Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Laura MacDonald
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon has now shipped to impatient gamers everywhere. We all know the series. One, if not both, of the first two games (Broken Sword 1 and Broken Sword 2) appears on everyone's top 10 list. So it's not surprising that considerable hype built up over a spanking new Broken Sword game. And the noise wasn't all cheers. Earlier this year, Charles Cecil achieved sudden infamy by boldly stating "point and click is dead, long live adventure games!!" Adventure game regulars groaned in a collective fit of angst. Then the series uber fans reacted, and it wasn't pretty. They seemed ready to storm Revolution if even one little pixel of their series was disturbed. Now I had the opportunity to talk at length with the series' producer, Steve Ince. After we chatted, I felt the odds were pretty good that Revolution knew what it was doing with the game, and things sounded great. But as they say, the proof is in the tasting. So after ripping my copy of Broken Sword 3 out of a now mangled brown envelope, I installed it in record time. I confess that while I was waiting for the game to load up, I did mutter "They better NOT have messed this up!!" OK, OK... so I'm a fan too. What can I say?
The game started up and my first thought was "This looks sweet! It sure looks like the other Broken Sword games. No, that's wrong. This looks better than the other games!"
I was completely hooked by those first cinematics that flickered across my screen. The graphics in this game are amazing. If this is the new 3D, then bring it on. It has all the crisp looks of 2D hand-rendered graphics, but with the freedom of movement and exploration that only comes with 3D. Imagine a view across the rooftops of Paris. At its heart, you see the sweeping lines of the Eiffel Tower. You'll know it in a heartbeat: it's on every box of Broken Sword 1. The storm-blackened sky flashes with lightning as you descend into some ancient hidden place. The familiar Knights Templar emblems appear on the walls, dimly lit by flickering torches. A robed figure emerges from a darkened doorway. He speaks of many things to two supplicants below, but one thing strikes hard. If they should fail in their mission, it means Armageddon. Yes, you heard the man... absolute destruction, end times... goodbye earth, hello oblivion. But wait a minute, the last time we ran into these guys was in Broken Sword 1 and they were supposed to have been utterly destroyed. Whatever is going on, it sure doesn't bode well for George and Nico. Speaking of whom, where is our fearless doe-eyed reporter, and what happened to George? The scene shifts dramatically. With a swirl of leaves, we are now soaring high above a canopy of trees. We find George sitting in the cockpit of a ramshackle plane, flying deep into the heart of the Amazon. Why? Well to see a man about a patent, of course. Where else would a corn-fed Idaho based attorney see a client? Of course things go from good to bad, alarmingly fast. George soon finds himself in a smoking plane, teetering precariously on the edge of a vast precipice. Will our hero survive? Where is Nico, and what do the Templars have to do with any of this? I'm not telling you. But this is the beginning of one grand adventure... and a rollicking fun game.
How did they make it look so good?
The graphics in this game are just brilliant. I don't think a game has looked this gorgeous since Syberia. The look of the game, the atmosphere, and the variety of environments grab you from the start, and keep you going even if you hit a tough spot of two. And the colorations are unmistakably Broken Sword. Revolution knows what works, and retained the bright colors and subtle shadowing that are the hallmarks of the series. Even the ambient lights in a scene are never white, but instead are subtle shades of light teal, pink and other jewel tones. The game looks as lush as you want it to be. You will find yourself entranced every time you see a new view or a different place. But the best thing is that you have complete freedom of movement within the game. And that is wonderful, because this is a game that you really want to roam around in. Poke around to your heart's content, just like you always wanted to in the earlier games. Try doors, go over walls, and walk around the place. You can even dig through every pile of alley trash that you see. Now doesn't that bring back some good memories? Ahhh... In short, if you are craving fabulous graphics, you won't be disappointed.
Will George and Nico ever get it together?
Early on in the development of this game, Revolution floated a variety of test renderings for George, Nico, and a few other characters. There were a number of styles represented, most of which drew grumpy responses from gamers. I got my first look at George in the opening cinematics, and the man looks good! Now I love the cartoon-styled graphics of those earlier games, but George looked a bit too angular at times. Maybe too much like a caricature. In this version, he is pretty cute: a bit rugged, and with really great hair. Don't take my word for it, just wait till you see him. I think you'll be happy. Nico is the same gorgeous, no nonsense girl we knew before. She is still a reporter, but hasn't seen George for awhile. It seems they kind of drifted apart after his return to the states. But they are together again, to save the world one more time. You will run into a rich array of characters as you follow our heroes through the game. There are so many that one review couldn't possibly mention them all. But there are some new faces in the cast who really stood out. I was particularly taken with one lyrical Irish poet / talk-show host. He had some of the best lines in the game. Glastonbury, a place packed with new age stores and mystics, had a great range of characters. The Irish wag, a cheeky upper crust flirt, and her shotgun-toting papa, were all great characters. In Paris, you meet a testosterone-driven skate boarder, a spooky traffic cop, an embittered retiree, and a nosy neighbor. Well, the list goes on. If you thrill over well-populated games, you will love all the folks in Sleeping Dragon. But wait, there's more! You will even see some familiar faces from past games, and there are a few that will really take you by surprise. With all this good news, there is one sad note. Dwayne and Pearl ended up on the cutting room floor this time. But you can't have everything. And with all these new and old faces, you won't get too lonely. Of course it is always the voice talent that truly brings a character to life. In Sleeping Dragon, that was exceptional. Rolfe Saxon flawlessly reprises his role as George Stobbart. Sarah Crooke shines as the new Nico. And the remaining characters feature a rich diversity of accents and styles, which just adds one more layer to this lush game.
Pretty Pictures, Witty Exchanges and More
Revolution has always been crafted with brilliant dialogue. Even in games that missed the mark a bit on graphics, or in some other area. They all had these jazzy lines, and quirky characters. And The Sleeping Dragon has some of the best lines of the bunch. The dialogue is more adult in tone, and has some choice double entendres. I think the writers stepped it up just a notch more in this game. George still has plenty of those facetious observations that always make me grin. The classic give and take between he and Nico was not overlooked. In particular, there is a running tiff between George and Nico about whether she would go blonde. It got me laughing every time. It seems that Petra, the ultimate bad girl and favorite evil minion to dark overlords everywhere, really caught George's eye. I guess you could say she would be pretty hot, if it just weren't for that little sadistic killer quirk of hers. Oh well, what can George do... he's just a guy. Whether it's the guards at the proverbial 'evil lair' or the conspiracy obsessed traffic cop, the dialogue bits added so much fun to this game. And to make sure that you don't have to miss a single wisecrack or snappy exchange, Revolution thoughtfully provided an option for subtitles.
As for ambiance, you will love the music in this game. Revolution had new music composed specifically for Sleeping Dragon, but melodies from the earlier games were woven in as well. The music never overwhelmed: it would creep into a scene or swell up during a cinematic. And the variety was amazing. I do love a game with great music, so I was a very happy camper indeed. There was the usual assortment of sound effects, subtle yet well used throughout the game. The sound levels are all adjustable from the options menu. So if any are not to your liking, finesse away.
Challenges Along The Way
The 3D build not only allows for freedom of movement within the game, it also allows for some puzzles that are unique to the Broken Sword series. It is important to make a note about the interface though. One of the features of the game is that instead of using a smart cursor, significant items give off a sparkly glow when you come across them in the game. If there is more than one item to interact with, one will glow more brightly than the others. Your character will interact with this one, unless you use the page up/down keys to cycle to another item. You need to familiarize yourself with this feature, as it is critical to one of the very first puzzles as well as a few others in the game.
In addition to the standard inventory based puzzles, there are some stand alone and physical puzzles. The stand alones are fairly unique. I really enjoyed the few that were in the game, and would have enjoyed a few more. By physical puzzles, I mean ones that you solve by directly interacting with a challenge in a physical way. For example, in one place you have to negotiate your way along a series of ledges across a mountain face. All of the moves are done automatically by choosing the available action. The puzzle isn't in the movement, it is in figuring out where to go next. During your gameplay you will creep, sneak, climb, hang, leap across, and drop all by using an automatic action choice. There are some others that require you to direct Nico in a series of moves, or have her assist you. When these moments occur, she pops up in your inventory. You will need to 'select' her when you need her help. Others are stealth type puzzles, where you have to sneak around or past game obstacles such as lights, patrolling guards and such. There are a few timed puzzles that I will discuss later in my 'review within the review' section. One type of interactive puzzle was great, but it got repetitive. I would call this 'one crate too many'. Throughout the game, George or Nico have to strategically move crates to build stepped ladders of a sort, or move them out of the way to get to an interactive item. The first 4 or 5 times it was fun. But I was a bit tired of them by the end of the game. On the other hand, the configurations did get more complex as the game advanced, and they were not stressful. Just could have used fewer of them in the game.
Getting Around The Game
Well Charles Cecil did tell us that point and click was dead. So long, little mouse. As it is, I had no problem settling in. The action/inventory interface is the best. Better than the mouse, in my opinion, and less time consuming. With one button push you can pull out an item that will combine with something else in your inventory. Then cycle through to the item you want to use it with, one click, and its done. No carrying the item and... Uh oh, is it right click or left click that combines things?... Oops, it went back into inventory... Grrr, have to pick it up again... Grrr, the inventory bar closed on me. Here you use the arrow keys or the page up/page down to quickly roll through the inventory. Exceptional feature. And the action selection was so easy. You have action choices in the bottom right of the screen. There are 4 circles with anywhere from one to four actions available at any time. You select the one you want by choosing the corresponding key of W, A, S or D. For the many of you who have played all the classic Lucas Arts games, these keyboard controls will be very familiar.
The arrow keys move you. Space bar brings up inventory or puts it away. The shift key makes you run, and left control makes you creep. It's easier than it sounds. Plus, you can also experiment and reconfigure any of the keyboard functions.
One thing was missing for me in the game though. Since you use the arrow keys to move and there are only 4 directions to choose from, precise movements were hard to achieve, particularly when running or when camera angles suddenly shifted as you moved into a new scene. A lot of games give you the mouse to use to turn your character, as you direct him with the arrows. It gives you just that much more finesse with the movements. However I have no idea whether this game engine allowed for that interface. My thoughts are that it probably didn't. It didn't matter that much overall, but there are a few puzzles that are fairly simple, EXCEPT for the interface. You have only a short time to move, and it is very difficult to get George to move exactly where you need him to go. My sole frustration point in the game came with such a challenge. I think that a game pad for the PC would have eliminated this one headache. So if you have one, you might want to plug it in for this game.
And now we pause for a moment
Remember I said there was a 'review within a review'? Well here it is. I loved this game. I did grow to detest, however, one running challenge in the game. I am still not sure if it was a game glitch with my PC, or just ill conceived. But there it is. The rest of the game was a blast. BUT, for those who are traditionalists, some things need to be noted. I know that much was made of possible action events in this game. They were, in fact, not action at all. You just have to select the right choice when it pops up in your option circles. In fact, these moments are easier than similar ones in Broken Sword 1 and 2. Can anyone say 'Dodge the evil goat'?
However, to me there are aspects of the game that qualify as action, particularly for more traditional-minded adventure gamers. It's easy action by gaming standards, but it is action. There are also 'you die' moments. Now true, you don't have to reload the game. But you have to move accurately, and without much hesitation, or the timer will run out and you will be killed. The end game also has some dodging and weaving. It's not hard at all, but it's there. Now comes the reassurance part. Many of you will hit these parts and not even blink. Some others will gripe a little and probably do fine after a few tries. Then there are the ones that will say "What the!?" They will decide to ask for and get a save. Then they'll get all happy with Broken Sword 3 again, and get back to enjoying this great game. Well that's what I did. The story and characters, graphics, settings, and atmosphere are superb. You will forget about that minor headache, be thrilled with the game overall, and life goes on. But if you know your limits as a gamer, and your interests will not sit well with such a thing even being in your game, then consider yourself cautioned.
All things must End
What else can I say? Did the game have some items that I think could have been done a bit better, or perhaps differently? Well, sure. I still want them to work on direct control that has more finesse, I would like a few less crates... and I really miss Dwayne and Pearl. Bottom line: So what? I can't think of a better way to spend a day or two, or even five, than with this game. The graphics were amazing, and the huge variety of characters and trademark Broken Sword dialogues made my day. And the story? Well it wraps up all the loose ends from game one, and ends with a fabulous twist on an old tale. Revolution kept Rolf on to play George and brought in the best Nico yet. Music? I want the CD. What's left to say? Nothing except I love this game, it's an instant classic, a heck of a fun romp, and a gorgeous contender for game of the year. Oh, and who said it had to be a trilogy? This can't be the end for George and Nico. Bring on Broken Sword 4!!
© 2003 Laura MacDonald
Visit the Official Broken Sword 3 Website to learn more about the game, view videos and see additional screenshots.
Developed (2003) by Revolution and published by The Adventure Company.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (blood and gore, mild language, violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium III 750 MHz Processor (Pentium III 1.2 GHz Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 128 MB RAM; 8X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX 8.1 Compatible 64 MB GeForce 2 or Equivalent Graphics Card (GeForce4 Ti 4200 or Equivalent Recommended); DirectX 8.1 Compatible Sound Card and Speakers (5.1 Surround Sound Support Recommended); 1 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; Keyboard and Mouse / Analog Gamepad
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