Broken Sword 3 – The Sleeping Dragon Xbox Review
A long neglected genre, the point-and-click, finally finds itself back in the public eye after a long hiatus. Newbies and veterans alike, come and partake of the experience that is Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, and see what the fuss about this style of game is all about…
The characters are wonderfully rendered, with some great detail gone into the models. The range of animations seems a bit restricted however, with one particular incident involving Nico making the same restless gesture over and over again every few seconds while talking. This seems a bit comically lazy, and really doesn’t look that impressive. There is also some glitchiness in the otherwise quite fluid and pretty animation, which just isn’t very tidy to behold. It’s a shame, as some of the architecture of the game is lovely to look at, and the lip-synching is pretty much spot on, but overall the graphics are let down a little by these minor problems.
If you are a newcomer to the Broken Sword series (in which case I can’t recommend you strongly enough to go and pick up the other two games), let me fill you in on what you’ve missed. You play as American good-guy George Stobbart, who was almost killed when a man dressed as a clown blew up a Parisian café where he was drinking (don’t worry, the game isn’t as crazy as it sounds). Since then, he has become something of an amateur detective somewhere along the lines of Indiana Jones, travelling the globe to solve the events and that he finds himself getting sucked into, and gathering important artefacts before they can fall into enemy hands. This game treats the characters established in the older games familiarly, but is careful to make an introduction for the less-experienced player, so don’t be afraid to leap in with the third part of the series.
The action of the game is split pretty much evenly between George and the object of his affections, Nico, a French journalist. The traditional point-and-click interface has now been discarded in favour of full analogue control of the heroes, although you retain the inventory screen and the ‘use/look’ and ‘at/combine’ commands. Items that can be picked up all shine helpfully, and a similar marker indicates items that can be manipulated so if you get stuck, its largely a matter of wandering about until something highlights itself. Like the older games, one button will give you a description of the item, while another will instruct your character to pick it up. Some sections of the game also call for two characters to work together in order to advance. There are also now some action sequences, which involve climbing/jumping/block shifting to open new paths. This isn’t a particularly original approach, and the specific nature of the controls in these sections really stifles gameplay; you can only jump in certain places, only climb certain places and so forth. This makes the action sections just like a rather uninteresting maze to navigate, which doesn’t really get the pulse racing. However, the working-through of these sections will no doubt please the thinker among you, who prefers a little more thought over all-out action.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from the same obscure puzzles that have haunted the earlier games; while some, like putting a newspaper under a door to catch a key, make perfect sense, a number of them seem to fall down to pure guesswork – trying every item in your inventory against an obstacle until you stumble upon the right combination. While this has always been a staple of point-and-click games, no doubt newcomers to the genre will find the lateral thinking required frustrating to begin with.
Unlike the Lucasarts point-and-clicks, it is possible to die at certain points of the game. While you have no health bars, there are certain situations in which you may die instantly. These take one of two forms; set events and wrongly manipulating puzzle items. The first of these is similar to the quick-time-events of Shenmue; during a cutscene, you will have a second of control in which you must hit a button to avoid being killed. This keeps you on your toes; instead of sitting back and watching, you have to stay on the alert in case the need to defend yourself arises. The second is more a case of your own clumsiness; letting yourself get caught by an enemy, or stepping into a booby trap will naturally get you killed. Dying will whisk you back to the start of the sequence that killed you, so its no big deal trying again. You can also save anywhere in the game except during cutscenes, which is nice.
Now to my biggest issue with the game; the load times. They are long. Loooong. And punctuate the game almost every time you enter a new area. This breaks up the gameplay hideously, and really is hard to understand especially when you’re playing the Xbox version and aren’t used to long load times. Sometimes the load times had me laughing incredulously as I waited for several minutes for the next section of the game to load. Accidentally stepping the wrong way back off the screen again almost had me in tears as I had to endure the same load screen again to take me back to a place I didn’t want to be in. I’m not sure there is really any excuse for load times this long or this frequent.
While a number of the areas you explore, which range from the Congo to Glastonbury, appear expansive and worthy of much detailed investigation, a number of areas cant be explored. Anyone that’s played Silent Hill will be familiar with doors that are “locked”, “broken” or just “stuck and cannot be opened”; you’ll encounter a similar technique of letting you know a door is just a pretty texture here too. The way that you are forced along the right track is a bit restrictive in this sense.
Some nice voiceover, although some of the French accents grind on the ears. Sadly missing is the great humour of the earlier instalments of the series; while there are some nice jokes that will bring a smile to your face, they are now few and far between, with more serious references to what is going on taking precedence. This is a bit of a shame, as it was really something that make the first game so enjoyable; now it feels a bit stilted. The background music is pleasantly ambient, with some nice movie-esque tweaks to indicate suspense or intriguing dialogue; while not largely noteworthy, they add to the overall cinematic experience of the game.
The game isn’t as long as the earlier two episodes, and will probably be a matter of a couple of weeks or so to complete…so long as you don’t use a guide to get you through the trickier puzzles. There doesn’t appear to be any replay value, so whether or not you will find solving the same puzzles again with none of the surprise is questionable.
There should be more games of this wonderful genre on the market. There really should. Unfortunately, while this game is entertaining and will flex the old brain in a way that very few other recent games will, its not really the best example of what this genre can do, and probably wont be converting a huge number of people to this fantastic type of game. With any luck, Lucasarts will rejuvenate the genre with Sam n Max 2 later in the year…but for the time being, any veterans of the point-and-click or puzzle solving arena of games should give this a bash to get back into shape. Anyone with sore thumbs feeling their IQ slipping away as they bash at the buttons in another all out action game should give it a whirl just because its something different from pretty much all the other next-gen console games on the market.