Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon
First posted on 23 May 2009. Last updated on 23 May 2014.
For what they lack in originality, sequels still have an undeniable attraction for gamers who long to revisit their beloved characters and worlds in their favorite games. It is amusing to realize that the adventure game community does not necessarily desire innovation. Rather, adventure gamers demand what the classics of yesteryear have always offered: involving stories, lush (albeit 2D) graphics, and an intuitive point-and-click interface. It is a design that is tried and tested. As long as I have been playing games, this observation has been a constant paradigm for the adventure game genre.
The Broken Sword series is a long running graphic adventure game series from British developer Revolution Software. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is the third game in the series and a sequel to Broken Sword: The Shadows of the Templars and Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror. Prior to its release, the game has already been touted not only as the next chapter in a hugely successful franchise but also as an innovative sequel that is destined to move the adventure genre forward as a whole. What does this entail? Instead of the familiar 2D graphics and a point-and-click control in prior games, the new sequel features true 3D graphics and direct character control. What are the supposed innovations? Sliding Block Puzzles and Quick Time Events!
As in previous titles of the series, the game's main protagonist is George Stobbart. Voiced with great charm as always by American actor Rolf Saxon, George finds himself again embroiled in a plot that will take him all over the globe. He is joined by French journalist and series regular Nico Collard, who is voiced superbly by newcomer Sarah Crook. Her portrayal of the character may well be my favorite Nico ever, even more so than the original. Interestingly, Crook did not actually audition for the role; rather, she was a supervisor overseeing the vocal auditions for the game and casually asked series creator Charles Cecil if she could try out for the role after failing to find a suitable candidate despite several auditions.
The game begins with a pre-rendered cut scene, showing George on a plane with Aussie pilot Harry flying over the Congo. After running into trouble suddenly from a surprise thunderstorm, they end up crash-landing and precariously dangling over the edge of a cliff. Gameplay then begins, giving the player a sense of an immediate urgency and excitement, whilst also easing the player into the new graphical style and game controls.
The player's initial task is to unbuckle George from his seat—4 options are presented in the bottom right corner of the screen, with a different button corresponding to each of the choices (such as look, use, and pick up). Once George is freed from his seat buckle, the player can guide him around the plane using the arrow keys. The first puzzle in the game involves pushing a crate towards the back of the plane to stabilize it, allowing George to enter the cockpit. This is a typical example of the game's physics puzzles, made only possible in 3D, that actually make contextual sense. Such gameplay is not traditionally expected in an adventure game, but it works well here. It is, therefore, a shame to see that the game relies so much on this mechanic to extend playing time: it is annoying to the allow the player to press a context sensitive jump button to get across a gap (for example, on a precarious cliff face) and then to have the same button omitted when the game decides that the player needs to fill a similar gap with a block instead.
Other gameplay innovations are not nearly as bad—the Quick Time Events (a term coined by famed game designer Yu Suzuki) actually work quite well at times. An early example is when the player first controls Nico. An intruder appears with a gun, via an in-game cut scene, and at a critical time point the player is presented briefly with the option to use an item or perform an action. For example, Nico can use a nearby pan to knock the gun away from her attacker or later evade a car trying to run her down. This mostly works well; however, there is no continuity if the player reacts too late or presses the wrong button—the cut scene simply restarts. It may be better to allow the player more options or to allow several mistakes be made before the player fails the scene. This lets the otherwise tightly scripted scene to feel more interactive. Still, what is here works well, and it is not overused too much in the game.
The interface is very clean and easy to understand, with large cartoon style icons showing items in the inventory or topics during a conversation. The game even features a nice recap of past Broken Sword stories (accessible from the main menu) for gamers who may have not played previous games in the series.
The puzzles in this sequel are not as well implemented as those in previous games, simply because a lot of them now involve physical actions (especially pushing or pulling), with mechanics that feel as if they are from a different genre. On the other hand, puzzles that focus on item collection and manipulation in the inventory fair much better. There are also some stealth sequences involving sneaking and running, but they are few and far between and are acceptable in the context of where they occur. Adventure purists may be put off by these types of gameplay, despite their short presence in the game. There is no combat outside of the Quick Time Events, which is a welcome relief for adventure game fans. However, the game ends with a protracted action sequence (of sorts) that feels totally out of place. Luckily, the last scene is rather easy to solve, even if it feels unbelievable. Still, it is a shame that the developer has not chosen to find a more adventure game style ending to the game.
As with previous games, this game features a glorious soundtrack. It is evident that a lot of time and effort has been put into getting the music just right. Sweeping and epic, whilst never becoming too intrusive, great credits must be given to composer Ben McCullough for adding so much to the game's atmosphere with an encompassing musical score.
The game is released for both the PC and the consoles (Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox). Although the graphics are slightly less polished and the load times are a lot longer on the consoles, the controller for the consoles is better suited for the new gameplay style than the keyboard and mouse combination for the PC. I cannot help but wonder if some of the criticisms for the game are because of the fact that it is developed to cater the console gamers. Regardless, the PC release still gives the best gaming experience due to shorter load times and higher screen resolution, even if the game feels more like a console port at times.
Of course, the real payoff for playing this game is the story (hence the reason that I have not spoiled it). Fans of the series will be glad to see some familiar faces from the past (including a particularly sad moment for fans) and to find out that the story has reverted back to the popular Neo-Templar theme of the original Broken Sword game. There is also a lot of globetrotting and even revisiting of some past locales, so the spirit of the series is still being respected in this sequel. The narrative that weaves in and out between George and Nico is expertly done, and when these characters finally come together the dialog crackles and sparkles with wit and humor. Other dialogs are equally charming, and the voices for the other characters with a wide array of cultural and ethnic backgrounds provide many memorable moments and plenty of humorous banter. Ultimately, these are the elements that make this sequel just as enjoyable as its predecessors.
In retrospect, what is considered upon release in this game as innovative for the genre is probably in reality diluting the game's essence in the first place. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is not a bad game at all. The production values are strong, and the visuals hold a satisfying charm. Rather, it is an excellent game that has arguably been wrapped in the wrong genre. Regardless, it is a worthwhile sequel for both fans of the series and fans of adventure games overall. Even with its flaws, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a game well worth checking out. After all, it is always a pleasure globetrotting around the world in the company of George Stobbart and Nico Collard.