Broken Sword 3:
The Sleeping Dragon
|Review by Thaumaturge
In Paris, Nico Collard prepares to interview a genius programmer who claims to have partially deciphered a previously inscrutable manuscript. Flying over the Congolese jungle, George Stobbart is on his way to discuss a patent with an inventor who has sequestered himself in a mysterious cave. Both arrive just in time to hear the objects of their errands getting murdered.
George and Nico follow the clues left behind by the deceased. These clues lead them to a great power, drawn from that of the Earth itself. Before long, George and Nico are faced with a villain intent on claiming the magnificent power. The trails of the two protagonists quickly converge. George and Nico once again travel together, trying to unravel the mystery before the villain does. The duo tries to beat the villain to the ancient sites of power. They try to find a way to prevent the madman from claiming the power lying dormant in the ley lines of the Earth.
Through the course of their adventure, Nico and George will visit the Congo, Paris, Glastonbury, Prague and Egypt. They will visit city streets, an abandoned theatre, a foreboding castle, tunnels hidden below Paris, and ancient sites of immense power and incredible, machinery. George and Nico will encounter numerous puzzles throughout the adventure. Some of them will be logic puzzles while others are inventory-based. The game also features a few conversation-driven puzzles.
Nico and George will engage in the casual kleptomania that is endemic to adventure game characters. Much to my delight, George even remarks on this fact at one point. The duo will acquire a wide variety of items, from the mundane to the arcane (and at one point a half-eaten hamburger...). And George will move an awful lot of crates (and other assorted cube-shaped objects).
The story, as already suggested, is one of wicked conspiracy for ancient power. If the villain manages to acquire the power, it could lead to the potential devastation of the Earth. As a character puts it in the opening movie, “the price for failure here is Armageddon”. The game starts with a good hook in the two murders, and keeps the player interested throughout the course of the adventure. The plot, while not a leap of creativity, is effective and interesting. The story takes the players to some truly wonderful – and foreboding – places.
For the most part, the dialogue is well-written and well-acted. The banter between George and Nico is especially entertaining and often serves to keep the overall atmosphere fairly light. Both characters also frequently describe their thoughts and actions through monologues. While this adds richness to the script, the descriptions do occasionally become a little verbose. The conversations and the monologues, in addition to good (if occasionally slightly exaggerated) character animation and expression during cut scenes makes for effective acting and evokes an atmosphere that seems natural and appropriate.
The majority of the puzzles are inventory-based. They involve finding the right item or items for the current situation. Most of the game’s puzzles are not too difficult to solve. A few tripped me up, mostly because I missed a hot spot or forgot to check my in-game notebook, but none are unfair. I found the puzzles of Broken Sword 3 to be very enjoyable to solve, and even amusing in a few cases.
The logic puzzles featured in Broken Sword 3 were particularly enjoyable (However, I’ll confess a certain fondness for logic puzzles that may have influenced my opinion). Most of the logic puzzles featured in The Sleeping Dragon drawn from the classic stock. Of note are the river crossing puzzle, for a particularly effective design, and the mirror and laser design, for a pleasant twist on the classic puzzle.
At certain points either George or Nico will be required to sneak past guards. Players can use the control key to get George or Nico to creep rather than moving at their normal pace. The ability to creep allows players to pass more easily by guards and their dogs. While a few of these sneaking sequences are long, they are never long enough to become tedious. The short patrol routes on the parts of the individual guards allows the player to assess each section of the problem in fairly short order, allowing these areas to pass by in a fairly smooth and enjoyable manner.
One anomaly in the line-up of puzzles is what I call the movement puzzles. These primarily involve climbing, jumping between, edging along or hanging from various parts of an area. However, since this is all handled via simply pressing the action key, and it is impossible (As far as I've found, at least) to fall and die, these sections offer almost no challenge. There is one exception in which the section must be completed fairly quickly to pass it, although this is not very difficult. Many of these sections could have probably been better handled as in-game cut-scenes, although in fairness they are never long enough or common enough to become onerous.
In danger of reaching that point, however, are the prolific crate puzzles that George in particular faces. During almost any part of the game where you control George, there are one or more sections involving the shifting of crates to specific positions, mostly in order to allow George to reach a higher point. Some of these are interesting, but they come close to becoming tedious by their sheer numbers. It would seem that the crate, long a strangely common inhabitant of first person shooter, has managed to invade the adventure genre as well!
It should be mentioned that while it is possible to die in a few places – most notably in failing the sneaking sections, or in one of the handful of quick reflex actions – this simply results in the player being sent back to a point shortly before the most recent challenge and being allowed to try again. Players are not restricted by a limited number of lives. It is possible to attempt any of the sections where Nico or George can die as many times as you like. This system of letting the players freely try the sequence again feels very appropriate in an adventure game. The design allows for dangerous situations without penalizing players too harshly for failure.
All actions (aside from basic movement) are controlled by the W, S, A, and D keys. The possible actions at a particular point are indicated by a triangle of icons at the bottom right of the screen, three on the bottom and one above them, in roughly the configuration of the W, S, A and D keys. For instance, when hanging from a wall, the player might be given an image of a wall with an arrow pointing down placed over it in the leftmost icon, and an image of a wall with an arrow pointing upwards placed over it in the upper icon. This indicates that the player can drop from the wall by pressing the 'A' key, or climb onto it by pressing the 'W' key.
Items and areas of interest are indicated by twinkling stars that draw attention effectively as the player passes near them (and is facing in roughly the right direction of course, although this is fairly lenient). If there are multiple stars present, then only the currently selected one will twinkle, and the player can cycle through the other options present using the page up and page down keys. This provides a simple, clear, and easy to read system of hot points for interaction, and goes a long way to reducing difficulties in finding active areas and items of interest, as epitomized by the bane of the adventure genre, the “pixel hunt”.
The inventory and dialogue options are displayed as arcs of circular icons that can be cycled to select the desired item, with the current icon being central and the largest, and those to either side being visible, but smaller. The arrow keys are used to scroll through the available icons, which are large and clear, and the current selection is accompanied by an easily-legible text label. This system is both simple and very effective, and overall interaction is a joy.
The inventory, which is accessed by pressing the space bar, is controlled using the same W S A D system. In this case, the icons map to actions on the currently selected item, such as using it in the world, inspecting it, and selecting it for combination with or use on another item. To combine two items, or use one on another, the player selects the first item and hits the key corresponding to item selection (usually the 'A' key), which moves the item out of the inventory arc, to one side. The player then scrolls though the inventory to the second item, and, if the option is available, hits the key corresponding to combining the items. If the option isn't available, then the first item cannot be used on the second.
Movement is handled relative to the screen, via the arrow keys. This means that pressing the up arrow key, for instance, will result in the character walking away from the camera as it's currently oriented. However, the camera angle changes often, so a “sticky keys” system has been implemented – if the camera angle changes while the player is holding down a key to make a character move, the character continues to move in the current direction until the key is released, at which point the keys once again act relative to the camera. The character's gait can be modified from its normal walk to running or creeping by holding the left shift and left control keys, respectively.
However, in addition to this, a “hybrid” system has been implemented. This functions by using the two of the arrow keys to produce minor alterations of direction while a single key is held. For instance, if players press the up arrow key and hold it to make the character walk forward, they can make the character turn to the left or right in small increments by holding the left or right arrow keys.
Unfortunately, I found this system to be a bit awkward, often having trouble making my character turn as I wanted. This may well be in part due to my being less acquainted with the camera-relative movement system than with other systems, and that lack of practice did have an effect occasionally. However, I feel that it was the hybrid system that caused the majority of the problems that I encountered in moving my character. For the most part this was not a serious downfall, but it did produce a few frustrating moments.
As is common in modern adventures, the graphics are 3D rendered, a move which has, in my opinion, had mixed results. In this case, I'm glad to report, the graphics work well, bringing the world to life with depth (if you'll pardon the pun). The characters are well-modeled and generally well-textured, although I did note a few occasional and minor problems with the edges of transparent objects, particularly Nico's hair and eyelashes. However, these issues were never too great, and on the whole the texturing was good. In fact, Nico looks decidedly lovely, while George manages to look the part of a believable hero to the piece, without tipping over into the realm of exaggerated masculinity. The characters' facial expressions are well-animated, and help to add emotion to many of the cut-scenes.
The world textures are generally good, although a few lacked a little in detail. Joins at the edges of textures were occasionally visible. However, on the whole, the textures did a good job in evoking an appropriate feel to each of the various areas, such as the dilapidated, slightly lonely and slightly spooky abandoned theatre, or the forbidding militarism of the castle in Prague.
The lighting engine does a good job, casting shadows that are effective, although they sometimes disappear when passing into a shadow. The idea is that the character's shadow should not appear within an area that is already shadowed. Unfortunately, in practice, this technique tends to result in the shadow disappearing in an artificial-seeming manner. Other than this, however, the shadows look realistic, casting themselves onto a variety of surfaces well. Character and object shading is overall good, although I did notice one minor area in which the shading seemed at some angles rather too deep. Given the contextual lighting of this area, the shading created the impression of a particular character having black-backed hands. The display was much better when the character moved his hands and the light hitting them changed. The special effects are not the most advanced that I've ever seen, but they do their job well. They are effective, but nothing truly special.
The camera is controlled indirectly, moving and changing angle as the player moves around the area. The camera either moves with the player, changes angle to keep the player in frame, or changes position and angle entirely to show different (and often relevant) angles of the environment. Change in camera angles is sometimes used to create dramatic effect. At other times the camera will shift to give the player a useful view of the next puzzle or obstacle. The angles are generally workable, but unfortunately in a number of cases the camera angle obscures areas of interest. Players do not have a way to change directly change the angle either. They will have to move about, trying to stumble upon an area that triggers a camera angle showing what you want to see. This problem is at its worst when players end up walking towards the camera, resulting in an inability to see where you are going.
In conclusion, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a very good game. The story and script suits the style, and the interface is simple, effective, and efficient. The puzzles are good and fair. The game includes some interesting and well-implemented challenges. The movement controls are less than perfect, but aren't a major hindrance. The graphics are good and again suit the style. Even though the camera is equivocal in its usefulness, this is never a serious problem.
The result is a very enjoyable game indeed. The final score is 85/100.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Pentium® III 750 MHz|
|128 MB RAM|
|64 MB GeForce 2 or Equivalent|
|8x CD-ROM Drive|
|2 GB Hard Disk Space|
|Keyboard, mouse, speakers|