When adventure games made way to first-person-shooters and other genres in the new millennium, was it really such a good idea to go all 3D for established classics? Revolution Software tried it with Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, but did it succeed to bring together consoleros and PC playas?
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (PC)
(UK 2003, developer: Revolution Software, publisher: THQ (defunct), platforms: PC, Xbox, PS2)
George and Nico join investigating and adventuring forces again when looking for the mysterious Voynich manuscript and the key of Salomon whose connection can change and destroy the world by the hands of Neo Templars.
Mysteries to solve and stranger people to meet
The plot and theme now return to the roots of the series with Templars and mysterious artefacts plus quite a bit of Indiana Jones-like globe trotting. For the most part, the story is quite engaging and the way Nico’s and George’s storylines come together is much better handled than in the first games in terms of balance, i.e. the female protagonist does more than just a few scenes of work and is therefore less of a side kick than she was before. Unfortunately, the story gets more nonsensical with a higher amount of trash value the more it progresses. The duo’s conversations are well written and have their funny moments, but there are also some awkward scenes when the forced humor is simply too juvenile.
The same lower quality can be found in the other characters. Whereas there were always likeable NPCs in the first two games, here they end up as caricatures of themselves. An extreme example is Lobineau, the historian, who finds a strange attachment to a punk/goth/alternative-dressing girl who just lost her boyfriend, but after some very short grieving time seems to forget the old one and simply adores the new one. But this is not an isolated instance if one looks at a man-eating runaway girl whose father, a highly influential political character in the village of Glastonbury, is the epiphany of military opulence, while there’s a sleezy shopkeeper who sells stolen poetry of famous authors as his own. If this sounds like fun, it’s only fun for a short time, as the conversations are usually add odds with the gameplay and puzzle design.
Moving puzzles, move-it puzzles or action/stealth mixing it up
For a game that looks more like an action-adventure, there are quite a few interesting puzzles to solve which are more in line with point-and-click titles. Involving object combinations and interactions with the environment, these aren’t always logical, but they’re still varied enough to be entertaining with their solutions. Unfortunately, there are way too many scenes in which moving crates, stones or other objects are involved, turning the game more into a Sokoban puzzler than a classic adventure game. Even if they’re not that difficult, their inclusion is forced, and the gameplay becomes repetitive. This isn’t helped by a clunky inventory system, because the old mouse-based selection of items is replaced by keyboard/gamepad controls.
Being more action-centric without actually using shooting and beat-em-up mechanics, the game also features time-sensitive scenes in which specific keys have to be pressed in order to succeed. These QTE-segments are frustrating (as are the stealth ones), because there’s not always enough time to react at first, and in some cases, certain cutscenes (which are annoyingly unskippable) have to be endured before starting them again. Certain puzzles also require fast reflexes, turning the usually relaxing slow pace of adventure games upside down. In addition to these problems, the camera and character positioning can also lead to some unnecessary disorientation. Despite trying to make the keyboard-controls as logical as possible with recurring keys for jumping, climbing and other actions, it’s still not the best way to move Nico and George, especially since not all buttons of modern gamepads like the Xbox 360 controller are supported.
It’s all in 3D, but does it look and play okay?
Graphically, the 3D engine isn’t so bad, but like many other titles, it hasn’t aged very well. Facial animations and lip synching aren’t that good, and while walking and interacting with the environment looks realistically enough, the often empty locations are less acceptable. Environments have a few details, but they’re far away from the quality presented in the hand-drawn style of the older games. However, cutscenes are more cinematic, and the different camera angles during conversations make the scenes livelier as well. Music and voice acting are great as ever, although some voices could be better, because there are scenes in which they sound as if read independently from the current situation.
A 3D reimagining gone almost great
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a worthy addition to the series when it comes to unravelling a mystery involving Templars, travelling the world, solving mostly fun puzzles and having entertaining conversations with characters of different cultural and social backgrounds. But the plot and character development can’t keep the high quality for the whole playtime of roughly around 10 hours, while the puzzle design is hindered by too many pushing-blocks sequences.
The more action-oriented approach is welcome in the cinematic presentation, but less enjoyable to play in QTEs and stealth pieces. The transition from 2D to 3D isn’t without its problems, either, resulting in clunky controls and character animations with backgrounds which would have looked much better with the older technology. It’s not a bad game per se, as it’s quite suspenseful and offers enough varied puzzles. But without jumping on the 3D bandwagon and more work done on the script, this would have turned out much better.
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