Adventure Gamers Awards
(This review is of the Nintendo DS version.) For many people, Broken Sword is a knight in shining armour of adventure gaming, representing one of the conquering heroes of the genre’s golden era. The series debut, Shadow of the Templars (or Circle of Blood, as it was bizarrely renamed for North America), was hugely popular and spawned three sequels, developing a large following of loyal fans. Now, over a decade after its original launch, Revolution is returning to the beloved classic with an updated Director’s Cut for both the Nintendo Wii and DS, though this review will deal exclusively with the latter.
The developers had a big order to fill when they took on the job of moving this adventure to the DS. The challenge was being able to deliver the familiar Broken Sword experience to the tiny handheld platform, retaining its original charm but doing so without the presence of a large screen or voiceovers. The good news for existing fans is that they were up to the task, as everything carried over from before is just as it should be. A few things were left out in the process, but there’s some new material of the same quality as the original, plus puzzles which take advantage of the DS’ touch-friendly control system. And for those who haven’t yet experienced the earlier game (unimaginable as that is), this version will be a welcome introduction to a beautifully designed adventure with an engaging, exciting story and a wicked sense of humour, as Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut is a treasure for the DS, worthy of a Templar stronghold.
Unlike the original version, the DS adventure starts with Nico Collard, a photographic journalist assigned to interview Pierre Carchon, a mysterious figure who is murdered not long after their meeting. Nico feels obligated to pursue his murder, much to the disdain of her editor, and the investigation soon leads her to become involved with American tourist George Stobbart. George’s part in the story starts in the game’s former opening, sitting outside at a quiet French café until the café is bombed by a man in a clown costume. Taking a break from his European vacation to investigate, George follows the culprit’s trail to an ancient scroll with encrypted clues, and ultimately on a dangerous treasure hunt to the likes of Ireland, Scotland, Spain, and Syria against a ruthless secret society.
The core story is the same as in the original game, adding only Nico’s backstory as new content. This addition provides some depth to her character, revealing part of her past and her father’s involvement with Carchon. While it lessens the dramatic impact of the game’s opening somewhat, it’s nice to be able to play as Nico, which wasn’t possible in the original. However, the new storyline isn’t sustained throughout, as Nico’s part seems to fizzle out when the main plot gains momentum with George, which is a shame given the quality of the added material. All the other story elements, locations and characters remain unchanged, and existing fans can rest assured that this is the Broken Sword they know and love.
The writing for the game remains as sharp as ever, and the new parts live up to the clever wit of the original story. The plot, which may seem a bit clichéd now but actually predates a certain book by a man named Brown, is just as exciting and shows a sound background knowledge of the Knights Templar, which makes the game feel authentic. The characters are always engaging, with Nico’s straight persona playing well off George’s comedic role. The game’s humour comes mainly from George’s various comments on the situations and people around him, but there are a few amusing exchanges with others, and you can still offer the greasy tissue to anyone you meet to see a number of humourous responses.
Unfortunately, given the limited capacity of a DS cartridge, voiceovers are replaced with text bubbles, and even in text form there is less dialogue here overall. Nothing essential is missing, however, just amusing extra details from the original game. Helping to offset the lack of voices, still portraits shown on the top screen portray the different characteristics of the cast, and it’s not just George and Nico who are memorable characters in this story; supporting characters such as Lobineau, Rosso and the French Policeman are every bit as interesting in their own distinct way. The quality of the dialogues themselves is as high as ever, but the voice acting is definitely missed, particularly for George. It’s just not the same reading George’s various humorous remarks rather than hearing Rolf Saxon speaking them, and there’s no reason the Director’s Cut couldn’t have included at least a token vocal performance.
One of the challenges that can make or break an adventure port on the DS is adapting the point-and-click system for the small screen, but Broken Sword does it well. The playable scenes appear on the bottom screen and when you touch hotspots with the stylus, one or two icons will appear, allowing you to interact with or simply examine an object. A hotspot is represented by a tiny translucent circle on the screen. When you select one hotspot, any others nearby are similarly highlighted. This is beneficial, as it makes smaller hotspots more visible, although despite the small size of the screen, hotspots are relatively easy to find anyway, as in most cases it’s obvious what needs to be used.
To get around, the player simply taps the screen to move; larger scenes scroll as you walk across them, and exits from an area are made clear with an icon. Conversations are easy to conduct, as there are two boxes that come up on screen when talking to others. One displays icons of relevant characters and another contains an inventory item, which could spark off a necessary piece of dialogue, a quip or at least a comment that the object can’t be used there. The inventory can be accessed by pressing an icon at the bottom of the screen. Simply touching an object there will cause George or Nico to comment on it, while dragging one out of the inventory box will bring it into the playable scene, where certain objects can be combined to make new contraptions.
Occasionally some DS-specific actions require more varied stylus operation, but there’s always an on-screen explanation of how they work. Some objects that you can interact with, like a dead body or a pair of clown pants, have their own distinct close-ups new to this version, which offer a more detailed view. The addition of this kind of detail is welcome, as one of the noticeable drawbacks of this Director’s Cut is the lack of hotspots compared with the PC version. Not only does this somewhat diminish the depth of the game, it also makes it simpler. In most areas you will only be able to interact with objects relevant to the investigation, so there’s less to distract the player from finding the correct solution to a problem.
The inventory-based puzzles remain the same as their PC counterparts, and all the objects that you needed before to complete a puzzle are still needed now. Often the completion of a puzzle requires the help of another character, which only becomes possible after completing objectives in a certain order. The solutions in the game are always logical and won’t leave players scratching their heads or pulling their hair out. In fact, even a certain notorious ‘goat’ problem has been simplified, and the fewer steps required in the Director’s Cut represents a great improvement over the original.
For anyone who knows the game and its solutions back to front, the new challenges designed for the DS are going to be of the most interest. The first puzzle clearly designed to take advantage of the touch screen comes early in the newly-added Nico segment. This takes the form of a sliding block puzzle to release a locking mechanism, which is a fun little inclusion, and there are several puzzles like this inserted at key moments in the game. These touch screen-oriented puzzles may seem a little out of place at first, as such tasks are different in style than the original inventory-based Broken Sword obstacles, but the artwork is well done and blends in nicely with the older content. Other examples include a code-cracking puzzle and one where you have to ‘focus’ an ancient lens to make a message clear. There are moments where existing fans might find this lens puzzle jarring, as it adds another step to a problem that was simpler before, but the dedication to reproducing the style of the familiar material makes it feel natural.
The new touch screen-based puzzles aren’t too difficult, and the mechanics quickly become intuitive, requiring more patience than they do skill. One minor drawback with these puzzles is the explanation that comes up on screen every time you attempt them. Whilst this is certainly helpful at first, it does interrupt immersion in the game, and a simple comment by the character on the top screen might have been a more effective way of explaining things, as the problems are fairly self-explanatory anyway. There are also some new puzzles which use the typical Broken Sword method of problem solving, such as fiddling with inconspicuous switches and hidden mechanisms, and these fit in seamlessly since they’re so well executed. One occurs in Nico’s backstory, where there are ciphers to decode and doors to be unlocked as she attempts to find a way into a hidden room beneath Paris.
Along with the new content, there are a number of different user-friendly options available. One allows you to turn on interface hints, which explain how to use the stylus in the game. However, even with this option turned off, the instructions on how to operate the new puzzles are still imposed. Puzzle hints can also be turned on or off. If selected, players are given three hints for each puzzle: the first one is quite vague, the second more specific, and the third more or less tells you the solution. The number of times hints are used is recorded, but there doesn’t appear to be any penalty for using them. Another option available is turning off the typewriter noise that plays when lines of dialogue appear, which can become slightly irritating. There are four saved games slots, which is ample for a game this size.
Graphically, the game looks as good as it always did, displaying bright and vivid artwork with a light-hearted cartoon quality. The close-ups during conversations are new, and although the characters look a little different than they used to, they’re still recognisably George and Nico. The original Broken Sword had some close-ups (mainly to illustrate when George and Nico were on the phone) but they were not as frequently required; in this version, the characters are so small that the artwork has been redesigned so you can now see their faces. During the rest of the adventure, there’s a graphic displayed in the top screen which relates to the current location, like a Parisian street when you’re in France, or a scenic valley when you’re in Spain. Thankfully, the familiar soundtrack remains, and sounds good even on the limited DS speakers.
Another addition to the game is a diary kept by Nico and George. This is a helpful feature, as it automatically records important information that is essential to completing some of the puzzles in the game. There are also a couple of bonus features which aren’t huge but might be of some interest, including pictures of the people involved in developing the game and a message from the creator of Broken Sword, Charles Cecil. In terms of play time, prior experience will obviously be a factor, as Broken Sword fans can expect to complete this in 8-10 hours, while newcomers will take a bit longer.
For an experienced player of the original Broken Sword, the lack of most non-essential details in the game makes this version feel simpler than its acclaimed predecessor, and even the new material added can’t quite prevent it from feeling a little too short and not quite as satisfying. Still, for a handheld port these complaints are very minor and largely relate to the limitations of the platform itself. In every other respect, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Directors Cut sets the bar for adventure game conversions on the DS. Whilst it’s not perfect, the original quality still shines and the added content makes the game worth buying even for hardcore fans. Apart from the missing voiceovers and streamlined gameplay, this is still undeniably Broken Sword, and a worthy addition to the series.