Even before Dan Brown popularized the conspiracy theme about the Templars who have worked behind the political and social scenes from their Middle Ages beginnings to modern times, the idea of a duo who discover secrets in the present and past, while being hunted by mysterious people was established by Charles Cecil and his team with the point-and-click adventure game Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (PC)
(UK 1996, developer: Revolution Software, publisher: Virgin Interactive (defunct), platforms: PC, PS1, GBA)
American tourist George Stobbard and French journalist Nicole Collard discover a conspiracy behind a series of murders.
Characters with personality qualities
The plot, main and other characters are certainly not without clichés, but as the former is told in such a suspenseful way with a mix of historical facts and mystery in combination with Indiana Jones-like globe trotting, and the latter have very entertaining lines to say, this doesn’t really matter so much. Sure, Nico’s and George’s sudden friendship or even love seems a bit contrived, but as they’re both quite charismatic, it’s easy to forgive this narrative shortcoming. What is more important is that one cares about them, which can be attributed to the witty script. While many modern mystery adventure games have tried to establish a team of two characters, few have succeeded in making them as fun to listen to as with Nico and George. Their constant wisecracking seldom comes down to lame battle-of-the-sexes jokes. Instead it fleshes out their characters more and gives them the memorable personalities who complement each other.
The same can be said about the other characters with their own unique traits. A French police man who uses his psychic powers for investigation, a boy in Syria whose knowledge of the world comes from Trivia Pursuit, an American couple with the wife as the epiphany of a sightseeing tourist and the husband as a supposedly secret agent, are only a few of the illustrious cast members who are partly clichéd and exaggerated, but still feel like real people, even if the conversations can drag on.
Having a long talk and a bit of puzzling for good measure
The length of dialogue can be intimidating, especially when it comes to the historical aspect of the game. There are many scenes with elaborate explanations of the Templars’ history, and while they’re interesting to listen to, it can often feel a bit too much like a history lesson, while the other characters seem to tell their life stories in great detail as well, making this a very text-heavy title, but one in which conversations are an integral part of the gameplay.
Being a dialogue-driven game, the player is encouraged to question every character and use relevant information against others or dig deeper in certain topics. This usually works well and gives the impression to play a detective or mystery novel with the aim to uncover secrets or find false statements, although there are also dialogue parts which don’t necessarily move the story forward. As a point-and-click adventure game, there are obviously some puzzles to solve. With the exception of one obscure one involving the positioning of chess pieces, these are all inventory object combinations. They’re usually not that difficult to solve and even if they lack the inventiveness of a Monkey Island, they’re well implemented in the game world and despite some exceptions seldom stop progression or become too far removed from reality. Only certain scenes in which death can befall the heroes can be aggravating for adventure fans who don’t like to be forced to rely on fast reflexes. It’s not action-adventure territory, but the time frame in which one has to act isn’t always fair enough.
Animated movie play
Despite its age, the presentation holds up very well even today with some colorful, detailed, and hand-drawn backgrounds which highlight the diversity of the various locations George and Nico visit. The fluid character animations also look great, although walking and interacting with the world can become a bit slow. But it’s a small price to pay for the graphic novel, comic, whatever one would like to call it, cartoon style on screen. The cutscenes are also well done and have a cinematic feel to them.
Special mention has to go to the soundtrack by Barrington Pheloung that finds the perfect mix of orchestral set pieces and location-and-culture-specific tracks. The voice acting is also well done, although I still prefer the German version in which the bad-American-French-accent Nico is replaced by the X-Files Scully voice actor. Other than this misstep (which would continue in the other titles), the voice actors/actresses are well chosen and it’s a joy to listen to the long conversations, although the recording quality of the score and voice acting differ.
A classic tale which remains an excellent game
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is one of those few adventure titles one plays every year, simply because it’s so well done. The story might have its flaws, but it still surpasses Dan Brown’s later reimagining of the Templars conspiracy, while the characters are simply people one would like to meet in real life, something only the more humorous representatives of the genre can say about themselves. The reason why the very long dialogues are borne with a smile is that they’re extremely well written and still entertaining to listen to.
Graphics and soundtrack have lost none of their fidelity either, something which can’t be said for more pixel-driven adventure titles. Sure, the puzzles are nothing to write home about, and the ending of the story feels rushed. But as it stands, this is simply a game in which the term “adventure” fits in every single way. A perfect example of great storytelling and game design.
And if you’re up to some arthouse-like trailer, check this one out as well which was supposed to run in German cinemas, although it’s in English. Strange world we live in…
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