively more obvious hints the more you use it. (That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway, but I didn’t actually use it, so I can’t comment on the quality of the hints. Presumably they lead you through the puzzles if you use them enough.) The only problem with having this hint system on is that it can be easy to accidentally hit the hint button while moving the stylus around the screen. I did this twice near the start of the game, but then I remembered it could be disabled in the menu.
Another less important change is the addition of a journal feature. George writes down notes in the journal about what has happened as you go along, and you can read them at any time. It’s not really an essential feature, although I guess it could be helpful if you’re returning to the game after a while and want to refresh your memory. It did add an amusing moment to another small change to the game though. For the DS version, the previously mentioned satanic goat puzzle has been removed and now works pretty much automatically. Checking the journal afterwards reveals the comment “For a moment I thought he was going to be incredibly awkward to get past, but in the end it was surprisingly simple. Who would have known?” At least the developer’s are willing to fix their flaws. There are other changes to puzzles too, and not necessarily for the better. One of the problems with the original game was that you could die. When you were in a threatening situation, you sometimes only had a few seconds to figure out what to do before you were killed. Obviously, this makes sense, but there was no option to retry the scene; you had to reload your last save. If you’re not the sort to save often, this could be frustrating. The DS version removes these puzzles entirely, making George basically solve them himself automatically. Removing the puzzle entirely isn’t really the ideal solution.
The Nintendo version features the same graphics as the PC version on the touchscreen, while the upper screen features a still image most of the time. It’s only during conversations when the new graphics come into the game properly, since the upper screen is replaced by a close-up of the characters in conversation. These are quite high quality, which is to be expected since they’re drawn by comic book artist Dave Gibbons. Balancing out these nice new graphics is the fact that due to the limitations of the hand held system we lose all of the fantastic voice acting.
Both versions of the game are well worth playing. It’s essentially the same game in both versions, so take your pick. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they both provide a solid adventure game, and most of the negative points of the DS version simply stem from the limitations of the system rather than design choices.
Save System Review: Both versions let you save the game anywhere.
Graphics: The graphics on the original game are hand drawn and still look quite nice, albeit at a low resolution. The characters graphics have dated more than the backgrounds. The DS version features the same graphics, although the smaller screen means there isn’t an issue with the resolution, and the new artwork by Dave Gibbons is of a high standard.
Sound: The PC version has superb voice acting throughout the game. Sound effects are sparse, as is the soundtrack, but is very well done. The voice acting is the main loss of the DS version, since some of the character of the game is lost with it.
Bugs: I didn’t notice any bugs in either version of the game.
Gameplay: I’d say the interface is tied with both versions. Both have a well implemented system for the controls used. The puzzles are mostly the same, and the new content in the DS version balances out with the few puzzles that have been removed.
Storyline: A solid mystery storyline with some of the best (and funniest) dialogue to appear in an adventure game.
Arbitrary Final Scores:
PC original version:
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