Platform: PC, PS2, Xbox

Genre: Adventure

Publisher: The Adventure Company

Developer: Revolution Software

ETA: November 2003

 

Related Links:

Review: Syberia (PC)

Review: Shenmue II (Xbox)

Review: Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb (Playstation 2)

 

 

 

 

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Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

 

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Even excluding the previous two Broken Sword games, developers Revolution Software have made an enviable impact on the games world, almost exclusively as designers of adventure games. Anyone with a background in gaming dating back more than ten or twelve years is likely to remember the splash caused by 1992ís Lure of the Temptress, a game which garnered critical credit all over the world and, 11 years later, still looks good enough to eat. This was followed shortly after by the futuristic thriller Beneath A Steel Sky, with a storyline that tackled the adventure genre from almost the opposite end of the spectrum. But then, in 1996, the first Broken Sword game was released, and that series has since gone on to become Ďthe most successful adventure ever to appear on any console,í according to the blurb, with revenues worldwide in excess of $100 million. And thatís a lot.

 

Since then, numerous critics have gone to town over the death of the adventure game, the merging of the adventure game into other genres, and the lack of any good adventure games, these days. With the exception of a couple of interesting 2D adventures coming out of continental Europe, most of the hopes for the genre seem to be resting on the Sleeping DragonÖ but The Sleeping Dragon has gone 3D.  

 

 

Until Lucasartsí Grim Fandango, people took it as read that an adventure game was a two dimensional affair. Looking back, it seems funny that a game full of skeletons should be the first to successfully flesh out the adventure genre but, whilst there was a certain amount of skepticism about Fandango, the end result was a wonderful game that suffered not a bit for being rounder around the hips. However, when that same engine was used for the fourth Monkey Island game, the worm turned. The consensus was that if Guybrush had called it quits sailing off into the distance with Governor Marley at the end of his third script, then everybody would have gone home happy. Adventure games spluttered, died, and largely continued to be released as normal, whilst everyone ignored them because theyíre supposedly dead.

 

And in all that time, we can only presume that Revolution have been silently working on Broken Sword 3. Itís now nearing release, and the hype machine has kicked into gear for adventure once again.

 

I played an advanced build of the game at ECTS, and was mostly impressed. What I saw of the game seemed to be pretty standard adventure fare, albeit with the kind of lush graphics that put just about every other pure adventure game back into its box. The character models are solid, and the actions they perform are impressively lifelike. The environments can be simply stunning.

 

The camera angles donít seem to pose any kind of problem, either, which was always a worry. Theyíre fixed in position for the most part, which makes the playing field not unlike that of a 2D adventure, but on the completion of specific actions you get to see the field from every angle Ė and itís all there, gloriously enough, ready to leap out at you with its pretty, pretty pictures.

 

In fact, the skepticism revolving around BS3ís transition to the third dimension has mostly come from traditionalist quarters, with old time fans and admirers of the series worried that the game will lose the grass roots feel of an adventure, turning instead into a weak 3D platformer. Tomb Raider is the most oft cited comparison for any game shifting to basic 3D, probably because for the best part of the last decade Laraís adventures have represented the most basic form of 3D youíll see.

 

Revolutionís press have added fuel to the fire with talk of time-critical responses to problems in the game, as well as a more action oriented feel. In their words:

 

The Sleeping Dragon combines detective investigation, exploration and stealth, punctuated by 'action events'.

 

Those quote marks, by the way, arenít mine. That worries me because, as a reviewer, I find that the use of such punctuation is a handy way to signify a sort of sarcastic incredulity about whatever the enclosed comments. For example, Angel of Darknessís press release promised that you would Ďtake more direct and fluid controlí of Lara.

 

There the quote marks are mine, you see, and if youíve ever played the game youíll have a pretty good idea of what color fluid Iím taking out of that control Ďsystemí. (See? I did it again!)

 

Understandably, when a gameís publisher and/or promoter starts using quote marks like that, I just donít know what to think and, since I didnít get to see any of the Ďaction eventsí in Broken Sword 3, Iím reserving my judgment. They might be real crappy, and they might not. Iíd be surprised if they did the rest of the game much justice, but Iím kind of a cynic.

 

If itís any consolation, I found that the characters in BS3 moved much more smoothly and responsively than in the latest Tomb Raider, and thatís just in the adventure segments. Thatís not to say that the games share many common points of course Ė so far just the third person view. But, given that Iíve yet to come across the aforementioned Ďaction eventsí, it has to be said that Sleeping Dragon is holding up well against comparisons.  

 

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I was impressed by the control system, in fact, although it took me a while to get to grips with it. With a simple combination of three or four buttons, a fairly advanced set of options is available, item selection and what to do with it appearing overlaid on the main screen as a set of rotating bubble-like things, which Iíd imagine might become fairly intuitive given the sort of time I didnít have available on the day.

 

One thing that I wasnít so happy with, although in many ways I think itís an unavoidable aspect of a Ďproperí adventure game, was the consistent repetition of the same phrases once youíve tried a given action once or twice. When youíre desperately combining objects, trying to find some solution to a puzzle thatís not immediately apparent, it can be damned grating to hear the same thing over and over again. But, then, if youíre an adventure games purist, youíll be used to that sort of thing. And, unlike me, you probably wonít mind picking up and putting down the same damn fire extinguisher fifteen times in a row, because youíre not too used to the controls, and you donít know what to do with it in any case.

 

Right now, Iím excited about Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, and thatís about as much as Iím willing to say. Whether itís too long or short, whether the Ďaction eventsí add, subtract or merely Ďpunctuateí the game, whether itís as consistently pretty as I saw in the demos, whether or not the puzzles are logical and pitched right (and thatís a big one!), whether the game proper is old school or new fangled Ė all these things will become obvious with time and patience. But, if I were you, Iíd watch this space*.

 

(Note! Revolution have recently given their blessing for both Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky to flow as freeware, which makes them alright, in my book! Check www.revolution.co.uk for more info.)

 

*No, not this space literally. When I was about seven years old, my Dad bought me a copy of some Amstrad CPC magazine or other. One of the pages was an advert for some Ďstunningí new game or other, with the caption ĎWatch this spaceí. And every week, for about six months, I went back to that damn magazine, to see if the page had changed. As you can see, my technological expectations of the print industry have yet to be satisfied.

 

- Matt BLB

(October 30, 2003)