Final Thoughts 03

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.

Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in December 2012.

Developer: Revolution Software

Release Date: 1996 (original), March 21, 2009 (Director's Cut)

A critically claimed series that spawned four games in a genre I love and I hadn't played a single one? Such was the case with the Broken Sword games that thankfully my Rogue's Adventures backlog playthroughs will alleviate. Shadow of the Templars is a fully voice acted, 10+ hours Adventure game that takes players on an international journey solving puzzles and riddles associated with the history of the Templars. Anyone who's read or seen the Dan Brown thrillers would feel right at home with the plot.

I was most pleasantly surprised by the pacing; very few times did I have a "what do I do now" feeling, though I admit at some points there were so many loose threads it was difficult to keep track of it all. Thankfully the in game notepad works wonders for keeping track of clues and progress. The whole game reaches a nice crescendo near the end with an exciting action sequence on a train, but the finale at the Templar ritual was almost nothing but cutscenes, and while enjoyable to watch, I would've enjoyed a bit more interactivity. In my last session (the last 10% of the game) there was only a single simple puzzle to solve.

After reading up on the Director's Cut, it appears that none of the sequences where the player controls French journalist Nicole Collard where in the original game. In hindsight it makes sense, as her discovery of her father's involvement doesn't really go anywhere with the main plot. The prologue is interesting and has some neat puzzles. After that they sprinkle in her sequences a few more times, with the conclusion being that her father was involved with the character from the beginning that is only mentioned in passing in the main plot as being one of the initial murder victims. By the mid point in the game, the player no longer controls Nico. Playing the Director's Cut made me think that the game would jump back and forth between protagonists, which seemed interesting, but ultimately Nico only acted as a sort of home base and confidant for George while he did all the adventuring. It wasn't until the very end of the game that Nico finally comes along. Hopefully in the sequels the concept of dual protagonists is used better, though I admit I found her verbose, heavily French accented dialogue a bit much at times.

For a game with a cartoonish art style, which was really more the style at the time, the tone is fairly dark. George himself is a very lovable, wise cracking Average Joe Everyman, which helps lighten the mood and provide a bit of comedy. Some of the darker parts, besides searching dead bodies, was finding the skeletal remains of children under a well, and speaking to a dying man. Everything is kept within the realm of realism until a strange part at the end during the Templar ritual, where the Grand Master is zapped by some sort of blue lightning power, presumably the Sword of Baphomet that's mentioned in the title. Nothing becomes of it, however, and it's not referenced at all as soon the whole place blows up. Speaking of the title, the "Broken Sword" is only mentioned once by the Templars as needing to be reforged. I thought this would be involved in the plot at some point, but the main plot seemed to be just trying to figure out where the end ritual was actually going to take place. Then...what? Try to stop it? It worked out for George and Nico in the end, but they came in totally unprepared.

I enjoyed the classic point and click gameplay, and one of the best User Interfaces I've ever seen on an adventure game. I already mentioned the awesome notepad, and the game also provided hotspots (blinking auras that let you know you could interact with something) that appeared when you moused close to them, context cursors to let you know how you could interact (talking, picking up, looking, etc), and lovely portrait close ups of all the characters when you spoke with them. The dialogue system was also interesting for an adventure game; not only could you seemingly "use" every item in your inventory with everyone (and get a different response), you could choose the topics you wanted to discuss via icons. This lead to a more cinematic feel as you didn't know exactly what you were going to say, only the topic in question.

The puzzles were awesome and varied. I'm used to dealing with inventory management, but I'd say only about 50% of the puzzles dealt with using the various items and knick knacks George collected on his journey. My personal favorite solution: Using a blood pressure gauge to stop the flow of water on a hose. The other half were interesting visual puzzles, like sliding blocks, word searches, and checkmating in chess. The few times I felt completely lost the game offers an intuitive progressive hint system, similar to the likes found in Stacking, where you can click on a button to get hints on where to go and what to do, with the final hint just flat out explaining exactly what you need to do. As I mentioned in the Stacking Final Thoughts, this is a mechanic that no adventure game should be without.

The Broken Sword series is very well regarded, with Shadow of the Templars considered one of the greatest Adventure games of all time. It's certainly one of the best I've played, despite a theme and modern setting that I'm not wholly interested in. But the solid game play, phenomenal voice acting, and exciting plot really make it stand out in its genre. I can only hope its sequels continue the trend.