Broken Sword: The Angel of Death
So There's An American, a French woman and fair few Irish men - and they all go into an international Biblical conspiracy. Either we're once again traipsing the Dan Brown stereotype fantastic, or we're back with Sir George Stobbart and his merry travails in the latest Broken Sword. The game series that covered all the Knights Templar hoopla years and years back. And managed to do it with more goats, halfeaten burgers and far more out-rrAGE-eous accents. Yes. George is back, his brief dalliance with consoles and mega-budgets firmly over, and this time kids - he's going to lose his virginity. And look! We're still in 3D - a concept that Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon tackled with an intuitive (albeit Xbox-geared) control system and a misguided belief that endless box-shifting is what life in the third dimension was all about. 'Need to get through a door? Then why don't you shift some boxes? 'Someone's trapped in a burning bam? Well, those apparently random boxes sitting outside it look fairly useful, don't they?
To calm any fears, let me underline that lessons have been learned in this fourth outing for the hapless, and let's be honest fairly dim, American Sir George Stobbart. This is firmly a PC release, a more lo-fi game less dedicated to winning over the mainstream than it is to frolicking in the pools of its own fanbase and, to that end. is rather more enjoyable.
Nuns. Lots Of Nuns
The events of Sleeping Dragon, its climax at Glastonbury that featured a knighthood, a dragon, a lady in a lake and Radiohead headlining have been long forgotten -George is working as a bail bond lawyer in downtown New York and has relinquished his life of high adventure, semi-comedic shoulder-shrugging and pursuit of Knights Templar artefacts. But then, in true Bogart fashion, a femme fatale called Anna Maria appears on his doorstep - hot a bit sweaty, recently in possession of an ancient manuscript and hotly pursued by the Mafia.
Does George question her sudden appearance and motivations, or does he blindly jump into bed with her globetrotting adventures, and once more renounce his life of mediocrity for one in which he has to cut up a special mafia salami with a stolen hotel knife, in order to tie it to a washing line which will in turn distract the dog of a guard in a Turkish palace? You do the maths...
If there was ever any doubt - this is an adventure gamer's adventure game. It's back to basics: it's the anti-Fahrenheit. If you don't enjoy or have never come across the bizarre internal working model of a genre that has you lugging a collection of paperclips, handkerchiefs soaked in animal fat and the aforementioned salami through areas populated solely by one or two internationally-flavoured characters, then you should approach with extreme caution. If, however, you pine for the days of click-yore, then you should consider diving back in - The Angel of Death is an old-style treat. Not a perfect treat perhaps, and a bloody frustrating treat if your brain isn't in the right gear, but certainly the most amicable adventure game to have been released in aeons. Not a huge challenge, perhaps, but these are the times we live in.
Point. Click. Repeat
Affairs are now controlled through either pointing and clicking for movement and action, or using the cursors to shift George and having the mouse as a roaming utilityhotspot locator - which is by far the best option since usable items are no longer highlighted by a friendly blue flash and are occasionally a right bugger to find. The environments in which you adventure, meanwhile, are far more self-contained and basic than those of The Sleeping Dragon, whose jungle-wrecked planes and thunderous Germanic castles are a far cry from the sparse hotel rooms and surprisingly basic Templar ruins beneath Istanbul that feature in this new offering.
Lighting is decent and characters are pretty enough - but you're never in any doubt that Angel Of Death isn't trying to hit that same 'epic' mark it went for last time round. It's more of a cosy atmosphere that's been concocted here, perhaps through the necessity of a smaller budget. But despite its slightly static and sparse nature, if you're into adventure gaming it isn't really an issue that hinders the game proper.
Next an admission. I've never really been that fond of George Stobbart as a lead character. I always thought him a little too dim, a little too American and a little too cheesy - and as such I'm pleased to report that in The Angel of Death I started to warm to him. This is engendered in part by a plot contrivance that brilliantly uses and abuses his over-eager naivety for a huge chunk of the game, the details of which I won't go into for fear of spoilage - but it does involve nuns.
Dialogue is tighter too, generally smilefunny rather than laugh-funny, and the NPCs you come across are far better rounded as characters than before. True, many will be turned off by what the game's creators call the archetypal (some might say downright stereotypical) nature of the representatives of various nationalities who stand or sit listlessly around its street corners - but they are without doubt of a better quality than those in The Sleeping Dragon. Broken Sword games have always relied on you clicking through every line that an NPC can deliver before being allowed to progress forward - but this chore certainly chalks up far lower in the irritation stakes than in games previous.
Perhaps my favourite thing about the game is the way it doesn't skimp on its lore. Now I'm one of those people you probably hate - I read The Da Vinci code and not only enjoyed it but went as far as recommending it to friends and family members. I didn't like it for its daft plot, but I did like it for the historical detective work they get up to -I've just got a thing about secret doors.
Broken Sword, then, rejoins the party that it started all those years ago with a PDA just packed with information on Knights Templar, French kings and the odd pope or two. Using this and the many clues available on Anna Maria's ancient map, the opening third of the game genuinely makes you feel that you're cracking the code yourself - which may seem a bit too much like hard work for some, but is great fun for a secret-door aficionado like myself.
Secret doors come at a price, though. When The Angel Of Death wants to be hard work then it truly is - it can be absolutely bastard-hard. I struggle to think of the last time I was so taxed by a game - and I'll freely admit to the outright shame of reaching for a walkthrough on some of the 'what's next in the sequence?' puzzles that have to be deduced to pass through the game. Hacking games get similarly complex (see 'BlackBerry Boy', page 61), and I suspect that even the bigger brains among us will be browsing the relevant Internet forums surprisingly frequently come the game's release. Then again, there's no joy quite like solving a puzzle and leaping around your monitor shouting "I'm the puzzle king!" -even if this happiness is often tempered by the presence of another, even more puzzling puzzle just around the next corner. Put simply, if you're an easily frustrated sort, then you shouldn't be parting ways with your cash over this one. Yes, there are clues in the speech dotted here and there, but an easy ride this most certainly is not.
Hard As Grails
It is worth the effort, though. The Angel of Death is a good story well told, despite being one that doesn't really take off until about a third of the way through the game. With less story to work with and only some fairly weak Mafia characters to support it (one of whom hilariously thinks he's Elvis), the earlier New York sections of the game are a shadow of what comes later on - specifically some great stuff in Rome and Phoenix, Arizona. That isn't to say that there's no fun elsewhere - the best part of the game comes when a mysteriously familiar nun (I told you this thing was heavy on the nuns) visits George as he languishes in an Istanbul jail, and has him presented with such break-out tools as a wind-up mouse, a bag of marbles and a squeezy toy that cries out: 'Play with me! Play with me!' A scene that was tellingly excised from the final print of Midnight Express.
Ultimately, if you're a Broken Sword virgin you should without doubt play the demo of The Angel Of Death before making any purchase decisions - the hackneyed characters and delicate balance between cheese and adventure that are staple parts of the series are very much a 'marmite' issue. Some love, others hate - and if you're a noob in terms of the Broken Sword series, then the difficulty is also an alienation factor.
If you're returning to the happy pastures of your gaming past and know your Broken Sword well, then it should be on your want list - the game positively oozes with neat references and returning characters (one of whom is rather major and I purposefully haven't mentioned despite the glaring fact that she appears on the game's box). There's a warm fuzz of familiarity that covers all and sundry, despite the distinct cutback in 'grandeur' that's hit the series. It's hard, its opening acts don't match the quality of those which follow and some characters grate - but as a modern rendition of a traditional formula. The Angel Of Death has both pointed and clicked wisely. Its another nail out of the adventure gaming coffin - although admittedly quite a few remain.
Every jetsetting hero needs to keep in touch...
PDAs are everywhere in games these days, but Stobbart's is probably the most utility-full one we've seen. Not only can it store a database full of Knights Templar information and be used to prank call those you come across, but it can also be used to break into everything from credit card companies to the Vatican's central server. It's a neat Pipe Mania meets Minesweeper laser guidance mini-game, but gets trickier and trickier as your adventure goes on. By the time I was infiltrating the US Army bomb disposal archive, my co-workers were brandishing tissues and mopping up pools of brain fluid that had leaked from my ears as I clicked my way through.
Download Broken Sword: The Angel of Death
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP