Saturday, 12 November 2016

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (PC)

Broken Sword title screen
Developer:Revolution|Release Date:1996|Systems:Windows, Mac, GBA, PSX

This week on Super Adventures I'm playing Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Not to be confused with Shadow of the Beast, Shadow of the Colossus, Shadows of the Empire, Shadow of Memories/Destiny or the Christian Slater/John Travolta movie 'Broken Arrow'. Wow, I haven't seen that film in forever, I should give it a rewatch some time.

In America the game was originally given a different subtitle: Circle of Blood. I guess shadows and Templars just didn't seem as marketable back then in those pre DaVinci Code/Assassin's Creed days. In 2009 it got another subtitle: Director's Cut, as the game was remade with extra content for PCs, phones and the Nintendo systems of the time.

This is Revolution Software's third adventure game, after Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, but I've also written about In Cold Blood as I'm getting to them all out of order. Plus it's the second graphic adventure I've played this year about the Knights Templar, as I took a look at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back in January. There, I think I've just broke the record for the amount of games I've mentioned in an intro! I'll say Monkey Island as well just to make sure, seeing as it's inevitably going to get brought up at some point anyway.

Alright, I'm going to give Broken Sword an hour or two and take lots of screenshots, while writing up what I've been doing and what I thought about it. Same deal as ever.




The game begins with a black screen and a voice over.
"Paris in the Fall.
The last months of the year and the end of the millennium.
The city holds many memories for me: of cafés, of music, of love... and of death."
Unless you're playing the Director's Cut version that is, then it doesn't. This apparently annoyed some fans, as the intro was generally considered to be fine the way it was.

This is the point where it shows the game logo in front of a distorted image of a gargoyle... which turns out to be a bird's-eye view from the raven perched next to it! Clever.

The beautifully animated raven takes off and soars across the painted Parisian skyline, and then it just kind of hangs around by the Eiffel Tower as the credits come on. Slowly.

After a minute or two of that the bird gets bored and swoops down past a café where our hero's getting coffee.

He's the one in the green jacket.

I'm sorry the image is blocky, but that's what the intro looks like. It doesn't have the highest quality video compression, or even animation quality to be honest, but it's still pretty damn good for a 1996 adventure game. It reminds me of a Don Bluth cartoon... though maybe that's just because I associate video game animation with him after his work on Dragon's Lair and Space Ace.

Our hero barely has a chance to smile at the waitress bringing over his cup before she bumps into this other guy cosplaying as a spy and loses all interest in him. Then a clown comes over and practically shoves his balloons in his face!

I often find that cutscenes drag on a bit, but this one could really take a moment to breathe. It's like they were trying to squeeze as much story in as they could before the animation budget ran out.

Director's Cut (PC)
It's  worse on the Director's Cut version, which is even more frantic with its extra shots and picture-in-picture comic book cutaways. They've also added an unnecessary narration for people too busy to point their eyes at the screen. It probably would've helped on the Game Boy Advance port though, as it tries to tell its story with still shots alone and that doesn't work so well.

Did I mention that this came out on the GBA? Because it did. Not many point and click adventures on that handheld.

Anyway, the clown pops into the café, swaps the guy's briefcase with his beeping accordion, and then legs it back outside as fast as his clown shoes will take him.

BOOOOM! And the hero's dead.

The 'getting thrown into the air by the blast' part of the animation was trimmed from the Director's Cut and that may have been for the best, seeing as the guy's going to have to get up and walk around after this and I'm fairly sure he's not Wolverine (or even Guybrush Threepwood).

He pulls himself up out of the wreckage of his table and the parasol that apparently shielded him from the worst of it and then stares off with his best pointy-jawed "Fucking clowns..." glare. Man, it's assholes like this that make it so much harder for good honest hard-working clowns like Dropsy to be accepted by their community.

Leaves!

This is the actual game then, looking just like the intro except slightly higher resolution (and with more dithering). I like how the background scrolls as I walk around, especially as the foreground moves as a separate layer to add a parallax effect.

It's very much a typical point and click graphic adventure, but the cursor's entirely context sensitive and there's no verbs to click. Using right mouse button as I'm pointing to something makes him tell me what the object is, left mouse button makes him do whatever he feels like doing with it.

Director's Cut (PC)
Here's the Director's Cut by comparison, with the same background in the same resolution, but without the 256 colour limit. It looks identical at first glance, but if you flip between them you can see that the new background is softer (and it gets even blurrier if you increase the screen res). Plus the buildings behind the lamp post are in shadow now and the trees have lost more of their leaves, which seems like a strange change to make, especially as they didn't change them in the animated intro to match.

Speaking of the lamp post, I can't click it to get a dumb joke this time! Everything else is still clickable, but I can't click the lamp post, and I know this because the Director's Cut has blue circles appearing to mark objects I can interact with when I move the cursor anywhere near them. They're not particularly hard to find in the original version but I'm personally filing this under 'good changes'. Shame the feature's not optional though.

You know, I would've expected more chaos out here, like a crowd of people gathering to see what happened and sirens in the distance, but nope it's all deserted streets and birdsong out here. That guy digging up the street behind me hasn't even paused to see what exploded. But that's good as it means there'll be no witnesses to catch me screwing around with the crime screen and taking everything I can. Like this coil of wire by the lamp post for instance!

Oh it's actually a chair, so it's staying put... but I can take the newspaper behind it.

Director's Cut (PC)
In the original game he picked it up, described it, and shoved it into his jacket, but in the Director's Cut I get a close up to examine it myself!

There's a bit of an audio quality mismatch here, as it sounds like they constructed his comments about the articles from clips recorded years apart; which is weird because they've clearly recorded brand new lines for other bits and they sounded fine. It's mostly reusing the original voice work though.

But there is one other difference between the original game and the Director's Cut I've noticed: the Director's Cut starts off somewhere entirely different, with a new chapter featuring photo-journalist Nicole Collard.


DIRECTOR'S CUT PROLOGUE CHAPTER.


Director's Cut (DS)
That's Nico in the purple plastic dress. This new content's a pretty close match for the original game in art style, but it's really obvious that the 2D sprites started life as 3D models.

The Director's Cut was originally made for the DS (and Wii) so it makes sense that it's been redesigned to show character portraits on the second screen during dialogue. Though during this cutscene it keeps cutting away to show a sneaky mime getting ready to shoot someone. Other systems do the same simultaneous action thing with picture-in-picture instead.

So soon the gun goes off and Nico has a murder to solve, by using items on other items...

Director's Cut (PC)
... and solving sliding block puzzles.

I haven't played the original Broken Sword much, but I don't remember anything like this in it, and that's good because this ain't my idea of graphic adventure gameplay. Especially when I can't figure the bastard things out. Well that's not entirely true, as I solved it on the DS version pretty fast, but now that I'm trying it again to get some screenshots of the PC game I can't remember how I did it! Just give me a screwdriver and I'll sort this thing out the same way as I solved my last Rubik's Cube.

Fortunately there's a cheat to skip it, which I'd feel bad about using if I hadn't solved it once before. Also it wouldn't let me fit "Sliding block puzzles can go fuck themselves and die" as my save game filename afterwards and that annoyed me too.

Then after a bit of traditional point and click adventuring, the game went and threw a substitution cipher at me as well!

Director's Cut (PC)
Seems strange for the designs to put literal code breaking up front before the easier puzzles of the original. Especially as it means delaying the café explosion that's supposed to be the hook to the game!

I have to admit, this one had me stumped at first as well. If they'd given me a few letters to start with I'm sure I'd got through it reasonably quick, but they didn't, and I didn't.

I'm too proud to use the new built-in hints system though... so I checked online instead. In my defence I was genuinely only checking to see if other people had been struggling as much as me, but I accidentally found someone's solution and caught the first word before I could close the tab. It was fairly easy after that.

And then with all blocks slid and codes cracked the game finally catches up to our other hero getting blown up outside a café.


BACK IN THE ORIGINAL GAME.


Wow, this café looks surprisingly intact considering a bomb just went off. I was expecting a little bit of fire at least.

I raced... well, walked really slowly over to check on the wounded and see if they had anything worth taking, and found the waitress lying on the floor. She's just unconscious though, so he's carrying her over to a seat. I love all these little one-off animations... and I'm a bit confused about why this particular one was removed for the Director's Cut.

When she came to she asked if I'm a doctor and now I get to choose my answer.

There's no dialogue options though; instead I get to either pick thumbs down or thumbs up. Trouble is that I've got no idea if he's a doctor or not! All I know about this guy is that he's called George Stobbart and I only know that because he just told her.

Some games ask you questions like this at the start to let you define your backstory, but that's not what's happening here so to be on the safe side I'm picking no. Next she asked for a drink and I chose to get her one... possibly not the best thing to do for someone after they've been knocked out, but I'm not doctor so I wouldn't know!

Finally she asked me if the man in grey was dead, but I haven't checked yet so I picked 'no'.

Now that I've answered her questions I get to ask a few of my own, about the man with the briefcase and the clown that blew him up. There's still no dialogue options though, as it uses a similar system to Sam & Max: Hit the Road and Toonstruck, where I just keep clicking the available icons until they've got nothing more to say about them. Makes me wonder why I'm even given a choice.

The yes/no choices do actually matter though. When I got around to trying the PlayStation port I already knew the guy was dead so I chose 'yes' for my answer and this made her faint before I could ask her anything! Which is cool.

Another thing I like is that I get to hear George's hard-boiled narration during the conversation, as he shares his own thoughts about what's going on. Well, semi hard-boiled... about as noir as you'd expect from a tourist called George Stobbart who makes dumb jokes about lamp posts.

Director's Cut (PC)
Here's the Director's Cut version again, showing a huge change in the conversation system: now the inventory items I can talk about are on the bottom, and the topics I can discuss are along the top! In the original game they're the other way around.

Also there's new character portraits by Beneath a Steel Sky (and 'Watchmen') artist Dave Gibbons, which add... basically nothing to the game in my opinion. The game's fine when they're there and it's fine when they're not. Though they cunningly distract from the other big change to the dialogue scenes: the sprites' mouths don't move any more when they talk! What kind of a monster takes that out? Clearly the original game wins this round.

I told the waitress I was going to search for evidence, then made a run for it... only to be escorted back inside by a pair of comedy idiot cops at gun point.

Broken Sword (PlayStation)
But they eventually let me go!

This is the PlayStation version you're looking at and it's not that great I'm afraid. It's got half as many pixels on screen and it taking me forever to move the cursor around to select anything. They even added buttons to jump straight to the inventory or topic rows to save time because it takes so damn long. Plus there's loading times between each screen.

On the plus side I've finally run into Nico, who's turned up to take photographs of the crime scene. She's not quite a crowd but she's better than nothing.

I got to ask her some questions and discovered that she's been investigating other murders by a costumed killer. She actually came here to meet with the man in grey, (a guy called Plantard) but she doesn't know what he wanted to tell her. I got her to tell George her phone number so now I can contact her when I find anything new about the clown who stole his briefcase.

The Director's Cut has stayed fairly true to the original during the café scenes, but now that Nico's here the realities are starting to diverge again. Her voice sounds a little different, the dialogue's been altered slightly and her sprite's been replaced entirely by the one from her intro chapter.

Personally I prefer the more pixelly Nico, even if that angle's not doing her face any favours. But to be honest the new art doesn't stick out too badly.

Alright she's gone off to do her own thing, so I'm going to go see where this street takes me.

Whoa I’ve got a city map! I don’t know why I’m always surprised by adventure games having maps, seeing as even Monkey Island has one, but I am. I can't click on the icons, only the names, so I guess I'll go back to the Café de la Chandelle Verte  (Green Candle Café if you're curious) to go snooping around some more for clues.

In the GBA game I can actually walk around on the map screen with the d-pad, which is cool... but they forgot to label the locations. I have to walk over and press the 'look' button at each of the pins. Man, I still can't believe this game had a GBA port.

Broken Sword (Game Boy Advance)
The GBA version has direct control in the game as well and I'm surprised at how well it works. I just walk over to something interesting and the context icon appears when I get close if there's anything I can do there. Like lift up a bin lid for instance. I wasn't expecting to find the clown, but I thought I might get a clue at least. No luck though.

There's a manhole cover behind him, but I can't get that open without leverage so this is a dead end for now. Though I bet that workman with the pickaxe will have the tool I need.

Oh while I'm talking about the GBA port I have to mention the save slot select screen because...

Broken Sword (Game Boy Advance)
... because it looks like this. Wobbly Stobbart.

The workman didn't want to hand over his manhole tool so I've gone down to the only other location on the map: the Post de Police. And suddenly I'm having Gabriel Knight flashbacks. It doesn't have goofy out of place police station music like the Gabriel Knights (YouTube link), but that fine as it's started playing in my head anyway!

Unfortunately this was another dead end, but it's a dead end with a phone at least. I have Nico's number so I can call her up and tell her how much nothing I've learned since we last chatted. Turns out that George writes all his numbers down on the back of an envelope, and Nico's has a little picture of her face next to it.

Shame it doesn't appear in my inventory so I can't ever show it to her. I definitely can't show it to her now as she wants me to collect more clues first before we can meet up.


LATER.


Turns out that I was supposed to give the newspaper to the workman to get the manhole tool. I was looking through the manual to find a run button and accidentally read the solution in the tutorial. It keeps happening to me! Worst part is, I was genuinely struggling here, even though Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis uses the exact same solution to a puzzle at around the same point.

I have no explanation for my stupidity, other than maybe I'm being a little thrown off by the way this is more about clicking the conversation icons rather than using items on other items so far. It never even occurred to me to try exhausting all my dialogue options and ask him about a random newspaper I found.

Anyway I've got my tool, so now I get to go down to the sewers. Yay!

Here's another difference between the original game and the Director's Cut, as this animated interlude was removed for whatever reason. In fact a few animations have gone missing, like he doesn't put items in his jacket pocket any more. I'm not sure why they'd choose to make the game worse like this, but they did.

It's not hugely off-putting though to be fair; most of the animations are still there and he still crouches to investigate things.

Here he is in the original game crouching down to investigate a soggy crumpled paper tissue in the sewers. It's an important clue so I'm taking it, along with the clown nose and the bit of clothing snagged on the spiky fence.

There's a good use of ambient sound effects here by the way and the music's subtle enough to stay out of its way as to not ruin the atmosphere... of this sewer. Still, as sewers go this isn't so bad. I like the pretty animated sewage.

The path of clown accessories led me to this guy's building and he wasn't pleased about it. This time though I was wise enough to try asking him about all my inventory items, and the card I got from comedy idiot cop #2 turned out to be the key. Now he thinks that I'm a cop (despite my American accent), and I can ask him about the guy who came through here!

I had to click on the same icons a few times but I eventually got what I needed: the phone number of the clown's tailor! The one that made his regular suit he changed into in the sewers, not the clown suit. Though I know where that came from as well, as the address was written on the nose.

So I phoned the tailor up and he turned out to be entirely useless. Another dead end to add to my collection of dead ends. Every time I feel like I'm finally making a little progress I end up running right into a wall.

The game could've given me some really easy puzzles first, just to boost my confidence! Or a tangible puzzle I can see at least, instead of a mystery to solve.

By the way, this particular line of dialogue seems to be missing from the Director's Cut. So that's another change.

Man, the faces George makes on the phone are creeping me out. He needs to sort his mouth out.


MEANWHILE, IN THE DIRECTOR'S CUT.


Director's Cut (PC)
He looks better in the Director's Cut portraits, but also blander.
 
Oh, I figured out what I needed to do in the end: phone Nico. Turns out that George has collected enough clues now for her to invite him over. In the original game this leads to a conversation in her apartment, but in the Director's Cut there's a brand new chapter here starring Nico, as she investigates the café herself! I thought I was finally free of that place, but now it's dragging me back.

Though there's one good change with the Director's Cut, and that's the book icon down at the bottom that lets me review the story so far. Sure it's stuff I should already know, but if human memory was perfect they'd have never invented notepads.

Director's Cut (PC)
Hey the map's different in this version! They're just changing things for the hell of it now.

Also I went talking to a character that's in the original game and discovered that her voice is different now. Instead of recording new lines for Nico's chapters and trying to make them match, they've replaced her dialogue entirely. Most characters sound the same as ever though so I guess Nico won't be meeting many original characters in her new adventures.

You know what she will be doing though? Another substitution cipher.

Director's Cut (PC)
I also have to arrange this torn up photo, which is almost insultingly easy after the other things I've had to do so far. Though the last cipher wasn't too much of a struggle now that I know the trick (look for names).

Nico's chapters are a strange addition to the game, and not just because of all the mini-games. They also interrupt the plot and slow down the pacing. By the time George gets to her apartment I'm going to need that diary to remember what he's there to tell her.


BACK IN THE ORIGINAL GAME.


George's meeting with Nico got me a photograph of someone wearing a jacket made out of the material I found in the sewer, so now I can show that around to people. Like the eccentric owner of this costume shop for instance... not that anyone in this game isn't eccentric. This is supposed to be a more serious game than the typical LucasArts adventure, but you wouldn't know it by playing it. I can't find any secret cameos hidden amongst the outfits though.

I went back and told Nico that I'd learned the clown's name (it's Khan) and then went outside to... I don't know. I have a photo of the guy and his name, you'd think this would be enough to get the police on his case, but they've been pulled off the case so they're no help.

Bored now... going to GameFAQs.

WAIT, I went back to Nico's and she suggested calling the tailor again now that I have a name to ask him about! So she's going to drop the occasional clue for me huh? I can live with that.

Oh damn, George's phone number envelope’s gotten worse!

Alright, my call to B. Todryk got me the name of Khan's hotel, so now I'm a pretty huge step closer to tracking down the clown, getting hold of the stolen briefcase and finding out what Plantard was going to show to Nico.


SOME HOTEL PUZZLES LATER.


Alright, I couldn't get the key to Khan's hotel room (because he's got it), but I got the the key to the room next door through sheer puzzle solving skill (I kept clicking dialogue icons until a mad British woman helped me get it). So now I just have to sneak over, search the clown's room, get the clues and/or the briefcase, and get back out before he shoots me.

It actually worked out pretty well, aside from the fact that his room was empty. So I went to leave through the door and saw Khan making his way down the hall. Fortunately he somehow didn't notice me, so with quick thinking I sat back and let the cutscene play out until I ended up with the contents of Khan's pants!

So now I have an ID card and an empty matchbook. Weird thing is that the Director's Cut removes a clip of George hiding in the wardrobe, but adds a scene of him searching the discarded trousers.

I tried to use the ID to get the item Khan put in the hotel safe, but I'm obviously not Khan so that didn't work. So I went to plan B: asking the woman to help me again. Seems like there's very little in this game that can't be solved with clicking dialogue icons until they go away. George is more of a Gabriel Knight than a Guybrush Threepwood, solving problems through discussion and detective work rather than MacGuyvering something up.

So I got the contents of the briefcase from the safe and now I can go take it to Nico! Except there's two gangsters outside searching everyone who comes out of the hotel and there's no way it's a good idea for me to leave while I'm still carrying this ancient manuscript I've acquired.

But I did it anyway to see what'd happen and they wrapped George up and threw him off a bridge! I guess it's possible to get killed in this then.

Poor George, they didn't even bother writing his name on his gravestone. Just "Restore, Restart, Quit".

It's actually possible to get the manuscript without ever interacting with the goons outside or really being aware of them, which means this could've come as a total surprise to some players. Though in the Director's Cut they change it so he refuses to leave the hotel until he's ditched the merchandise. In fact they've taken all the deaths out of the Director's Cut, which has made a few people unhappy. Personally as a LucasArts adventure fan I'm less bothered.


I eventually got the manuscript past them and back to Nico's place and we discovered what Plantard wanted to show her: clues to the location of the Knights Templar's secret treasure! Maybe.

Well I'm satisfied. I haven't done any globe trotting yet but I got the man in grey's parchment away from the clown and delivered it to the person it was meant to go to, and think I've got a good idea of how the game plays now. Seems like a good place to quit.


CONCLUSION

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is considered by many to be one of the finest adventure games ever made, and I'm not about to argue with that. I mean I don't necessarily agree, but those folks probably know a lot more about adventure games than I do. They probably didn't spend forever walking around the first few screens because it didn't occur to them to give a newspaper to a workman either... and even if they did I bet they enjoyed it!

Personally I struggled to build up momentum in the game, which might be because it's been more about chatting to characters than solving environmental puzzles so far. I spent most of the game walking around the same few areas trying to figure out who I needed to talk to and what I needed to ask to get the next bit of information to carry on into the next conversation.

Not that I ever got into a proper conversation with actual choices to make, as I was just exhausting my lines of inquiry for the most part. I was occasionally asked a yes/no question which did change how a scene played out and even influenced future scenes (like when I gave the waitress a drink the police sergeant had an extra line later saying that he has experience handling drunken women), which was cool. But that stopped happening early on.

On the plus side, this looks and sounds great for a game from the mid 90s. It's not quite at Curse of Monkey Island's level but it's the next best thing in every department. Well aside for maybe Toonstruck. There's also lots of people putting on French accents if you're into that. I expected there to be some language barrier like in Gabriel Knight 2, but no everyone immediately defaults to speaking flawless English.

I ran the game windowed in ScummVM by the way, with the Director's Cut running in another window simultaneously, and 9 times out of 10 the characters sounded like they had reverb because the voice clips from each game were identical. Timings were a bit different, the DC version was missing some animations and lip movement, and a few lines were replaced or removed, but other than that it was basically the same experience. Well except for the brand new Nico chapters, which would slot in fairly seamlessly if they weren't full of sliding block puzzles and ciphers.

Director's Cut also has the hotspot circles, diary, hints, portraits, less blood and no death scenes. Personally I'm leaning towards it being my favourite just because it lets you jump straight to the next screen when you click an exit, but I can't pick a clear winner here. Though I can say that GOG.com is clearly the best place to buy it, as it's the only shop I've found that gives you both versions for your money.

I feel like I'm giving this a Not Crap award just because of how likeable the characters are rather than the gameplay, but hey the gameplay is mostly talking to the characters so that makes sense. For whatever reason I want to see more of this game, and if you're an adventure game fan who hasn't played it yet you probably will too.



I've gone easy on you with the 'next game' clue this time, seeing as no one guessed Broken Sword.

Comments are welcome, it's always cool to hear your thoughts on the game or my writing.

7 comments:

  1. A land of rods. It's almost like it's some sort of... rodland.

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  2. "...all I could hear was the ceaseless drone of traffic."

    Is it overly picky to point out that there are no cars anywhere in sight in that shot?

    Yes. Yes it is.

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    Replies
    1. He's in the middle of Paris! Even if there's no cars on this street, you can bet the streets nearby will be packed.

      Though I had to put the volume up REALLY high to hear anything but birdsong and the occasional horn.

      Delete
  3. I don't know how I missed the reference in the last post, since I'm a graphic adventures fan.

    My thoughts on this, I prefer the spanish dub over the original english one, which sounds SOOO bland. Also beaten the director's cut, and again, they added a new section at the start with Nicole which was fun, but that's it, the rest of the game was exactly the same, like they ran out of ideas or budget for more extra content.

    This game was among the top rated games back in the day not made by Lucas or Sierra (together with Simon the sorcerer and some other games), but it seems a little slow nowadays, which may be good if you want a calm game

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  4. Developers who put sliding block puzzles in games should have their paychecks split into a thousand random pieces and be forced to put it together themselves. Fuck those things. They're not fun, they're not clever, they make me want to turn the game off.

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  5. I used to play Broken Sword a lot when I was younger. I would sit there for hours stuck on certain parts, never giving up.

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