UPS guys just don't get paid enough. At least, the one I ran into this morning sure doesn't. I'm sure when his shift ended, he trudged back to the home office and demanded hazard pay, duly scarred from the insensitive kid who nearly knocked him into a wall ripping the package out of his hands. "Sir, I have a package f-." "WHO'S IT FROM?!?!" "The Advent-." "GIVE ME THAT! BWA HA HA!"
One half-sincere apology and one hyperactive box cutter later, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, referred to by many as the most hyped (and possibly the single most important) adventure game to ever be released, was finally installed on my PC. A day of alternating playing/drooling/shouting "I'll do it later" at my wife has now allowed me to give you my first hands-on impressions.
Now, since I'll be reviewing this game in a month, I'm not going to focus on any of the (few) flaws here, because they're likely to be cleaned up in the final copy. What I will do is give you as detailed an impression as possible of the gameplay.
But, before I do that, I'll just answer the $64,000 question right off the bat: this is not an action game. It's not even an action-adventure game. In fact, the most action I got out of the game was rebooting my computer when the install program crashed (gotta love these preview builds).
The game begins with an absolutely gorgeous introduction, and I mean gorgeous. In the most amazingly cinematic way possible, the separate stories of our familiar heroes George and Nico are set up. I'm no graphics geek, but I was just blown away by the incredible facial detail in the cutscene close-ups. I have never seen anything like it.
Your character controls much like Grim Fandango. The arrow keys, or GamePad if you choose (those with a lot of console experience will definitely elect this option), allow for direct control of your character's movement. George (or Nico) has one walking speed, but separate buttons can cause him/her to either run, or creep. As (s)he walks around, your character will identify items he can interact with. A diamond-shaped action map in the bottom-right corner identifies the potential actions your character can take with whatever happens to be the current object. These buttons are mapped to WASD on the keyboard (and can be remapped), or the standard YBXA GamePad buttons. It is, all in all, a seamless and extremely intuitive interface that allows a much greater level of immersion than standard point & clicking, of which there is none to be found here; in fact, your mouse is basically a glorifed paperweight when Broken Sword 3 is running.
I just compared the interface to Grim Fandango, which I am infamous for criticizing the interface of. The major differences are this: First, BS3 controls the character a great deal smoother than GF. Second, a small bright star on screen always lets you know exactly what you were currently interacting with, which was always a frustration in Grim. When you are in a place with two or three potential objects to interact with, the stars of all but the active one will be dimmed, and you can switch between the objects very easily. The action map ensures that you can look at, break, drink, or simply pick up the beer bottle without having to guess the action that you'll perform. I'm as die-hard a point & click guy as anyone, but my first impression is that Charles Cecil succeeded wholeheartedly in what he set out to do.
The game begins with George in the back of a twin prop plane. Which is fine, except the plane has crashed and is perilously perched at the top of the cliff. To get out of the plane, you must run towards the door and hit the jump button at just the right time!
No, just kidding. The solution to this, and every, puzzle is exactly the same sort of pure-adventure inventory-combination "institutionalized lateral-thinking" (hope you get the reference) genius that what we've come to expect from the Broken Sword series. There are two particular scenes that have generated quite a bit of buzz among those desperate to burn this game in effigy as an action hybrid: George's cliff scene, and Nico's "gunfight" scene.
The cliffs are almost comical in their adventureism. At the very beginning of the cliff scene, you step onto a fragile cliff and fall to another fragile cliff below. This cliff begins breaking (as evidenced by the multitude of cracks forming below you) and if you stand there a while, you'll fall to your death, at which point you'll simply be dropped back into the game right before you made your fatal decision. Rather than standing, you can hit the jump button which has now become selectable on your action map and jump to safety. From that point on, the cliffs are a walk in the park. There's no way to walk off and die. There's no jump button, so you can't just jump around willy-nilly. As you reach each ledge, the appropriate climb/jump/grab/cling-to-the-wall-and-inch-east button will become active and you'll push it. You're free to take your sweet time. It's just like clicking the Hand icon; not an action element to be found.
Cut to the gunfight. Nico stands with a gun pointed at her and a laughing villainess ready to do her in. As the obligatory "I'm going to kill you speech" reaches its conclusion, the "pick up" icon suddenly becomes selectable on the action map--with an enormous frying pan on the table next to you. You've got about one second to react and pick up the frying pan, thus deflecting the bullet fired at you. If you fail, you die, and again you're dropped into the game about twenty seconds before your dumb hesitation. If that makes your blood pressure race like a police chase in Grand Theft Auto, my condolences.
I'm quite a bit into this game, and still haven't gotten any more action then dodging a pair of socks my wife just threw at me. At this point, it would just take sheer, willful, brutal ignorance to not recognize that Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a pure adventure game. And an absolutely brilliant one at that. My full review will have to be reserved for late November, but I think it's safe to say this game will come highly recommended. Don't hesitate to reserve your copy--just try not to hurt any public servants doing so.