Thursday, October 09, 2008

Broken Sword 2.5: Return of the Templars Review

After several years of work, a group of fans of the Broken Sword series has completed one of the most ambitious independent adventure projects ever: a full-length sequel to the series, hardly distinguishable from the original. In fact, it resembles the commercial games so much that I found myself comparing this title to its inspiration more than its peer group, other independent adventures. In this review, though, I will do my best to rate this game on its merits.

Broken Sword 2.5 takes place between The Smoking Mirror and The Sleeping Dragon. George, the main character, has received a message that Nico, his French girlfriend, has died. He was pleasantly surprised to find her alive, but quite taken aback by her brash behavior and secrecy. It didn’t help to find out that she was accused of killing the mayor of Paris. It’s now up to the player to guide George to find out the truth. As in other Broken Sword games, the truth turns out to be quite elusive, obscured by numerous story twists and turns. And as with other games in the series, Broken Sword 2.5 focuses heavily on the story, so I won’t be revealing anything more.

The game’s presentation is fashioned after the first two official parts: presented in a beautifully drawn 2D cartoonish environment. Many of the backgrounds are actually lifted from the original games, as are the cursors and many character animations. The game authors are not trying to hide this; in fact, in one scene the game actually features flashbacks from the first game in the series when George visits a familiar location.

Unfortunately, reusing existing graphics has introduced the only real problem I’ve had with the game: a lack of visual consistency. There is a visible difference between graphics from the official games and new graphics. The new ones look and feel much flatter, which is a little disturbing with backgrounds and quite annoying with moving people. Especially in scenes where George walks across a new background, surrounded by new people, he stands out like a sore thumb.

Sound-wise, the game is excellent. The voiceovers (at the time of writing only in German, but English speakers will find English subtitles) are some of the best I’ve heard in an independent adventure, and would easily give a commercial game (The Watchmaker, I’m looking at you) a run for their money. The developers were really passionate about their project, and it is perceptible in their voice acting. The soundtrack mimics the official soundtracks, and even though it is not as plentiful as in the original games, it is still very well done. For an independent adventure, the soundtrack is very good, but people looking for the same atmosphere as in the original games will be disappointed by the lack of any music in most screens.

The most outstanding aspect of the game, though, is the writing. Broken Sword 2.5 fits very snuggly into the overall Broken Sword universe as it maintains plenty of ties to previous and future games. Throughout the game, the player will meet familiar characters and share fond (or not so fond) memories. In a few cases, the designers actually included some extra background information, which explains some of the questions that were left unanswered in the original series. The authors touched also on upcoming titles, hinting to future events. In a particularly amusing jab at The Sleeping Dragon (Broken Sword 3), George even comments on how much he dislikes pushing crates around.

The overall story is excellent as well. It may sound very improbable and convoluted, but in hindsight I found it on par with the official games in the series. Unfortunately, towards the end the game slides into lengthy explanations that tie all the loose ends, instead of having George figuring out the entire story himself. Still, the effort the authors put even into this part, is commendable, and with the exception of one aspect – the sudden disappearance of several supporting characters from the storyline – the story worked above my expectations.

The only weak part of the writing is puzzle design. As with the commercial games, the puzzles are usually easy and straight-forward. However, a few puzzles are a little convoluted, and then there are those that require a little pixel hunting. Given the size of the cursors and a certain stickiness of hotspot descriptors (they slowly fade out when moving the cursor elsewhere), some hotspots are easy to miss, making the game a little frustrating at times. My main gripe here, however, was the inconsistency that occurred when George needed to use money: money miraculously appeared when the authors didn’t need to further the story, even though in an earlier scene George couldn’t afford a single ice cream cone.

Overall, though, Broken Sword 2.5 is easily the most pleasant independent adventure experience I’ve encountered this year. It is almost on par with the commercial games in the series, and way above any standard set by free independent adventures. It easily fits into the range of independent games that were commercialized, such as Dark Fall and Final Destination. I feel very lucky I was able to play Broken Sword 2.5.


Anonymous free pc games said...

Great game, really honours Revolution's original series.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The subtitles need work and the story a little too short. I want to be able to play for hours. The subtitles use both English and American spellings.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great game, worthy sequel for Broken Sword I/II. However, it's way too easy. I've finished it in two days.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read with eyes wide open in amazement at the feedback. I played the first two games again and then played 2.5; while it may be good by games made by fans standards, it is nowhere near on a par with the real series installments. The dialogue was very dull in parts and as you say, at the end there were huge chunks of text to fill in the story. And as you also say, the puzzles were ridiculously easy and this massively hindered the game. Things like where you need a flashlight and then you go to the hobo and he's holding a flashlight. That let's the game down. The character's weren't very good either, noticably George who came across as very irritating. Great effort by those who made the game but it really was a poor immitation of the actual Broken Sword games.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admire the effort put into this game. However, it just didn't do much for me. A lot of the puzzles were rubbish or non-sensical and the story was very jagged in places that it took away from the experience too much.

Much respect to the BS 2.5 team for all their hard work and dedication though.

12:20 AM  
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6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a huge fan of the broken sword series. :) i was so excited about playing this one. There are many good things about it.

1) looks good
2) stay's quite true to the story

but though i love it. It has some downfalls.

1) too short
2) too easy

thanks though, i enjoyed the 4 hours of gameplay.

5:12 PM  
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9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a free fan game, this must rank among the best i've played.

Agreed, it was a little short and the dialogue was a little flat, but i found the mix of easy and difficult puzzles afforded an interesting change of pace.

I also found the number of red herrings quite refreshing. Too many point and clicks insist on every item being used. Nothing wrong with proceeding from start to finish in a game waiting to use a key only to find it actually opens no door at all. It affords a little more realism to the situation.

Overall, I think this was a triumph. Thank you!

8:45 PM  

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