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Secrets of the Ark: A Broken Sword Game (Windows)

76
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.7
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Macs Black (77784)
Written on  :  Aug 10, 2009
Rating  :  3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars

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Summary

Blondie and The Frog go Fourth: one step forward, two steps back

The Good

No mazes, no sliding-tiles puzzles. After this tear-inducing good news for veteran adventure gamers, the thing about the Broken Sword series that makes it attractive to me, since I started playing the games back in the nineties, is how comfortable the gameplay feels. It feels like wearing an old shoe, the characters and interface are pleasant enough, and the story and puzzles are usually mildly interesting at least. In fact, in some weird way the games feel like they were always lurking in some obscure portion of my imagination, and were eventually realized in the real world for me to finally play them. The bland and generic design is perfectly complemented by the bland and nonthreatening writing, and all these characteristics are present in this fourth adventure of the Aryan patent lawyer and his cock-blocking eurotrash companion.

After the third, more console-oriented outing, the developers probably realized that it was mistake to alienate all the fan base, and you don't want to piss off that many Germans. So they went back to the basics, adding a point-and-click interface on top of the keyboard/joystick controls. This game is a more traditional adventure, and while there is still some crate-pushing and ledge-shimming action, this time it was kept to a more reasonable rate. The 3D graphics have nice touches, with good models and textures and some well-constructed locations. The puzzles are a bit strange, alternating between easy inventory puzzles and hard manuscript enigmas that push lateral-thinking to the limit.

The Bad

The game was technically developed by Sumo Digital, while still being written and designed by Charles Cecil and the other folks at Revolution. Since they handed out the license, they could have handed out some money as well. The whole game has a low-budget feel. The models are nicely realized, but their animations are somewhat limited. Problems with clipping are very common, and is very difficult to maintain any suspension of disbelief when characters keep disappearing inside walls, their hands going through objects and other characters, coupled with a tendency to hover rather than walk. Some of the locations really lack detail, like the Vatican that according to the game is a warehouse with a small garden.

This is not the only distraction, unfortunately. Both controls schemes are useable, but erratic and imprecise, often making the main character stuck or walk right towards a guard in one of the tiring sneaking sections. More pathetic are the cuts in animation, where the characters keep talking about some exciting scene with the player only seeing a black screen and hearing a description. It also subscribes to one of the most idiotic Hollywood conventions, where foreign characters speak with heavy accents even when alone or with other compatriots. The goofy voice acting returns, with Rolf Saxon playing George Stobbard once again with his wooden line delivery, but this can be considered a good thing by some. I agree that is one of its charms.

The character development is almost nonexistent, and this is probably another hallmark of the series. Four games later, we still don't know much about the two main characters, besides the alcoholism of the foolhardy Grandpa Stobbard. The story was quite convoluted and not that interesting, unless you really like conspiracy plots about religion like the Da Vinci Code and similar books. Don't expect to have all the answers by the end of the game, though. The ending is quite abrupt, leaving all the plot threads unresolved. Maybe they ran out of cash to fully realize an epic ending, I don't know, but it only makes it look even more like a B title.

The Bottom Line

It's a mediocre adventure in a series that didn't gain anything by switching to 3D graphics. While I understand that 3D animation is cheaper than the traditional 2D, I miss the easy and simpler interface without problems of the earlier titles. Maybe now that they are working in bringing their back catalogue to portable platforms, we will see more official 2D games from the original developer.