A Review of Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon

Matt Barton's picture

Broken Sword 3Broken Sword 3Revolution's third entry in its popular Broken Sword series, The Sleeping Dragon, released in 2003, is one of the best graphical adventure games I've played to date. The game manages to combine charismatic characters, dramatic action sequences, clever puzzles, and an intuitive interface--all into a lengthy and thoroughly engrossing game. Although I wasn't as impressed with the first Broken Sword game, I'm pleased to say that the third game is a must-have for fans of the graphic adventure.

BS 3 has much in common with its predecessors. Many of the same characters from the earlier games are back, including Bruno from the first game and the Knights Templar. For those unfamiliar with the series, the story behind the BS games is a mix of medieval myth (with a focus on the Knights Templar), sci-fi, and Indiana Jones. About the best way I can describe the series is a mix of 2/3 Gabriel Knight, 1/3 Indiana Jones--and a dash of Tomb Raider. Sleeping Dragon is mostly concerned with the discovery of a "fiendish source of pure evil," or rather an ancient source of energy called "Dragon Lines." As you might expect, there's an evil mastermind (or two) at work to discover how to tap this energy and use it to take over the planet. Another plot device here is the Voynich Manuscript, a "real-life" puzzle that's perplexed scholars since it was discovered in 1912. Much like the GK series, the writers behind BS have done their homework here and uncovered some very fascinating theme for an adventure game. There's a good mix of demonology, cults, supernatural hokus pokus, and tons of wit and humor. It's an intelligent and highly charming game, even if we've seen the same plot in dozens of other games and hundreds of action films.

A Game with Personality
What's really nice about BS 3 is the well-developed characters, excellent dialog, and, most significant of all, superb pacing. This is a fairly long game (it took me days to complete), but it never feels plodding or artificially stretched-out. Although the game does focus somewhat heavily on dialog, this is only a problem in games with poor scripting and acting. The voice acting and dialog here actually help us to get to know the characters, particularly the leads George Stobbart and Nico Collard, and it's great fun listening to their jibes and sarcasm. There doesn't seem to be a single wasted character here. Even minor characters like a toilet attendant or a construction worker have plenty of personality and fun lines. Just to give you a bit of the flavor here: At one point, George and Nico are contemplating how to slip past some guards. Nico proposes "scouting out the area," and George replies, "Oh, okay. You brought the cloak of invisibility?" Nico replies, "No, I left it in the bag of forgetting." Fun dialog like this, chocked full of nerdy references, really give the game character and appeal. To keep the gameplay fresh, the perspective shifts back and forth between George and Nico. A dozen or so "chapters" and mini-chapters keep the game from feeling too expansive, so you're never left with that "uh, what now?" feeling that plagues so many gags.

Nico: Outstanding graphics and intuitive controls...Who could ask for more?Nico: Outstanding graphics and intuitive controls...Who could ask for more?There are a few unusual things about BS 3 that are worth mentioning. Most noticeable (especially during the beginning sequences) is the integration of action sequences--when I said "dash of Tomb Raider" I wasn't kidding. Indeed, in several scenes Nico is actually dressed just like Lara Croft. Most of these action scenes involve climbing and shifting crates. Other action sequences involve sneaking around to avoid detection by guards and dogs. A few cut-scenes require you to quickly press the right button or perform a quick action to avoid death. However, Revolution should be praised for making the death scenes relatively painless (at least for the player). After George or Nico dies (and following a brief cutscene), the game resumes right before the incident took place. Furthermore, there is no way to get the game into an unwinnable situation, so you can (for once) relax and not worry so much about constant saving. While a few of the timed-sequences are a bit difficult to pull off right away, the level of difficulty seems just right. To my mind, BS 3 is one of a precious few graphical adventure games that actually have FUN action sequences.
Interface and Puzzles
The interface is also a masterpiece of simplicity and intuition. Basically, what we're dealing with here is fixed-perspective third-person in a fully three-dimensional space. Movement is done with the keyboard (there is no mouse support at all). WASD are used for actions and the arrow keys are for movement. The system is easy-to-learn and feels quite natural, particularly for folks who've played lots of first-person games before. You can also play with a gamepad, though I didn't try this option. At first I thought the fixed-perspective might be a problem, but the developers do a great job of controlling the camera, so you can always see what you need to see. Furthermore, this setup allows the developers to focus your attention on important objects and the like, so you're not relentlessly searching for hotspots. When you get close to something you can manipulate, George and Nico will turn to look at it, and bright stars will appear on all hot spots in the vicinity. It's a very nice system worthy of imitation.

The puzzles here consist mostly of simple "spatial" puzzles, such as sliding crates around in order to reach a ledge. There is also a lot of climbing and options for shimmying and jumping. Most of George's puzzles involve moving crates and creeping past guards, though Nico has her share as well. I suppose some folks might feel these sequences get repetitive after awhile, but I enjoyed them. A very few puzzles require that the avatar talk to everyone in the vicinity about everything in the vicinity (sometimes repeatedly). Unfortunately, one of the worst of these occurs very early in the game with Nico (I ended up having to consult hints to get past it; the only time I did). I encourage you not to get too put-off by it, though, since it was the only truly frustrating moment I had in the game. This kind of "puzzle" is one of the worst a GAG can offer, and I wish that developers would just swear it off.

There's also a few of the standard GAG puzzles here, including the old "getting three folks" across a bridge puzzle. I've usually seen this puzzle with animals (a cat, bird, and dog), but here it's presented with a killer, witness, and the brother of the victim. The idea is that you can't leave certain pairs alone together. Finally, at least one of the puzzles requires you to consult your in-game notebook where George automatically records important details (you'd better check it when you encounter a puzzle).

Most games that attempted the kind of puzzles in BS 3 would fail miserably. For instance, one puzzle requires you to set off a microwave oven (the bell when it finishes will cause a guard to investigate) while you hide behind a wall. The idea is that as soon as the guard enters the kitchen area, you jump out lock him in. Believe it or not, all this is very intuitive and seems to magically work itself out in your mind as soon as you see what parts of the area you can manipulate. After you've played through a few of these sequences, you really start to wonder how Revolution pulled it off so well! Again and again, I grasped almost at once what I was supposed to do to get past an obstacle, even though nothing was plainly spelled out. These developers are obviously masters of suggestion! Indeed, even when I felt certain I was doing the right thing, I nevertheless held my breath as the sequences played out. Fun!

Of course, the graphics and music are as good as anyone might expect from a company known for excellence in these areas. The characters look good and the backgrounds are superb. The only glitch I found was that George seems to do a strange sort of moonwalk sometimes when you try to push him into a wall. Otherwise, the characters move very naturally and convincingly. Facial expressions are matched accordingly as well. The music is very reminiscent of the earlier BS games--lots of "dramatic" horn and strings with occasional piano and French themes. The score is well-done and distinctly cinematic.

Finally, I must say that BS 3 offers players more pungent drama than most games. There is even a "Floyd-esque" moment when one of the characters sacrifices himself to save George and Nico. The moment is well-executed and effective--at least as good as the powerful death scene in LucasArts' classic The Dig. Although I won't go so far as to say the event brought me to tears, I did feel a bit more invested in the game and determined to complete it.

The Bad
The only nitpick I have about this game is the (sigh) use of StarForce Copy Protection. This is very regrettable for a number of reasons which I don't care to go into right now, but the bottom line is that the game takes a lot longer to load than it should, and installation time is more than quadrupled (about 30 minutes on my PC). In addition, I've heard all sorts of nasty rumors about StarForce's methods (involving malware and spyware). Indeed, some folks are actually organizing a boycott against games that "feature" StarForce. For God's sake, have a little trust in your fans and don't torture them with invasive copy protection schemes. The copy protecton also prevented me from making screenshots of the game, which I would have liked to use in this review. Smart move...Make life difficult for those who would offer you free publicity...

All in all, Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is a wonderful game and one of the best graphical adventure games on the market. You can pick it up for only $9.84 from Wal-Mart.com, a site I highly recommend for bargains on games. Check it out and you'll see why the rumors of the adventure game's demise are greatly exaggerated.