Shadow of the Templars is best described as a "diet coke" of the Adventure genre, only with much better aftertaste.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (BS:SotT) is your standard graphic adventure game in which you play the role of George Stobbart, a young American tourist on vacation through Europe that gets caught up in a rather nasty murder investigation in Paris and a eight century old mystery that'll span over Europe. I found the story to be interesting, well written (with a couple of nice plot twists) and slightly educational to boot.
Like I said, throughout your adventure you'll get to visit several other countries besides France, although your visit to them won't be as in depth as Paris, but then again when you look at games that have world travel (Like Gabriel Knight) you'll find that they don't expand beyond the necessary much either. The spotlight is on Paris, it is the center of the game, and most of the adventure will take place there. I mean, sure it would have been nice to see Spain in depth, but would it have really added anything to the story? If anything I think people would consider it a tactic to lengthen the game.
Gameplay in BS:SotT is the typical point-and-click-inventory-based-hot-spot-seeking-puzzle-extravaganza that you can expect to find in an adventure game (not that I'm complaining).
The interface couldn't be simpler or easier to use. Moving your mouse over hot spots will reveal a possible action that will be carried out by pressing the left hand button, while using the right hand one will give you brief description of whatever it is you're looking at. That said there are some pixel hunting moments that will frustrate you. If it's of any consolation, I didn’t find it terrible enough to damper my enjoyment of the game. You'll just have to exercise a little patience and move the mouse slowly.
The puzzle difficulty seems just about right to me. Shortly after a few hours of playing I recall saying to myself that the puzzles were WAY too easy, that however changed later on, for as you progress in the game the puzzles will become more difficult. Unfortunately in some cases the difficulty was in the obscurity of the puzzles, and you might be forced to track down a walkthrough, but there are still plenty of good logical puzzles to solve.
The game was released in 96, when computer game graphics where passing their FMV/SVGA graphics craze/phase and look a tad more than cartoonish, yet this isn't anything new as other adventure titles of the year use this style as well (Discworld 2, Fable, Gene Machine...). I know these graphics don't appeal much too some people, but regardless of Graphical preference I think they are well done and fit well with the overall ambiance of the game (which wasn't nearly as dark and gloomy as I had originally expected it to be).
In the sound department I have absolutely no complaints, the voice acting was surprisingly good, and sound was... well, sound... let me put it this way, you won't be clutching your ears in pain or turning it off. It was good, not sure what else to say about it. Music, finally, was in my opinion the better done of the three; it added that extra bit of dramatic feel at some crucial moments and some nice light listening when wandering about.
I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to visit Germany, Italy or Greece (though they were marked on the map). But, to tell you the truth if asked how to implement them I wouldn't know where to begin (and I don’t even know if those nations had anything to do with the Templars).
The only thing that really bothered me about BS:SotT is that it can't quite make up its mind weather it wants to be a serious murder/mystery or a lighthearted comedy/parody, so it tries to be both without really succeeding in either. I think if the game had been done in a solely serious manner, it would have been much more popular than it is already.
Ok, I lied, that wasn’t the only thing that really bothered me, there's one more. I'm not really sure what George's motivation to find the killer is. Let me clarify: George's taking a trip through Europe on his vacation, he decides to have a cup of coffee at a little coffee shop in Paris when it is suddenly blow up by a clown, claiming the life of one guy he knew absolutely nothing about. He COULD have gone on with his vacation through Europe, yet he decided to track the killer down instead. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I'm reassessing my desire to visit Europe.
The Bottom Line
BS:SotT is an interesting and enjoying game that I would recommend to any fan of the genre, unfortunately, I think it tried to be/do way too many things at once to make a durable lasting impression.
Basically, if you're looking for a comedy game, get Discworld Noir. If you want a serious murder/mystery, get Gabriel Knight. If you want a little of both, get Broken Sword.