The adventure genre has been begging for years for a game to come along that would bowl over mainstream critics and the general populace; a game that would dazzle the senses, challenge the mind, tell an emotionally compelling and perfectly-paced story, and reestablish the adventure genre as commercially viable, the way Baldur’s Gate did for the nearly-deceased PC RPG genre five years ago. When Revolution Software’s Charles Cecil, already with two to four (depending on who you ask) brilliant adventure games to his credit, merrily informed us that point & click adventures were dead and he was about to single-handedly redefine the future of the genre we love, the reaction was perfectly split: half loathing, including a misguided few who thought themselves important enough to lead a boycott against the treasonous designer, and the polar-opposite revolutionaries who had been praying for someone to turn adventure gaming on its ear and then back again, and were certain that Charles Cecil was the man for the job.
For a community often overeager to characterize itself as down-trodden and ignored by the mainstream, the idea that a game like this could be a big enough deal that even Joe Schmoe FPS-guy would give thought to purchasing it instantly shot the hype level to fever-pitch, and as early as six months before the game’s release there was no way to not have an opinion on Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon; you either awaited its Messianic coming with arms wide open, or you crouched scowling with flaming arrows in hand ready to hate its every innovative moment. If that sounds like over-the-top writing to you, you obviously weren’t participating in forum discussions about the game a couple months ago.
So, lo and behold, this harbinger of revolution has now arrived in playable form, and what do we find? Broken Sword 3 is a good game, a very good game, a great game in fact. It’s even an important game, a special game, a revolutionary game. It dazzles the senses at times, challenges the mind at others, establishes its characters as well as any game in years, and even tells a heck of a story that remains compelling and interesting all the way to the end. But it also comes with its share of flaws, and while setting the stage for a promising future, reminds us that there’s still a lot of room to grow.
I’m not even going to waste my virtual breath discussing whether the game is an adventure; if you don’t know that by now, you’re just not paying attention. There’s jumping and sneaking and climbing galore, but it’s all done in such a perfect adventure style that there is certainly no danger of the feared Tomb Raider comparisons. Direct character control, with excellent GamePad support (a must for any experienced console gamer) and full key-remapping ability, combine to provide a sense of interaction far superior to traditional point & click.
The characters of George Stobbart and Nicole Collard, cynical American lawyer turned intrepid explorer and lovably snobby French reporter, are already among the favorites in adventure gaming history, as a result of the generally excellent dialogue and intelligent character progression through the first two Broken Sword games. In this game, they are immortalized as a pair to rival Grace and Gabriel; the dialogue is the most consistently excellent of the series (which is quite a statement) and the interplay between the two characters is especially great, with lots of amusing romantic tension and the best character traits of the two being utilized to great effect, particularly George’s insecurity around other men.
The story itself is of grand proportion, not at all a step down from the globe-trotting epics of the two previous games. This time we’re hitting the Congo, Paris, Glastonbury, Prague, and even Montfaucon Square, the site of the café bombing where the original Broken Sword opened up. It was one of the greatest rushes of nostalgia to run around that area, rendered in gorgeous 3D, and to once again talk to the same construction guy from whom the sewer tool was taken lo those many years ago. What was striking about that scene, and many scenes in the game, was how incredibly faithful to the spirit and tone of the original game this game is. In the conversations, in the character animation, in the item descriptions, in the characters’ stubborn refusal to do things they’re not supposed to…we’ve seen many sequels that undergo massive technical makeovers and end up feeling like a cold copy of what made the series so great in the first place (King’s Quest VII and Simon 3D come to mind right away); here is a perfect example of how a game can evolve technically and still feel so perfectly nostalgic. (ed. note: I have since been informed by Revolution that Montfaucon Square is not actually where the café bombing took place...it only looks 100% like it in every way and has the same maintenance guy up the street...)
And a technical masterpiece, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is. The gorgeous cinematic introduction provides a breathtaking landscape for the story yet to unfold, and the frequent cutscenes certainly raise the bar for any seen in adventures to this date. Of special importance is the increased attention to detail in the character’s faces; there are important emotional moments late in the game when George’s facial expressions are extraordinarily life-like, able to tell the story without words. It’s quite a feat that adventures can now convey pain and regret without the use of dialogue.Continued on the next page...