Reviewed: September 13, 2010
Released: September 3, 2010
It’s hard to deny that as far as genres go adventure games are the sick, old man of computer gaming. For years, it seemed like LucasArts’ Grim Fandango was their swan song, until their recent revival at the hands of studios such as Telltale Games and smaller independent developers. Finally, in 2009, Ubisoft brought the classic Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars to the Wii and Nintendo DS with a bevy of added and updated content, and after nearly a year, it’s returned to its roots on the computer. I leapt at the opportunity to take it for a spin and see if it performed as well as I remembered. |
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut follows the adventures of George Stobbart, an American lawyer vacationing in Paris and Nicole Collard, a French photojournalist. After each witnesses separate, yet connected, murders, they begin an investigation that will lead them across western Europe and the middle east in search of the murderer and the reason behind his killings.
Compared to its original release in 1996, the director’s cut drastically expands the original game, rounding out its story by adding scenes and puzzles where the player controls Nicole. Additionally, hand-drawn illustrations by Dave Gibbons, famous for his work on Watchmen, compliment the high-quality animation. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Broken Sword was one of the most beautiful two-dimensional games before adventure games, and gaming as a whole, began their transition to 3D, and its aesthetics stand up to this day.
To stand alongside its visuals, the game’s sound is terrific, with an original orchestral soundtrack punctuated by incidental music and brilliant sound effects, as well as full voiceovers that create a terrific soundscape for players to enjoy while they play. In fact, I’ve entered into the habit of leaving the game on in the background as I work just to listen to the score.
The gameplay by itself isn’t terribly innovative, but that doesn’t detract from its quality or its diversity. Players explore the hand-drawn areas ranging from a bombed sidewalk café in Paris to a train in Scotland, to say nothing of more exotic locations, finding items and dealing with the cleverly written characters that inhabit the world, with hot spots indicated as you mouse near them, eliminating pixel hunting. They use their inventory to solve puzzles and progress the plot, whether in environmental puzzles or in branching dialogue trees. Finally, a first person perspective is used for puzzles, including a pair of early logic puzzles that involve decoding a coded message and picking locks by means of a puzzle based on the Rush Hour board game. As always, the rush of finally figuring out the one thing you need to make the puzzle fall into place can be one of the best feelings of accomplishment that a game can provide.
Of course, the game isn’t without its rough spots. Ace adventure gamers or people who remember Broken Sword from its first go-around might not have trouble, but for more casual adventure players, there are a few times when puzzles degenerate into rubbing everything in your inventory on everything in the environment, or showing everything you have to everyone you meet in hopes that you’ll trigger the event that lets you proceed. Still, the puzzles never reach the level of madness that you might find in some adventure games, (You’ll certainly never need to craft a moustache out of cat hair) and many of the rougher parts have been smoothed out in the Director’s Cut release. On a technical level, there are some flaws, including a section of the early game where the voice-overs cut out, and sometimes George’s voice work doesn’t fit with the rest of the cast, but by and large, the game is well put together.
Adventure games are certainly a niche market, and it’d be hard to recommend Broken Sword for everyone, but if you’re an adventure gamer from back in the day looking for a new take on an old classic, a modern gamer looking for a fulfilling change of pace, or a casual gamer looking for a meatier, more story-oriented experience, I can’t recommend it enough. When you put it all together, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut is a refreshing – yet familiar – game, and we would do well to have more like it.