It took all of 35 minutes for “Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars” to become “Broken Game: Shadow of the TemplAAAAARRRRR.” In a point and click puzzle game, one genuinely bad or even poorly thought out puzzle may not be a death knell, but it always portends of woe yet to come. But once I made it past this insufferable puzzle, what was I left with? A boring, nonsensical, over-written click-a-thon that succeeds only in putting its reviewer to sleep.
Yep, must be another episode in the “Broken Sword” saga.
One wonders what the appeal of this series is, or at least why someone somewhere feels compelled to further the adventures of George and Nico, two of the blandest protagonists ever. Their endeavors are not particularly exciting, their banter is desperately overwrought, and still more and more of these titles continue to come out. The point-and-click genre that birthed this series may also seem to be on death’s door, but a genuinely compelling installment would rectify that. Yet we again are faced with unimaginative puzzles, a plot involving a society that now the Nazis for “most frequently used video game villain,” and an awful control scheme.
One thing the game does have going for it is the beauty of its graphics. I loved the cel shaded look which, despite the quality of everything else, worked perfectly for this title. Fully animated cinematics function as story segues as the characters or story change locations. These are equally impressive and fun to watch. They have an almost Disney quality to them. For our younger audience members, I’m referring specifically to the second golden age of Disney animation which kicked off with 1989’s “The Little Mermaid.” This would be the time before Pixar and full 3D animation, a period where animators were still drawing things by hand.
Yes, it is that good here.
The in-game graphics are also crisply drawn, and add a spark to an otherwise dreary and lifeless adventure. The Parisian scenery is clearly a labor of love as it is chock full of depth and details. Looking at the backgrounds of the cityscape, as well as the varied interiors, winds up being more fun than actually playing the game itself. This is terrific work from some very talented artists.
The game also succeeds in having a solid soundtrack. The music is easy to listen to, and very relaxing… probably more than it should have been. Moving through the lovingly rendered Parisian cityscape while listening to a nice orchestral score is a very fun thing to do, even if the music does move as slow as the plot.
The actors struggle mightily to make the pages of dialogue sound better than it is, and it is to their credit that success just barely eludes them. The actors playing George and Nico have done this for so long they easily slip back into their characters with ease. By no means is it the video game equivalent of “The Thin Man” series, even if that comparison is easiest to make. Their banter may fall flat, but the actors believe in it and that does make a difference between an unplayable mess and a game that’s merely boring.
The crux of a point and click adventure is the ability to, you know, point and click. Where the waters become muddied is when your ability to point works great, but the clicking is problematic. This isn’t necessarily that big a deal when you can point in a general direction and click to ensure your character moves that way. But at the 35 minute mark of this game, I encountered a puzzle so deviously complex it involved turning a stone clockwise and counterclockwise X amount of clicks based on a clue you pick up earlier.
I spent close to an hour with this one puzzle because the point and click would overcompensate and under compensate at the perfect moment, which would reset the puzzle. It is incredibly frustrating to turn a wheel a quarter click to the left and just when you’re about to hit the sweet spot, the Wiimote argues that you’re not moving fast enough and twitches. The result is a puzzle reset. Again. And again. And again. And again.
By way of testing, I even made sure I was caffeine free, something that proved a little more difficult than I’d anticipated. I checked the sensitivity of the Wiimote, and every other control option I could, all to no avail. Then once I made it past this devious puzzle, I encountered a cipher one shortly afterwards where you have to click on a symbol then click on a letter you want to use to replace that symbol. Hovering over the symbols and letters means you have to move quickly, because the Wiimote spasms so much during the course of the game you have to point and click quickly and hope for the best. Otherwise, you will find clicking on the items you want – either in your inventory or during puzzles – to be far more difficult than it should have been.
It’s hard to screw up a point and click adventure for a console that features a controller built for pointing and clicking, but “Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars” accomplishes that very feat.
The gameplay is not very involving. It is a point and click adventure starring two leads who at best resemble cardboard. Or maybe that’s the equivalent of their personalities. Regardless, the adventure kicks off when French reporter Nico witnesses a mime commit murder (three guesses on whether or not the mime used a silencer), then discovers that the victim was involved in a global conspiracy. Shortly afterwards, her American lawyer friend George is waiting at an outdoor Parisian café when the same mime, dressed as a clown this time, blows up the café. Clearly he must be a “crying on the inside” type clown. Nico and George realize he’s a killer that Nico has chronicled before, so it is a race against time to figure out what his motives are and where the story will end.
The only good news is that the game ends pretty quickly because it is so boring. I’ve played the other games in this series before and not one thing about them other than my deadline has compelled me to finish them. The stories are never interesting, the characters are dull and lifeless, and the location never changes.
In this case, the story ultimately revolves around the Templars which, as mentioned above, now rival the Nazis as video game shorthand for “villains that are to be fought and killed on sight.” The actual history of the Knights Templar makes for compelling reading, but their de facto use as modern boogeymen has significantly muted their influence.
Once the story is in the players’ hands, you point and click around rooms to find items. Once you obtain those items, you have to combine them with other items in your inventory or with different items in the room in order to solve each puzzle. Sometimes the solution is easy. Sometimes the solution takes some time and patience to figure out. Other times the solution is easy but working out the puzzle is a nightmare in frustration thanks to a wonky control scheme.
To recap: Point. Click. Listen to inane banter. Point. Click. Listen to more inane banter and lengthy exposition scenes regarding a story that is, at best, clichéd in the extreme.
If you are a fan of point and click adventures, this is one of them. It shows how unremarkable this game is when that is the best a reviewer can say about it. Other sagas in this genre have managed to be compelling tales filled with terrific lead and supporting characters. The “Broken Sword” series features none of that and the result is a dispiriting story that will do little, if anything at all, to further a genre that I maintain is ripe for a comeback.
But if you absolutely have to play a game like this, at least the graphics and animation are top notch and fit the story very well.
The other games in this series are an indicator of how boring a franchise can be. Yet the “Broken Sword” story continues to inexplicably live on. How this is and why this is border irrelevancy. All that needs mentioning is that this game will put you to sleep when it isn’t trying your patience with a poorly implemented use of the Wii-mote.
Do yourself a favor and reinstall “Grim Fandango” on your PC if you want to see what a top notch point and click video game adventure is capable of.