A look back at Broken Sword

James Haresign August 28, 2012 - 2:00 pm

Feature: Charles Cecil and Revolution Software have announced a Kickstarter to finish BROKEN SWORD 5: THE SERPENT’S CURSE and James Haresign couldn’t be happier. He takes a look back at the original Broken Sword games that he believes are some of the best the point-and-click genre has to offer.

While LucasArts and Sierra get all the recognition for being the big boys of the Adventure Game during the golden era of the 90s, there’s a company that fully deserve to be mentioned alongside them – Revolution Software. Their second game, Beneath a Steel Sky, is still spoken of highly, but it’s the Broken Sword series that really puts Revolution on the point-and-click map.

In my opinion, Broken Sword can stand shoulder to shoulder with Monkey Island as the best adventure game series. I’d go so far as to say, as a series, it may rate higher, even though LucasArts’ premier adventure has one or two better individual games.

While LucasArts relied heavily on humour, Revolution bucked that trend and went for a more serious and character driven storyline. The first Broken Sword, The Shadow of the Templars, opens with the bombing of a Parisian café  and the series revolves around the on/off relationship of main characters George and Nico, all while uncovering conspiracies, smuggling operations, and the secrets of the aforementioned Knights Templar. There’s no rubber chicken with a pulley in a middle to find here, but that’s not to say the series isn’t without humour, as our two investigators can deadpan with the best of them.

The game isn’t coy about dealing with a wider range of the emotional spectrum than most other titles of the day. Jealously rears its head from time to time with Andre Lobineau – a deluded rival for Nico early on – and George meeting Anne Maria in the fourth game. Apart from those two, George and Nico’s relationship is a lot more realistic than most videogame love stories, even to today’s standards. The second game starts after the two being apart for six months due to George spending time with his dying father, and while it’s clear Nico holds no ill will about this, Lobineau certainly likes to twist that particular knife.

George Stobbart and the Smoking Mirror

George is a fantastic character, a reluctant modern day Indiana Jones. He’s simply on holiday in France after he’s caught in the explosion and meets a gorgeous French investigative journalist who’s convinced that there’s more to this than meets the eye. His constant narration is a step above your average adventure game star. George’s internal monologue is full of snark, self-mocking, and insight into the American, not just hints and refusals to do something.

George’s character isn’t all Broken Sword takes from Harrison Ford’s whip cracking adventure, though. Not only do you discover an ancient church hidden away in Paris’ sewers, but it embraces the genre’s love of  globe trotting, hitting Ireland, Syria, Spain, and Scotland all in one game. Central America, the Caribbean, the Congo Basic, and Egypt get visits as the series progress. It’s amazing what you can do on a patent lawyer’s salary.

Nico is in a slightly different kettle of fish. In the first game she operates almost as a sidekick/enabler for George, hooking him into the mystery of the bombing, giving him one or two clues, and coming to his aid when he gets himself a little too far into something dangerous. It’s the second game where she really hits her co-star status and keeps it for every game in the series, getting it further reinforced in the Director’s Cut of The Shadow of the Templars.

From The Smoking Mirror onwards, Nico is very much an active part of the investigations, when George goes off to the Caribbean she heads to London following a different lead. Even when she’s stuck in the damsel in distress role she back chats her captors, never truly coming across as a victim and more just temporarily in an undesirable situation. Unfortunately, while George has the great vocal talents of Rolf Saxon throughout, Nico has a different voice actor every game. All manage to do a great job, but it is a little jarring for her voice to shift every time.

What’s Mayan is yours

The second game, The Smoking Mirror, is also the only one of the series so far to step away from the Templar mythos and explore another culture, the Mayans. Don’t worry, there aren’t any inter-dimensional aliens with crystal skulls, but it does have two overweight American tourists who may or may not be part of the CIA, a ridiculous Central American dictatorship, and a priest that could put the Swiss Family Robinson to shame.

Game three, The Sleeping Dragon, embraced 3D and ditched point-and-click in favour of directly controlling our protaganists. There was also a lot of crate-pushing, too (remember this was when pushing crates was quite the revolution in gaming, so it wasn’t as bad as it sounds). The story itself is a direct follow on from Shadow of the Templars, signalling a return to the secret of the ancient Knight Order.

The ending goes a bit further out there than Broken Sword traditionally does, which combined with the crates, controls, and some quick time events, makes it the furthest departure from the series’ template. However, the story and of course Nico and George keep the game on the tracks and it still sits comfortably alongside the other games.

The fourth, The Angel of Death, stays with 3D but welcomes back the point-and-click controls. It also introduced a new woman vying for George’s affections, Anna Marie, and it’s not too difficult to figure out her place in the plot, is it?

I played the first Broken Sword so early on that internet FAQs were not an option, and unlike Monkey Island I was the only one of my friends playing it. It is one of the few adventure game I ever completed off my own back, which is an awesome feeling. I can still look back and remember the opening scene of the café exploding with great detail as well as the trouble of getting into that damn church in the sewers.

The fact the series is returning to a 2D plane with The Serpent’s Curse is great. Lets face it, for the majority of adventure games going 3D was simply an attempt to pander to ‘current trends’, especially when you look at The Sleeping Dragon and its Xbox and PS2 releases. If Kickstarter means that Charles Cecil returns Broken Sword to exactly how he thinks it should be, then the latest entry is bound to be great. It’s one of the few series out there that doesn’t have a duff game in its collection, though it may have wandered a bit too close to publisher/console interference once or twice, so a brand new game is very welcome.

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