Adventure games are one of the oldest PC game genres and also one of the most conservative. When the genre evolves, it's usually at a glacial pace. That's why it's really refreshing to play a game like Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. It's not hugely innovative, and it has its share of faults, but its particular blend of features nevertheless gives it a fresh, fun feel. Just as importantly, developer Revolution Software really understands the adventure genre and capitalizes on its strengths. You'll unravel a colorful, witty yarn filled with lovable characters, dramatic encounters, sharp dialogue, and exotic locales.
Intrepid heroes George and Nico are in trouble again.
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a loose sequel. The first game in the series, called Circle of Blood in the US and Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars in Europe, came out on the PC back in 1996. The second game, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror, arrived in 1997. The six-year wait for the latest game, which marks the series' transition from 2D to 3D, sure paid off. If nothing else, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon wins high points for style, often looking like a slickly directed animated film. Vibrant colors, expressive lead characters, and detailed settings all draw you into the game.
In fact, the parallels to an animated film show up right from the start of the game. After a dark and mysterious prologue, you see series hero George Stobbart soaring in a plane over the lush jungles of the Congo. With a heroic orchestral theme building excitement and well-chosen camera angles adding visual drama, it almost feels like you're sitting in a theater watching the beginning of a film. This Indiana Jones-style scene hits all the right buttons; everything about the game says "high adventure" right from the start.
Many adventure games don't make you feel too adventurous, and most adventure games tend not to be adventurous from a design standpoint. Those facts weren't lost on Revolution when designing this latest Broken Sword installment. In addition to boasting a winning style, the game merges a bit of console-like, third-person action gaming with the traditions of PC point-and-click adventures. This creates a more action-packed feel and helps immerse you better than simply moving a character around in front of discrete, static backdrops.
You maneuver George, and later his fellow adventurer, Nico Collard, using directional buttons on the keyboard or a gamepad. You can also make the hero run or creep along stealthily. Whenever you near a hotspot that you can examine or an area that you can climb, jump across, or shimmy along, little icons light up to show your available options. You then just press the appropriate key to select your option. When standing near a telephone, for example, you can examine it, listen to any messages on the answering machine, or make a call. When standing near a crate, you can push or pull it and climb up or down from it, all using this simple icon system. The system means that the game's climbing and jumping puzzles are much less stressful than in a true third-person action adventure game since here you don't need to employ lightning reflexes to avoid a fall. You merely press a jump button at a valid location and let the game handle the rest.
In theory--and often in practice--this is an elegant interface. It's not without faults, though. For one thing, you have no control over the camera. Instead, it shifts to preset locations as you move. This can create some nice cinematic moments, with overhead tracking shots or angles that dramatically capture the play of light and shadow. Unfortunately, the camera can be a big pain since you have little control over what you see without actually moving your character around a lot. This can make climbing puzzles or stealth sequences overly difficult since you can't always effectively see where you are or where you're going.
Colorful locales, like this Parisian park, make exploration fun.
The preset camera angles also mean that the direction keys essentially switch when you move to a new area: One second, the left key is moving you left, but when the camera whips around, the left key is suddenly moving you right. You can get used to this pretty quickly, but it always remains a bit awkward or even disorienting. The game might have worked better and felt even more immersive if it had offered a shooter-style WASD/mouselook system that let you directly control what you see.
Interface problems don't end there. You sometimes have to align yourself too precisely with a hotspot for the game to make you aware of it via a little star icon. It's even worse when you have to perfectly align yourself with a narrow object for climbing. This oversensitivity makes it too easy to overlook things or waste time micromanaging your character's movements. Making characters run creates more annoyances: Whenever they brush against an object, they slow to a crawl, requiring you to back away and start running again.