Friday, October 22, 2010

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars: A Look Back

So I was browsing through the Steam store when I come across a game that I haven't played in years, yet is source to one of the most memorable gaming experiences I had as a child. I thought I would take a break from modern day gaming, put aside the mountain of shooting games, get away from the online community and sit down and play an old personal favorite...and follow up with this review of course. 

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (or simply "Circle of Blood" in the US) was a point and click adventure game released originally on both PC and PSX (later ported to GBA), and was released in 1996. Boasting a unique art style, enthralling story and a majestic sweeping soundtrack, this game had the makings of a classic. The series to date consists of four games. Five games if you count the Directors Cut/Enhanced Remake released in 2009 for Nintendo's Wii and DS, and 2010 for Apples iPad and Steam PC catalog. In fact, make that six games if you include the unofficial fan made sequel to the second game. Each installment has been unique in it's own way, but I think for many, the original was the most memorable. Even though the series has a rather big following, I still feel that there are a lot of gamers out there that would have a lot to experience from playing this game. So for those who have no knowledge on the series whatsoever, let's start from the beginning.

 Not your everyday Paris scenery

The game is told from retrospective by our suave, witty and smooth talking protagonist, George Stobbart. An American tourist who is on vacation to Paris, France. Being the suave and somewhat arrogant individual that he is, George flirts with the waitress of a local Café shortly before hassled by a clown who is seen running in, dropping a bomb disguised as an accordion, and then running back out of the Café moments before the place explodes, leaving him in a pile of debris, changing his life forever.

     With the help of local news journalist, Nicole Collard, George embarks on a memorable adventure spanning all over the globe. Including France (obviously), Ireland, Spain, Syria and Scotland in search of killer clown. The story soon developers into more than just a revenge hunt as you pick up items and clues that lead to the involvement of the Knights Templar, an ancient military order existing for over two centuries during the middle ages. The plot grabs you by the balls and refuses to let go, although you wouldn't even if you could. The game does a fantastic job at drawing you in and making you want to know what's happening. What does some Café bombing have to do with an ancient organization? It's one of them games that I would play at around 6pm and then the next thing I notice, I'm hearing crickets outside and the sun is beginning to rise and it's the early hours of the following morning. Experiencing the story unfolding and watching the relationship between George and Nicole is exciting and often humorous to watch. The plot direction, writing and smart dialogue is simply incredible.

 They captured the Irish charm perfectly

As mentioned, the game is a traditional point and click adventure which is a genre that has a particular audience. You will either love it, or you won't, it's as simple as that. However, that being said, if other point and click games have turned you off - I would still recommend giving this game a shot as the game does a great job at well...being easy to play. That's not to say the game is easy, no sir. On the contrary, the game is full of puzzles and riddles that are actually fun to solve. The game requires you to put a bit of thought into it. It's not always a simple case of Insert Key A into Slot A. Some areas will require various items that would need combining in order to proceed, some of which are obtained by doing other things. It's a game that has to be done in a particular order. You may think you have everything you need to continue, but unless you've spoken with that guy in the corner, he won't trigger the option to use the items needed. 

     For these reasons, you may find yourself getting stuck at some points, but it won't be too long before you realize what you have to do. I remember being about 7 years old and completing this game, without a guide. It may have taken me a while, but I found that the answers were always there in that particular area somewhere. It's worth noting that the Directors Cut version features a hint system whereby you can request tips on what to do next. Should you still struggle, the hint system will physically tell you what to do. So worst comes to worst, there's always that...but only pussies use hint systems. Just saying. The game will not let you out of a particular area unless you've done everything. More often than not, what you are looking for will be right under your nose. I will say this - save often. There's not too many places in the game in which George can actually die if the wrong action is taken, but you never know. 

 SOMEONE looks like a tourist, and I think it's that fat guy in the background

Visually, the game is stunning. With hand drawn pre-rendered background and 2D sprites over the top, the game is just striking to look at and definitely sets it apart from most other games. It's such a refreshing change to see so many vibrant colors on the screen compared to the dull tones of most modern games. The animation is done well and everything seems to fit in place. All of the locations are completely different from one another and have their own style. It's exciting to move to new areas. I remember first playing this and spending a lot of my time just looking at the backdrops and soaking in all the detail. The FMVs are wonderful and popping with detail. A bit of trivia, the artist responsible for the FMVs was also responsible for the art found on Dragon's Lair.

     One of the more unique things I remember playing this as a child, was it's soundtrack. The game world comes to life with an orchestral sweeping score that compliments both the story and graphics surperbly. Everything kicks in at the right moments. The opening score, coupled with the introduction FMV just sets the tone for the whole game, you know you're in for one hell of an adventure. Voice acting is, for the most part, very well done. Rolf Saxon does a fantastic job at portraying George's cockiness and confidence. So much so that he offered his voice to all future games, too. Nicole Collards voice actor, now that I've replayed it so many years later, does not give the most convincing French accent, but I have heard worse. Other characters in the game do a great job of making you like them, and more commonly hate them. The sound in general is really well done. The only downside I would have to say is due to the age of the game, if you decide to replay it, or purchase the Directors Cut, you will notice that not all the spoken dialogue will sound good, quality wise. I've heard lines spoken by characters where it's been silent but you can hear some kind of background noise when they are speaking that will stop when the line has finished. It doesn't happen often, but I guess I'm just used to higher standards in gaming nowadays. 

 Trash can cat is watching you investigate

The point and click gameplay may turn off some people, but for those wanting to experience a change of pace from today's games and indulge in a rich, well told story full of interesting and colorful characters, or someone who is looking to sample the best of what this aged genre has to offer, you will be hard pressed to find a more memorable title. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut is available on Steam for $9.99. The Director's Cut includes around 2 hours of additional story, leading up to the events of the bombing. Some puzzles are remade from a first person perspective as well as enhanced audio and visuals. If you find a cheap copy of the original PC game, you will be required to install the program, ScummVM in order for the game to run correctly on modern day systems. You can also purchase Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror and Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon on Steam in a bundle for $9.99 also. This is a series that I think should be made aware to more people and with so many platforms to play the first game on, there's no reason not to try it out. Here's hoping that the success of the Director's Cut re-release results in a Broken Sword 5, going back to it's pre-rendered 2D charm. If you're reading this Charles Cecil, I would gladly give you reasons why this needs to be made possible!



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