Published on January 12th, 2013 | by Joe Matar2
Broken Sword II – The Smoking Mirror Review
George and Nico stumble over South America
Most of Revolution Software’s efforts go toward the rereleasing of their old adventures. So here we are with Broken Sword II – The Smoking Mirror and, as it was with the original Broken Sword, this version is “remastered.” But while the first game’s rerelease featured significant additions to the existing storyline, BS2 is essentially the same game it was in 1997, leaving most of its charm, but also nearly all of its flaws, intact.
Our protagonists, French journalist Nico Collard and American… um… guy George Stobbart, are thrust into danger from the start. The former is kidnapped and the latter tied to a chair in a room set afire and the bad guys also sic a poisonous spider on him for good measure. The original game started out similarly bombastic with an exploding café but the player took control in the aftermath while here you must kill the poisonous spider and extinguish the fire. The difference between the two opening scenes is emblematic of the contrast between this game and its predecessor. The first was a slowly unraveling mystery. BS2, however, is an action-thriller.
The formula hasn’t changed that much. You still talk to everyone, pick up everything, and make odd use of your possessions (for example, unlocking a cabinet with a dart). Most puzzle-solving still comes down to conversations. In each discussion, icons appear representing dialogue topics and relevant inventory items so you never actually have to try giving items to anybody. While dialogue-based puzzles can feel more naturalistic than using a feather on a cat to make a fishing lure (one of the game’s actual puzzle solutions), it can also be somewhat dull to find that all there is to do in a location is look at everything and talk to everyone until they’ve got nothing left to say.
The sequel even looks and sounds very similar to the first game. Graphics are still beautifully drawn and animated (aside from a few unnatural movements in some cut scenes). The remastered version also adds charmingly expressive talking heads in the top corners of the screen that appear when characters speak. The music is still quality, orchestral stuff that kicks in to punctuate your actions. The voice acting is, again, top-notch, with actors reprising their roles and decent new cast members, the only questionable one being the main villain who sounds like an unenthusiastic Kirk Douglas rip-off.
The biggest change in this sequel is the pacing. In the original, Paris was the hub, with locations and characters to visit and revisit. This time you’ll travel all over South America as locations are typically only one to three screens large and once you’re done with one you’ll never see it again. And, though BS2 is still dialogue-heavy, NPCs overall have less to discuss. This makes for a more exciting romp but loses its precursor’s intricate approach to plotting.
The first Broken Sword did more with its characters. George was investigating an ancient cult and a murderer and, the more the player uncovered, the more complex the motives of and relationships between all these people became. BS2 makes pretty clear early on who’s good and who’s bad and eventually degenerates into a very standard video game plot of “collect three things to stop an evil mystical thing.” It’s not exactly a bad storyline, but it is decidedly sillier.
With this new action movie approach comes a few unfortunate gameplay ideas as well, like a stealth portion and several instances in which you can die. You’ll generally be able to load an autosave not far from where you expired but dying still feels out of place. Plus, in the stealth portion, you must stay out of a patrolling guard’s sight while simultaneously solving some less-than-sensible puzzles. Otherwise, Nico gets shot. You’ll likely reload multiple times here because adventure game mechanics and stealth gameplay do not cozy bedfellows make.
Thankfully, the plot and puzzling haven’t been augmented as they were in the first game since most of those new additions were jarring. In BS2’s case, puzzles are as they were in the original release. Most are not too difficult and can be fun to solve, though others, like those previously mentioned, can be obscure. Luckily, Revolution has again included a hint system that you probably won’t feel any huge shame in occasionally referring to.
Overall, this is a solid follow-up and would be a decent Android port if not for the control scheme. The first game had a perfectly functional system: drag your finger over an object and icons of the actions you can perform (e.g., USE, LOOK) appear above it; drag over your action of choice and release. But, in BS2, you must touch the object once, lift your finger up, and then touch the action. It feels unintuitive and works haphazardly. The action icons frequently don’t register at first, and then quickly fade away, after which there’s a small waiting period before they reappear. I struggled with this throughout the entire game. Furthermore, I often could not access my inventory by touching the icon in the bottom-left corner. My character would instead start walking in that direction until I jabbed the icon a few more times and my inventory finally opened.
If you were a fan of the first game, you’ll likely find Broken Sword II – The Smoking Mirror a worthy enough successor. The plot is dumber, but better paced and, while there’s not much in the way of new content, nobody was really asking for it. However, the Android version is hindered by its poorly-implemented controls. You’ll either get fed up and quit early on or just tough it out and get accustomed to the subtle, well, brokenness of Broken Sword II.
Summary: All the fun of the 1997 release, now with animated talking heads, a welcome hint system, and fumbly controls that make me want to kill everybody.