Broken Sword: Circle of Boredom

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Matt Barton's picture

Broken Sword: Don't look down!Broken Sword: Don't look down!Although there were certainly aspects of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars that I admired, and others that I enjoyed, I have to admit I found playing through this title an exercise in tedium. The key problem is poor pacing (snail race, anyone?), which amounts to a collosal amount of dialogue to sit through, a somewhat clumsy narrative technique, and what feels like hours spent watching the avatar slowly plod and backtrack across the screen. Compared to similar games like The Dig and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, Broken Sword just doesn't make the cut.

Revolution, a UK graphical adventure game developer, deserves some kudos for having the moxie to seriously challenge the juggernauts LucasArts and Sierra On-Line on their own turf. Revolution's early games, Lure of the Temptress (1992) and Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) were definitely some of the more beloved titles on the Commodore Amiga system, but Revolution is perhaps best known for its Broken Sword series. Unfortunately, I missed the boat back in 1996, and just got around to playing and completing the first Broken Sword game, Shadow of the Templars (also known as Circle of Blood) last week.

Clearly, the strongest part of the game is its imaginative story, which often seems to parallel the Gabriel Knight series with its emphasis on ancient cults, religious sects, and the supernatural. The avatar, a young American tourist named George Stobbart, is enjoying a sojourn to Paris when the cafe he is sitting in front of is bombed by a mysterious "terrorist" clown. Perhaps for no better reason than simply having nothing better to do, George decides to investigate the bombing and avenge a gentleman he had just met who was killed in the blast. The man had been carrying a briefcase, which George figures must contain something particularly valuable and perhaps dangerous. George's obsession to get to the bottom of the bombing takes him all over Europe and even to Syria, and he slowly pieces together a world-domination plot on the part of fascist neo (and pseudo) Knights Templar desperately seeking an ancient mystical power once possessed by their predecessors. George is assisted by the "beautiful" Nico, a young French reporter he meets in Paris.

This is a great setup for a game, and my expectations were very high as I entered the world of Broken Sword. However, I soon noticed that I was spending most of the "gameplay" watching George walk, painfully slowly, across screen after screen. Now, granted, this might be a problem with my setup (I was running the game off my harddrive using ScummVM), but I've had no problems with other games like it. There is "zoom" or "skip" feature common in other games (such as the Gabriel Knight series), and the game requires a significant amount of backtracking. Needless to say, this isn't a game for someone with a short attention span! I actually found I had time to grab another cup of coffee while George was walking! Another aspect adding to the tedium is the many ways George can be killed and be forced to restart or restore (there is no "second chance"). It's hard to predict when George will find himself in a deadly situation, so saving often is advisable. There are several scenes where players can only trust to luck to get George through a tricky situation; trial-and-error (with death) seems to be way to go here. This is clearly a throwback to earlier games like those of Sierra--and not a good one.

Broken Sword: Ah, a sleepy ol' Spanish villa.Broken Sword: Ah, a sleepy ol' Spanish villa.Finally, and perhaps most troubling for me, was the extraordinary amount of dialogue I had to sit through to complete this game. Not since The Longest Journey have I endured so much pointless yacking in a game. At least Revolution allowed players to skip through it, and even provided subtitles so that fast readers could get through the game a bit faster. Now, don't get me wrong--this game contains some good voice acting and some of the characters are fun to listen to, but Revolution made an all-too-common mistake of making the avatar too much of an "everyman" to be any fun listening to. I savor the dialogue and commentary of avatars like Gabriel Knight or even Guybrush Threepwood, but George Stobbart just bored me silly. George's assistant, Nico, is a stereotyped French "sexy chic" that I might have found engaging when I was 12, but now just found irritating. While there are no really interesting characters, though, some are very amusing, particularly the lampooned French police officers and guards. The villains are cardboard cutouts and uninspired.

The game is setup in the standard click-and-point hotspot interface common in games of the time (The Dig, Gabriel Knight, and Full Throttle). Most screens have a few "hotspots" where the player can pick up or manipulate an object. Usually, these are fairly obvious, though there is a bit of pixel hunting here (though nothing I'd consider egregious). Most of the puzzles are of the use-object-on-object variety, though there are also a type of "action" sequence that requires careful timing and coordination. Most of these latter type of puzzles are non-intuitive and baffling; I had to consult a hint site to get through two of them.

George must complete a series of pre-defined actions before being allowed to advance to the next one. I got stuck several times and discovered that it really was necessary to try out every single dialogue option on every character (are you groaning, yet?) When George strikes up a conversation, he typically gets two or three icons at the bottom that represent subjects--but he can also show characters objects from his inventory. This last bit is necessary on many occasions, and it's hardly ever clear which object George needs to show to which characters. Result: Try them all...The rest of the puzzles range from obvious to easy, and shouldn't pose much difficulty for an experienced adventure gamer.

Graphically, the game works extremely well. The style is distinctly cartoonish and reminded me strongly of Don Bluth's work (or perhaps Cool World or Heavy Metal). The gameplay screens look great, and the cutscenes are well-directed and add plenty of zest. Indeed, I think this game would have worked much better as a cartoon than a game. Much if made of the music for this game, which was composed by a professional television composer. I liked the music, but the balancing was out of whack, and I always had to go into the settings (each time) and lower the music volume so I could hear the dialogue. Again, this problem may be due to my setup. Regardless, the music did help set the mood, and I found myself missing it during the last few segments of the game--when it is noticeably absent. This fact perhaps adds to the "stretched out" feel of the latter segments, which seem designed merely to add length to the game more than anything else.

In short, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars would have been a great diversion for two hours, but it feels stretched-out and tedious. Most of the gameplay consists either of watching George walking or listening to him talking. Neither are very compelling. On the other hand, the graphics are gorgeous (particularly if you like the hand-drawn style), and the story is intriguing. Still, I wouldn't count this game among my "top ten," or perhaps even "top twenty."


Seb's picture
Joined: 06/04/2006
Suprising... Broken Sword

Suprising... Broken Sword and The Longest Journey are the game most often recommended to me by adventure game aficionados. I wonder if you ever played Jordan Mechner's The Last Express ( I really liked it. It played with time in the same way that Infocom's Witness and Deadline did, which gave the player a nice feeling of living, independant world. Unfortunately the game was quite expensive to produce, and never made its money back, which was another nail in the coffin of the adventure game genre.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Last Express

Honestly, if Broken Sword had just a zoom or skip option, I would have given it an A. Without it, the game's pacing becomes a show-stopper for me.

The Longest Journey does have a lot going for it, but many players quit before finishing the first chapter because it's so dialogue-heavy (feels like hours of it). Once April leaves Stark and enters the magical realm, things get much better. One thing that really sticks out in my head about Journey is how well the characters are developed, particularly the main character. It's not everyday you play a game that explores child abuse from multiple angles.

I do have Last Express installed as well. I tried playing it a few weeks ago and was impressed with the idea. It all seems very French and highly stylized--again, rather like some "adult" cartoons I've seen over the years. It also has a very interesting setting (the Orient Express, just before WWI) and setup.

I generally find real-time adventure games a bit uncomfortable--I always feel rushed. I also read reviewers who claimed the game had too many sections where you had no idea what to do (success hinging merely on being in the right place at the right time).

Still, I recognize it as a historically important and innovative GAG, so I will take time to play it through. Right now, I'm working on the more recent GAG Missing Since January (also known as In Memoriam). It also tries to be innovative by incorporating emails and web searches into the mix.

Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
BS 1 has some good bits

I like Broken Sword, but the voice-acting for the main character in particular really sucks, even dryer than the performances in the recent Star Wars films.

I loved the European setting, music, and visual look of the game, though.

I have the 2nd game for the PSX and that platform is not ideal for a GAG... I do own the 3rd one, but it can not run on my pc, lol.

=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
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