Playback: Broken Sword

You point at things, you click on them and stuff happens. I think you can quite safely use that to describe quite a few genres when played on PC. Shooters get gunfire and explosions when you click, strategy games get troop movement, gunfire and explosions, and the eponymous Point & Click Adventure game gets “I don’t think she’d enjoy that” as a flat rejection of your proposed action by the adventure’s protagonist. Generally no gunfire or explosions.

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Point & Click Adventure games have been and gone, you might think, but you’d be wrong. LucasArts and Sierra, the two heavy weights during the 1990s, packed it in a decade ago but the genre has lived on in many guises. Control systems have been adapted so that you’re in direct control of a character, obviously more suitable for console controllers, and gameplay changes have also evolved.

In fact, they’re more pervasive than you might think. Telltale Games, formed from the ashes of LucasArts’ closed studio, is particularly prolific, and there’s smaller scale indie efforts like the charming Machinarium and Lume that sit alongside them on the PC. Then there’s the hugely popular Professor Layton series on DS, a console that really brought pointing at things to the forefront before the Smartphone revolution. Even a game like Heavy Rain is more of a cousin once removed than a whole new genre.

They might not be strict Point & Click anymore, as the control systems have adapted to suit the input methods you have, but I think the genre name suffices. Today I want to talk about on of the classics, Revolution Software’s Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. This one lives up to the genre.

The game opens in Paris, with George Stobbart being caught in a clown instigated explosion at a Café that succeeds in murdering a man, and nearly catches our protagonist too (though that would make for a very short game). From here he meets Nico Collard, a seductively voiced French photo-journalist, and they begin their own investigation of a series of similar murders that quickly takes George away from Paris and around Europe on the trail of a conspiracy that may sound familiar to fans of Assassin’s Creed. Those Knights Templar are being all sorts of dastardly again, and it’s up to you to figure out what on earth is going on and how to stop them.

The first time I got to play this game was in 2002 on the Gameboy Advance, so when Good Old Games hit their six millionth download (congratulations are most certainly in order) and teamed up with Revolution to give away the Broken Sword Director’s Cut for free I jumped at the chance. The Director’s Cut has a few extra scenes at the beginning of the game, and some different artwork in places, but really I just wanted the original game. Well not quite, I wanted to play it on my HP Touchpad. This set me off on a little adventure of my own, to get this game onto my tablet.

[drop2]Enter ScummVM. Starting off as a project to keep LucasArts games based on the SCUMM engine, particularly Monkey Island 2, playable on turn of the millennium PCs, it quickly evolved to include pretty much every 2D adventure game from the 1990s. Not only that, but it’s also found its way onto a whole host of platforms and devices. Naturally that means PC, Mac and Linux support, but you’ve then got iOS (Jailbreak only) and Android ports, and even more obscure avenues like the PSP, PS2, Xbox and Dreamcast!

Thankfully this also included WebOS, so I grabbed the latest version of ScummVM for Touchpad, took the files from the GoG.com install, simply copied them over and started playing Broken Sword all over again. I’m so glad to say that although it has aged noticeably, it has lost absolutely none of its charm for me. In fact, since the GBA version I originally played had no voices or motion in the cinematics, it’s even better!

Having said that, it’s a 15 year old game now, and this shows in many areas. The game’s original resolution is a paltry 640×480 and quite heavily compressed even then. Given that it’s all hand drawn art, it’s completely stuck at that resolution but ScummVM happily upscales two or three times, and has some nice options to smooth the image and make it much easier on the eye. The animation is now in sore need of some extra frames and can often be a bit jerky.

The audio is heavily compressed, and the actual recordings vary wildly in quality; with some of the voices sounding like they were recorded in someone’s garage onto a wax reel. Then there’s the music which gets a bit repetitive once you’ve re-visited an area for the fifth time, and doesn’t blend so wonderfully when going from one area to another quickly. It can get a bit annoying when you’re stuck.

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The gameplay is still your classic Point & Click game. You have to use objects and conversations to progress through areas of the game, to discover the next link in the story, unlock new areas and so on. Sometimes you might not be entirely certain of what you aim to get out of a puzzle, especially if you’ve not paid quite enough attention to the dialogue, but I really enjoyed the plot and how it gradually unfolds in a tangled web that jumps from location to location and back again.

There’s plenty of obscure puzzles, though, and the numerous occasions where you need to combine some objects in a strange and very particular fashion, or show a particular item you’re holding to a certain person in order to progress. It can often lead to moments where you’re completely stuck and so try literally every combination of items and people you possibly can; though all of that is simply part and parcel of the genre of old. It’s still quite nice to be able to finally find a use for that item which you picked up right at the beginning game in the final chapters, making all previous attempts and reactions to it all the better for it.

These are all 21st Century complaints of a 20th Century video game. It’s a bit like saying that classic films like The Third Man could really do with being in colour, or that the original Star Wars trilogy could use some tweaking. As soon as you see past the technical limitations of the time, you’ll see that the animation is wonderfully extravagant in a way that carefully shows every action quite clearly at the original resolution; that the music and sounds sit in the background or comes out of nowhere, swelling majestically when you’ve finally figured out how to get past that guard; that the script and performance is so carefully filled with knowing humour, snappy wit and stereotyped clichés of characters and nationalities. It all more than makes up for it, and is why this game is still rated highly by many.

The Director’s Cut and remaster of the second in the series do try and alleviate some of these modern day complaints. Puzzles have been tweaked, and they’ve taken the opportunity to insert new ones at certain points that make sense. So rather than George simply saying he’s done something, you have to complete a little standalone puzzle instead. They also added some little blue dots over objects you can interact with, which helps reduce the long moments of scanning a room with your cursor, along with the four stage hints system.

Lastly, the graphical changes. Most noticeably they added some facial expression graphics for when you’re having a conversation with someone. These I found to be a bit out of place, as the mouths in the portraits don’t move in the DC, but those shown in the original game’s view still do. The odd moment of new or redone graphics also seemed to clash a bit with the largely unchanged art of much of the rest of the game. So the quality varies quite noticeably at points, along with the new and occasional spot of re-recorded audio. I can see it working well for smaller screens where the shifts wouldn’t be so noticeable, and I’ve heard that the remaster of Broken Sword 2 is done a bit more consistently. I would have loved to simply get the original game’s art reproduced at a higher resolution, though.

Don’t get me wrong, the Director’s Cut is still a good game, but the changes felt a bit odd to me coming from the original. It is still most certainly one of the best and most popular from the Golden Age of the genre, whichever version you play.

Whilst deciding to write this piece about this game, I also made up my mind to take the time to put together a little trailer for it. That “Power” song seems to be quite popular these days…

Oh, and you know the best thing about all of this? I spotted over the weekend that Revolution are working on a Broken Sword 5, and that a fan creation I vaguely remember called Broken Sword 2.5 was completed last year. Time for me to stop writing and play through the entire series so far, I think.

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29 Comments

  1. Great article. Picked this up recently (again) on iPad and I love it, it’s a really neat adventure.

  2. i really liked Broken Sword, at least 1 and 2.
    if it wasn’t so expensive for the ipad… :/

    • £5 (and whatever that translates to) isn’t so bad, especially compared to the prices of many PS1 classics on PSN, and these have had extra work applied to them.
      Certainly on the pricier side of iTunes, but in the grand scheme of things…

      • in the grand scheme, yes, but by itunes standards it is a bit steep :)

  3. This brings back memories.. haven’t read the whole article, but just looking at pictures brings back a lot..

  4. One of my all time favourite games. I bought a gba just to play this on the move. Myst destroyed the genre as too many publishers wanted great graphics rather the great plot, characters and puzzles. I’m still convinced Dan Brown stole most of his ideas for the Di Vinci code from the first game.

  5. Great game, that I so nearly completed until my brother saved over my game accidentally! That was over 10 years ago though, so maybe the pain has lessened enough for me to return now.

    • I sure hope you seriously injured your brother.

    • I was just happy to revel in the game once again. It’s surprising how much of it was new and obscure to me, despite having seen it all before!

    • I never got on with the game but I remember many friends enjoy it. Lovely stuff, tef.

      Although, most mismatched music choice ever goes to…. that trailer! Did you choose it? :-)

  6. Ultar!!!!! the best character in Broken Sword! Stobbie!

    One of my fave games of all time. Think I play it at least once every 18 months. Finished it countless times. Originally played it on ps1. That f**kin’ goat! Didnt have internet back then so I had to ring the premium number on the back of the manual. Wade through the menus looking for that solution. Cost me all my pocket & paper round money. Bastardo! Still love this game.

    • same goes for BS2 and suprisingly BS3

    • I almost never finished the game because of that bloody goat!

    • Is that the ‘You buy Kebab!?’ person? He made me laugh so much. Him and the ‘Carpets, carpets, lovely carpets!’ person. God, i loved broken sword!

      • Close! It’s the taxi driver chap who can sort of speak English and sits in the bar.

  7. I love this series, atleast the ones I’ve had the chance to play. I only played them on the Playstation platforms, so I do hope the make a complete HD collection at some point :)

    The other titles in the genre would also be most welcome in HD, Discworld, the rest of the Monkey Island series, Syberia etc.

    By the way, the choice of faux hop music to accompany that trailer was waaaay off.

  8. Ah, good ol’ George Stobbart. Like a less athletic Nathan Drake. I only remember the demo of the first BS, bought the second one for the original Playstation, one of the few games I had to make use of the PS-branded mouse. Lot of hours lost to those games in the days before easy internet access and GameFAQs!

  9. i love gaming, i am just not very good at it, and point and click adventures catered to my gaming needs for almost 2 decades, before i discovered this generation where action games have finally become easy enough for me to play through.

  10. Broken sword 5? That is first day purchase for me. Tef, Broken sword 2.5 was a very well made project. I first played it a few years ago, not sure what else they have done to it since. It goes back to the templars.

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