Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon
There Was a time when all this was fields. A better time. A time when you could leave your door unlocked without the fear of waking up next to a crack dealer who thought your bed looked comfortable. In this pure and innocent decade (the '90s), simple folk could console themselves with the simple pleasures of the 2D point-and-click interface. Then those wicked graphics cards arrived, and all hell came with them - guns, bombs, swords, stealth, action and all kinds of 3D tomfoolery, whose confines wouldn't even allow for puzzles in which you had to hit a goat on the nose with a stick. The point and click had met its tragic end.
The fight-back, however, has begun and a resurgence of the old ways is in the offing, most of it depending on the commercial impact of both The Sleeping Dragon, the third instalment of the Broken Sword series, and the forthcoming Sam & Max game. For point-and-click fanboys such as myself, a hell of a lot is riding on Broken Sword 3, and the good news is that the leap to 3D has been a fruitful one, even if the game itself won't set the world on fire.
The game continues the adventures of George Stobbart, a blond-haired American who, in previous games, has had some run-ins with various secret societies. Here, his predilection for angering 'men with robes' is continued when he stumbles upon a murdered scientist, a giant ancient power source and a conspiracy that threatens the safety of the world itself. Meanwhile, Nico (George's sexy French friend) is having a few problems of her own, having become the second game heroine this year, after Lara, to be wrongfully arrested for murder in Paris. At cliff-hanger moments the action skips between the characters until their stories entwine and the pair investigate together: opening doors, pushing blocks and talking to eccentric locals in places as varied as the Amazon, the Czech Republic, run-down Parisian theatres and the chocolate-box environs of Glastonbury in quaint Olde England.
The best bit about The Sleeping Dragon is the control system, which manages to establish George's adventures in the third dimension while still having the same 'feel' as its 2D roots. The game has clearly been designed with a console audience in mind the keys are eerily reminiscent of the latest Zelda release on the GameCube - but this doesn't harm it whatsoever. Characters are moved with the cursor keys, while the WASD buttons have varying options depending on the object you want to manipulate. From the those around you invariably screenshots you might well assume that in some sections alongside the traditional withering comments of Broken Sword has gone a little bit Lara, what with all the climbing and the leaping, but this is all handled through simple button clicking rather than the perfect timing and clenched fists required in Ms Croft's efforts. And handled to good effect, I might add. Your inventory, meanwhile, can be opened at any time and your obtuse collection of underwear, bottle openers and wigs can be used and abused on your environment and that didn't work.
With 3D, however, come boxes, lots of boxes. Perhaps game programmers want to promote the pushing and pulling of boxes so much that you begin to suspect they own a lot of shares in the box manufacturing industry. One or two puzzles that require crate shifting is fine, but the game is interrupted by so many box-moving sections that you'll never be able to go to IKEA again. There are, of course, a wide range of more cogent puzzles available, and there are some absolute gems, but all too often it boils down to finding ways to open doors (oil hinges, use iron bar, push block on to pressure pad, ask Nico nicely, etc).
The dividing line that hovers over the Broken Sword series has always been its dialogue and story: fans can't get enough of it and demand more, others slowly reach for a hammer. Because the story is so dense (with a myriad of strange terms, myths and stereotypical characters who waffle on about everything and anything), there can be so much talking that you find yourself switching off and picking the dirt out of your fingernails. As a game the dialogue does the job, but within single conversations it lacks the sparkle that marks so many great adventure games. All too often you find yourself mindlessly clicking through all the dialogue options so you can progress, and if I EVER hear a chirpy American voice telling me he can't open a locked door again. I swear I'll do something unsavoury to the tourists around Buckingham Palace.
I hate being nasty to a genre I feel so attached to, it's like kicking my own mother in the teeth, so I'll end on a positive note. The game's problems are the exact same ones that so many people overlooked so many years ago; fans will find it a worthy continuation to the Broken Sword oeuvre, and a very pretty one at that. However, if you couldn't recognise a point-and-click adventure if it pointed at you and clicked, then perhaps your thirst for problem-solving and conspiracies could be more effectively quenched by the Deus Exes of this world.
But if you're a fan of the genre, praying for a renaissance of the most worthy of PC games, then you can rejoice. The Sleeping Dragon is far from perfect, but it pulls the 2D world into the realm of the 3D graphics card with aplomb, even if it still carries the same baggage as its previous incarnations. With a little luck, publishers and developers will prick up their ears and take note... (The three-headed monkey will rise again.)
Download Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon
The Thing About sleeping dragons is that... Hmm, no. No good. Doesn't work. Let's see... We had a broken sword once. Well, not so much a sword, more a broken penknife... Better? A bit, but it still doesn't solve the problem of creating a gripping entry to this review. Let's think of something else. OK, how about if I push this paragraph over there instead, then pull this next one into its place, maybe then I can get access to the verdict box?
That's Broken Sword's main problem. The move to 3D brought with it puzzles that no longer required you to actually use the cognitive side of your brain and introduced all manner of pointless crate manipulation instead.
That and the story was packed with cliche stereotyping and unrealistic pacing. Yeah, that didn't help either.
This Was meant to be the game that reinvigorated the adventure genre, with its bold new interface, fully navigable 3D world and Shenmue-style 'action points'. Well, this and Sam & Max 2. Less said... As it is, The Sleeping Dragon may have done more harm than good. While the transition to 3D is largely successful and the action elements mesh nicely, the game has one key problem - it's a bit dull. The dialogue is verbose, the characters stereotyped and the crate shifting puzzles interminable.
Worse still, the game trots out the same old conspiracy-laden, Da Vinci-code storyline that infects the whole genre, full of Knights Templar, ancient ciphers and mysterious Gaia powers. In every other way the game is sound, and if you're a fan of the series you'll probably love it. Indeed, your enjoyment will be exactly proportional to how much nostalgia you have for this sort of thing. Be warned though: Grim Fandango it ain't.
George Stobbart's adventuring days were finally behind him. Now a successful patent lawyer, George was headed to the Congo to file a patent that could make him rich. However, adventure seems to find its way to George anyway. Strange, violent weather and seismic events around the world put George and those around him in real peril, and his earlier dealings with sinister, secret organizations like the Neo-Templars seem to be drawing him into a new mystery. Join George, his old friend Nico Collard, and several other familiar and not-so-familiar faces as they travel the world in search of answers. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, is the third in a series from The Adventure Company. From the depths of the Congo to the mean streets of Paris and beyond, you control several characters in order to unveil a mystery millennia in the making.
An adventure title, Broken Sword 3 is as visually stunning as it is easy to play. The keys (no mouse is used) are very simple, ergonomically set and easy to master quickly. Scenery, ambience, and mood are all well created and enhanced by an engaging, if somewhat linear storyline. Audio was also nicely done, with mainly well used voice acting and first rate sound effects, a must for this particular style of game. The developers also avoided the 'hunt the pixel'? style so prevalent in adventure titles, using instead a proximity detection system that only allows interaction with items of substance. Puzzles and action sequences ranged from extremely simple to mildly difficult, and for the most part, made perfect sense when applied.
However, some adventure/mystery aficionados may need more than Broken Sword 3 has to offer. I found myself guessing all of the answers on the puzzles quite quickly, and for someone who's not very Myst savvy, this is saying something. The fixed camera angles used in the game could become quite confusing after a time, when moving from scenes to new areas, sometimes directions and bearings could be easily lost. And a couple of minor gameplay flaws, such as selection issues particularly late in the game make this title come up just short of Recommended Buy material.
Still, a well conceived and nuance filled title, Broken Sword 3 is marred slightly by its lack of real depth of puzzles. Recommended for newcomers in the genre as well as those looking for a visual treat.