Revolution software claim that Broken Sword: Directors cut for iPhone is their definitive version… let’s take a closer look shall we?
I’ll be honest and say that I have never played the original. So I can’t really comment on how faithful a representation this is. However, this may be a good thing, as I will not be blinded by fandom and see both the good and bad points of the game.
Broken Sword is one of the classic point and click adventures, and was first released on the PC back in 1996. It has spawned multiple sequels and even made the move into 3D. However, Broken Sword for iPhone is based on the first entry in the series. Sub-headed the ‘Directors Cut’ it includes extended story elements of one of the lead characters, as well as extra art and animation.
The original opened with lead character George Stobart, and american tourist/private investigator enjoying a coffee at a cafe in Paris. The cafe is bombed by a terrorist dressed as a clown. Un-harmed, George takes it upon himself to investigate. The Director’s Cut however, begins with Nico, a french journalist. She also experiences the costume killer first hand, and is drawn into the investigation as well as extended story elements concerning her father and link a to these events. Eventually, as in the original, George and Nico’s paths cross and so begins a who-dun’it style story of murder, religious cults and conspiracy.
The first thing I noticed, and by far the most appealing aspect of the game, are the visuals. A gorgeous animated opening and beautifully illustrated backgrounds representing various locales in Paris, look nothing short of spectacular on the little iPhone screen. Characters look great too, and although small, are animated well, picking up the small nuances of actions in everyday situations such as reading a newspaper, eating and drinking, and general movement. On the PC, these characters obviously looked bigger, allowing you to see their expressions during conversations. To combat this on the small screen, Revolution recruited the talent of artist Dave Gibbons, from Watchmen fame, to create close up comic-book-style windows into the game world, to show the characters faces in more detail. They look great and turn what is already a good looking point and click adventure into an interactive graphic novel. These closeups are also put to good use in situations where you must search in more detail. For example checking the coat pocket of the murdered Carchon, or analysing the main suspect’s discarded chequered trousers.
Supporting the visuals is some excellent sound work. A fantastic musical score plays throughout the game, with a change in pace during heightened tension and dramatic moments. But it’s the voice work that steels the show. Both Matt (TouchGen editor) and myself often complain about the state of the majority of VO in games, comparing it to the worst-of-the-worst of B-movie/Porn style dialogue. Broken Sword, however, get’s it right. Revolution hired proper actors to play the characters, most of them homegrown here in the UK, with acting credits on high profile TV shows like A Touch of Frost and Poirot. This higher quality of VO allows you to get more emotionally attached with the characters, and become more engrossed in the story.
Ok, so it’s got great visuals and sound, but how does this all combine to create what’s most important in any game, the gameplay?
As with all point and click games, the object is to guide your character around environments, often static, and point them in the direction of elements of interest. These can be items that need examining for clues, objects that need interacting with – such as levers, and doors – and of course people for gathering information or expanding on the plot/story. B
roken Sword is no different in this regard, but with the challenge being to translate this typical mouse controlled game onto a touch screen device. Thankfully then it works well, in fact a lot better than I expected. At an event I attended recently the director of the game Charles Cecil commented on how the touchscreen always for more emersion when interacting with the characters, and I agree. Instead of the mouse used as a go between from you to your character, the touchscreen allows you to point to, or interact with the environments almost directly. This is even more apparent in the director’s cut specific first person scenes. For example when examining the body of the murdered Carchon your hand becomes Nicos hand, as you search for clues. Puzzles also have this more direct interactivity to them that the mouse can’t quite emulate.
As you enter an environment, you can hold you finger to the screen. This highlights any touch-points in the game, it’s a handy way of knowing what parts of the environment can be interacted with and/or examined instead of aimlessly tapping around the screen looking for something to activate. These touch points appear as a small circle above the item. If it’s an object for examining an icon of a magnifying glass will appear, for doors and the like, an animated cog icon appears, letting you know that your character needs to interact with it. For people, an animated mouth appear letting you know you can converse with them. Some objects may have multiple icons, meaning you can do more than one thing with them. They may also include an eye icon which allows you to get more information on the item, for example what it is. Tapping these icons will cause you character to walk over to it and carry out the desired action.
Some objects will be added to your inventory. Here you can access any collected item and use it or present it in a conversation as evidence or to provoke a conversation or plot point. Objects such as keys or mechanical objects may need combining with other objects. This is as simple as dragging it to where it needs to be used, much like working with files on a computer. An early puzzle for instance requires you to unearth a coded message, to do this you must place blue paint found earlier in a dish, then roll a cylindrical object that contains embedded characters on it, and finally roll this out onto parchment. Everything you do, talk about or find in the game is added to a journal, which you can access at anytime. It’s particularly useful of you are returning to the game after a few days or weeks and need a summary of where you are in the story.
As well as working out where to go next, and which objects to combine to progress, there are more direct puzzles in the game. Puzzles such as sliding blocks to open elaborate locks, or decoding coded messages. On the iPhone and iPod Touch of course they work particularly well using the touch screen, however those with chubby fingers may struggle on the de-coding puzzles. While rare, these add a welcome change of pace from the exploration elements.
There will come a time when you get stuck on a puzzle or situation in the game. Luckily there is a hint feature in the settings menu. The hints are broken down, so instead of telling you the direct solution it will give you a little nudge in the right direction first, and if that isn’t enough you can drill down for more detail. Broken Sword’s puzzles for the most part are grounded in some form of reality, unlike many point and click or hidden object adventures, so you’ll quite often be kicking yourself when you reveal the hint, as the solution seems so obvious.
If I was to have one major gripe about the game, then it would be it’s pacing. Those expecting a fast paced action thriller are barking up the wrong tree. Like an Agatha Christie novel, this game is more of a meander than a sprint. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for the more mature gamers out there, but you do need to be in the right mood especially when revisiting an area and combing it for those elusive clues. A pick-up-and-play game it aint, so put on your slippers, make a cup of cocoa and relax, your in for the long haul.
I really didn’t think Broken Sword would be my cup of tea. But I was surprised how much it drew me in with it’s great visuals, sound, and well implemented interface. The winner here though is the story, which much like a good book can keep you glued to your little screen. It just proves then that for any adventure game to be a success, a good story must shine through, however many layers of polish you add to it.