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Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (PlayStation 2)

79
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.9
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Searly (30)
Written on  :  Jun 20, 2006
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars

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Summary

Broken Sword, sadly a broken game too.

The Good

In terms of presentation, this puzzle solving adventure is near flawless. The game has a bizarrely wonderful balance of gloss and quirkiness that really is like little else. Now, before I start proper, I'd like to say that I've never played the first or second Broken Sword games, so please don't expect any whining that this game isn't as good or whatever - I don't care how it compares to its peers. All I know is that regardless of what you might hear on Internet forums and fansites, this game stands up on its own merits.

The game is a fairly standard point and clicker, but with the pointing and clicking removed. Instead you wander merrily around the environments, with context-sensitive actions being offered when you stand near an object. These actions are mapped to the face buttons and are shown on screen in a small and discreet enough display. Ultimately, the results of this new-fangled control system are exactly the same as if you were using a pointer but its nice to see some innovation of a sort.

The game's key strength is its natural charm. Your heroes, the stereotypical yank George and refined, elegant and rather French Nico, are warm, funny, and are people you would genuinely want to meet in real life, at least compared with Duke Nukem or Master Chief. The villains are suitable menacing, and have enough personality to be satisfyingly nasty without being your typical 'evil mastermind' cut-out. They do get pretty close at times though!

The humour is what pulls the game through, with dialogue laugh-out-loud funny in places, and bit part characters overflowing with warm charm. You'll chuckle at a ridiculously idiotic police inspector, who cannot stop artfully walking round in circles. You'll smile at a poor guard besotted with Nico who distracts him as George sneaks round. And you'll guffaw as Nico wears a wig making her resemble the female antagonist, as guards you previously skulked past start wetting themselves as you walk past.

The game's graphics are wonderful. Revolution, the developers, are clearly against photo-realism and with good reason, and the characters have something of the comic book around them, which only helps to augment the game's comic charm and lift Broken Sword above your traditional, boring 'man-with-gun-in-enemy-base' action adventure. The puzzles are mainly excellent if basic, with some neat box-pushing that is really quite well done. And overall the game feels like a complete experience with its own distinct feel. Hardly a bad thing.

The Bad

Sadly the game has too many faults to stand as a truly great adventure. The lighthearted style can sometimes make cut-scenes desperately trying to be dramatic look silly and laughable. Also, the puzzles far too often are trial and error event sequences or worse have you despairing, trying every object in your inventory in the desperate hope of some obscure object working.

The plot is also a little predictable, with you working against the typical evil guy looking to salvage the power of the earth, in this case through 'dragon lines' located through a translated Voynich Manuscript (google it!). You sometimes feel a little like you want to progress to see George's next funny little outfit rather than to conclude the plot. The ending is also curiously understated with the final challenge being a bit of a let down, even if it is enjoyably silly.

The main game-breaker though is the loading screen. Not only is it boring and bland, it turns up far too often and for far too long. I estimate that you'll spend over a tenth of your time playing Broken Sword staring at the word 'Loading' and a slowly pulsing image that seems to have little in common with the actual game plot. One puzzle actually has a loading screen separating it in half, with it taking over a minute to move from one half to the other. Yes, it doesn't sound like much, but those minutes soon add up to a scary amount of time. In one instance picking up an item that created new dialogue choices needed a loading screen before I could quiz people with it. And every time you die in the game, no instant restart for you! No, its another loading screen for your pleasure.

And dying is something that'll happen an awful lot to you through two main causes. The first are quick time events (QTE). Players of Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy and Resi 4 will be familiar with these button prompts guiding you through action sections. But in Broken Sword they only involve the 'x' button and simply have you prodding it when required, but won't count it if you bash it all the time. This has clearly been done to make the cut-scenes 'come to life', to make the players feel part of the action. A noble cause, but the QTEs are awful. They are one-button tests that are killed by unresponsive controls and a loading screen every single time you slow reactions slightly slower than a panther. Other action scenes have you running down corridors and are hardly exciting while punishing you for taking a route one pixel out of the 'racing line'. Not a good thing, and it only leads to a lot of loading times.

The other cause of frequent death are the stealth sections. These bits are really horrible, and nearly ruin the game. They're slow, boring and you feel about as sneaky as Oprah Winfrey trying to hide behind a street-light. Not a good thing! And every time you so much as breathe in the wrong direction, its instant death and another loading screen. Brilliant!

The Bottom Line

This game could have been really quite something, and in a way it is. Although the flaws are obvious, if you like its charm you'll play through as I did and you will really enjoy yourself. Hopefully the upcoming sequel (currently Windows only) will fix the problems and work with the strengths of this most curious title. Ultimately, this is little more than a flawed, if noble, experiment to liven up the adventure genre with action and stealth. But its real strength is the nostalgia of the proper puzzles and the excellence of the characters - everything it felt it had to make more exciting. Try this game - you might like it, you might not. But try it, because Revolution have created an adventure that might just hook you and would have ignoring flaws that in any other game would have you seething. Just bring a book to read for the loading, okay?