Talk Europe’s Ears Off
Revolution Software’s point-and-click adventure, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, was first released in 1996. It has since been re-released multiple times on various platforms. The Director’s Cut has now made it to Android, featuring modified touch screen controls and—addressing how the game’s been repeatedly trotted out—new content in the form of original artwork, extra puzzles, and significant storyline additions.
At its core, this is the same Broken Sword: a dialogue-heavy, story-driven, graphic adventure. It follows George Stobbart, an American tourist in Paris who witnesses a murder, involving him in a mystery that includes a killer clown, a sexy photojournalist, and an ancient order. Gameplay-wise, this is classic point-and-click adventuring. Progression is achieved not by offing baddies or collecting trinkets but by conversing with characters and solving item-based puzzles.
Like all adventure game protagonists, George pockets all manner of detritus. Inventory is accessed by touching the briefcase at screen’s bottom. Tap your possessions once to get a closer look or hold down and drag them into the environment to use on other objects. It’s a system that’s easy to adapt to. I did, however, have some trouble with objects near edges. For example, in trying to use an item on the right side of my inventory, my touch would register as outside of the inventory screen, closing it altogether. If this happens three times, the game assumes you’ve forgotten how to play and then forces you to back out of two explanatory text boxes. Overall, the control is functional and intuitive but this happened enough times to annoy me.
Though the control is player-friendly, some of the gameplay is less so. Most puzzle-solving requires conversations with NPCs. Seasoned adventure gamers will be used to this genre’s slow pacing, but Broken Sword is still problematically chatty. Dialogue is well-written and occasionally clever but it’s the bulk of the gameplay. Again, simple stuff: once engaged in conversation, icons representing topics appear for you to tap till you’ve exhausted them all. What’s unique is the need to manually try inventory items on characters is eliminated as your possessions are also presented as discussion topics. The ease of this makes the game further accessible to non-veterans but adds to the sensation of endless discussion. You are, however, able to skip through dialogue by tapping.
This is a decidedly pretty game, all hand-drawn backgrounds and fluidly animated cutscenes. With higher resolutions, its pixels now look chunkier, but a phone screen’s smallness masks these imperfections. The music is pretty too, with sweeping orchestral stings punctuating dramatic moments and scene transitions. While not hugely memorable, it’s pleasant and fitting. The original voicework sounds slightly echoey, but the actors do top-notch jobs, mostly adopting fakey French accents. (Of course, you might skip through most of this anyway.) Sound effects are serviceable but nothing more.
The main addition to the Director’s Cut is that the storyline has been expanded upon with new sequences in which you control photojournalist Nico. The game now begins with Nico and, while both Nico and George’s inciting incident is a murder, George’s involves a huge explosion, while Nico’s doesn’t even take place onscreen. In other words, the plot is not as immediately gripping as it once was and, considering how Nico’s story disappears after three short parts, it feels like what it is: a new storyline tacked onto an existing one. Furthermore, these new sections feature close-up puzzles that task you with sliding blocks around or solving cryptograms. They jar with the original game’s sleuthing and feel like busywork.
Broken Sword accomplishes the rare feat of a complex, coherent game narrative. The overwhelming amount of dialogue and new sections are shortcomings, but that I’ve discussed changes to the game’s narrative quality at all is a testament to its merit. This is still effectively the same game it’s always been and certain changes—a new hint system and the removal of unfair points where George could die—make it more accessible. Like all games in the adventure genre, you can’t replay it, but you should get about eight hours out of it and, being able to turn on subtitles and to save your progress at any time, it’s a perfect mobile game. It’s basically an interactive globe-trotting mystery novel and, at two bucks, that’s easy to recommend.