Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (initially Broken Sword: Circle of Blood in the US) was developed by Revolution Software (and Astraware for Palm OS) and published by Virgin Interactive for Microsoft Window and Mac OS, SCEE (Europe) and THQ (North America) for PlayStation, BAM! Entertainment for the GameBoy Advance, and Astraware for Palm OS and Window Mobile, initially released in 1996. It is a point-and-click adventure game that received so much critical acclaim that it not only spawned its own series, but was also petitioned to be released on the Nintendo Wii and DS, causing the developers to re-release it as Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Director’s Cut) from 2009 to 2012 on various platforms with additional content and returned performances by the key voice actors. I have never played the original game.
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Director’s Cut) starts you off as Nicole “Nico” Collard, a French photojournalist, visiting the mansion of a media tycoon named Pierre Carchon upon invitation. Carchon admits to having a connection to Nico (even though they have never personally met until this moment) and mentions that he has a matter of great importance to speak to her about. His estranged wife, Imelda, expresses an ulterior motive for inviting her into his home. Before the purpose for Nico’s attendance can be addressed, however, a noise from another room distracts Pierre and he sets off to investigate, only to be murdered seconds later by a mime that had been performing outside of his home, as observed by Nico on her way to visit Carchon. Nico realises that the murderer is a serial killer that she has dubbed the Costume Killer, and the game begins with you tracking the assailant down. Nico gets a lead into the case through a mystery caller named Plantard, who has her meet him at a café the next morning, but the Costume Killer kills Plantard with a bomb that blows up the café before Nico’s arrival. The bombing is witnessed by George Stobbart, an American on vacation who was seated at an outdoor table.
They story itself centers around finding the Costume Killer in order to exact justice. To do this, you play as George Stobbart. Meanwhile, Nico has her own leads to follow involving Carchon’s death and you switch back and forth between both characters. Both stories inevitably become entwined and as they find themselves getting closer to the killer, a bigger picture of a conspiracy involving the Knights Templar is painted. The Templars are up to the cliché of world domination and the hunt for the Costume Killer entwines with stopping the Templars’ plan.
This is a 2D game, played from the third-person perspective, where many of the puzzles are situational, though some actual puzzles are thrown in sporadically. The real puzzles are mainly in the beginning when you play as Nico while the rest (and the vast majority) help progress the story onward. On top of the puzzle aspect, there is also a morality feature that is used when conducting interviews that gives you the option to be either truthful or deceitful. Cut scenes are cartoons, and fit in with the visual style of the game quite nicely. Gameplay, outside of puzzles and interviews, consists of observing and investigating your surroundings. Areas on the screen that can be clicked on are indicated by an animated circle whenever the pointer is nearby. Inventory items are also collected and used with the environment.
Despite being lauded as “the best of its platform” by VideoGamer.com and met with a positive reception all around, this game has its flaws. As mentioned before, I have never played the original version, so the moment I switched to playing George I was immediately disconnected from the game despite only having played as Nico for a relatively short period of time. Playing as alternate characters works for level-designed games, mainly because you can choose who to play as before starting or you will be given an indication as to who you will be playing next. When this technique is applied to games like Broken Sword, which follows a linear storyline, the effect is jolting because you have no idea when the next switch will happen or if it will happen at all. Because of this, you wind up playing the game in anticipation of the next switch instead of enjoying it for what it is.
The situational puzzles are excellently-designed and follow a logical and rational deduction, though that falls apart about halfway through the game, where outside-the-box solutions begin to reign supreme. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you visit Marib, Seria. At its most blatant, you must make your way to Bull’s Head Hill for investigative purposes, but the taxi you need to take requires repairing. You attempt to do so, only to get so stuck that the game turns into a commercial for its strategy guide. The solution is groan-worthy. “Oh, you didn’t know you could use a roll of paper towels as a fan belt? Why not?” From Marib on you find yourself having to perform actions that would never occur to you in order to solve the situational puzzles. While logic and reason never go completely out the window, they at least get thrown into the glass enough times to break it. To be fair, though, the game gives you a hint system that will eventually tell you the answer most of the time.
What makes the Director’s Cut different from the original game is that you can play as Nico, whereas the original only has you playing as George. The difference between the old and new is minimal, but still noticeable. While the voice actors who returned matched their original performances perfectly, the newer recordings still stand out as some of the older performances sound distanced and muffled. New animation was also added both for gameplay and cut scenes, and while they blend in perfectly for the most part, the final cut scene (which continues from the original game’s ending) is what most blatantly stands out. Also, some of the performances by the supporting voice cast, all of whom are from the original game, are a little over the top—which is fine for this game, but several times the performances are so forced you can tell how fake they are (and yet the original somehow received accolades for its voice work).
The morality aspect of the game serves no real purpose. Outside of one instance, I can find no reason to ever be dishonest, so for the most part all it does is slow the dialogue scenes down. And speaking of slowing you down, you get your hands on a map at one point that you need to look over. While in dialogue scenes with Nico as George you have the ability to look at the map at each opportunity. However, if you click on that map by mistake, you can never just exit out of it; you have to waste time clicking on every area and clicking to skip all dialogues before you can leave the map’s screen.
The gameplay to story ratio is a bad mix. As with Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, this is a game where story takes a backseat to gameplay and as a result you stop trying to figure out where you are, why you are there, or how you got there in the first place, and you are left with figuring out what you are supposed to be doing next. Whereas Indy was light on story and heavy on gameplay, though, this game is heavy on both, with story and gameplay taking up equal amounts of time. Not only is a lot of information pushed out in the dialogue scenes about the Templars – every decision is made so quickly and with such definitiveness that you are never given any time to process all of the information before gameplay ensues again.
Taking all of this into consideration, I would consider Broken Sword to be playable at minimum and maybe enjoyable if you go through it a few more times in an attempt to fully understand what is going on. While the game has its charm and the first half consists of decent gameplay, it loses its steam thereafter and you may be left unmotivated to play it anymore past your first time.