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I am a self-confessed retro gamer and absolutely love all the old point and click games of years yonder, so when I heard Revolution Software was making a Broken Sword 5 game (The Serpent's Curse) I may have been responsible for the high pitched girlish squealing noise emanating around the room. This immediately gave me an overwhelming urge to replay all the previous four games, and I discovered that they were all available on one neat disc for the miniscule sum of £7.99 from Amazon. These were quite modern versions of the games too, as the software is compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7 and so the graphics, as old school as they are, can still look good. One thing to note, the first two games "Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars" and "Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror" were originally created in 1996 and 1997 respectively, but in 2009 and 2010 these were re-mastered and re-released as Director's cuts which are the versions on this collection.
Installing the games is an absolute breeze - simply pop the DVD-ROM into your computer and it should automatically pop up the link to auto run. This comes up in a neat control panel with the options to Play, view the Manual and Install each game in turn. The only issue I found was when trying to run the fourth game it failed due to a missing dll file which prevented it from initialising. This required locating a Dll-File Fixer application to download the missing file to my laptop which solved the problem, but I don't know if this is an isolated issue just because something went wrong with my laptop or if it could be a widespread issue, so something to look out for. Another problem I found only with the fourth game is it seemed to send my video card into overdrive which caused (and again this is something that has plagued my laptop) a system shutdown due to overheating on quite a few occasions, which meant I was constantly saving the game at crucial moments to avoid having to redo things in a tediously repetitive fashion. This could well just be my rubbish laptop, but it could also be a potential flaw.
The history of the games
The Broken Sword series was dreamt up by Charles Cecil, Noirin Carmody and Sean Brennan back in 1994 based upon the concept of the infamous Knights Templar - *History Lesson Warning* the medieval religious Order formed in 1119 around the time of the Crusades with the aim to protect Christian pilgrims on their journeys, which soon developed more into a secretive financial organisation around Europe and the Holy Lands. However, this growth of wealth and power and a desire to split into their own monastic state made them unpopular in certain circles, and things took a nasty turn with their bloody persecution and torture under such false charges of heresy, obscene rituals, homosexuality and financial fraud and by 1312 the order was all but dissolved. However, due to the nature of being a secret society, many rumours circulate around the legend of the Knights Templar including the prospect of hidden relics and treasures and even that Neo-Templars may exist today making them primed for some extreme speculation...hmmm enough to culminate in a series of video games, perchance?
==Game 1 - Shadow of the Templars: Director's Cut==
First released in 1996 and re-mastered in 2009, this game introduces our main protagonists the dashing American patent lawyer George Stobbart and the gorgeous French photojournalist Nicole "Nico" Collard. The adventure begins in Paris at The Palaise Royal where Nico is attending an interview with Statesman Pierre Carchon only to walk in on his murder...by a mime. Having been on the trail of a costumed killer already, Nico decides rather than leaving it to the police she will also investigate it herself. As Nico sets out to discover what Carchon was going to reveal, and on a personal level how he was connected to her father, across town at a Paris café we find one George Stobbart enjoying his travels...that is until he is almost blown up by a clown assassin wielding an explosive accordion. Ooh...another costumed killer. Cue George and Nico's paths crossing. George takes an instant liking to Nico who is slightly less receptive but the pair end up working together to try to unravel the conspiracy they have stumbled upon taking them on a breath-taking ride around the globe to Ireland, Spain, Syria (a little unfortunate given the civil unrest there at the moment) and Scotland hunting for clues.
This game is excellent for so many reasons. As point and click games this game is right up there with the best regarding the ease of gameplay and enjoyment factor. The graphics for this game utilise a 2D cartoon style which is artistically quite pleasing at times with lots of vibrant colours and beautiful backdrops, and also allows for some superb detail with minimal fuss and as a result, despite being now nearly 20 years old the simplicity means it stands the test of time. You get both subtitles and voiceovers for the conversations and narrations which, despite being outrageously over the top and somewhat stereotyping all the generic European accents, are surprisingly good, and these ridiculous exaggerations actually make it all the more charming. So, a chap named Rolf Saxon played George and a gal named Hazel Ellerby played Nico and I find both these actors excellent in portraying their characters, particularly with a humorous bite of sarcasm at every available turn. The scoring for this game is also very cool, with some powerful orchestral and atmospheric pieces for the emotional and dramatic scenes which really does give it a proper cinematographic feel.
The gameplay itself is incredibly easy - as it says on the tin point and click. You basically play from a third person perspective as either George or Nico as the story demands it and little circles appear when you are near a person or object of interest and then you can simply left or right click depending on what act you want to perform, e.g. pick up, talk to, examine, use. You also have a "satchel" which contains all the objects you have pilfered along the way and given the size of some of them clearly has T.A.R.D.I.S like qualities. To use these objects you simply open the satchel and drag and drop your chosen object to either another object within the satchel or to an area of interest on the main gaming zone. When talking to people you can either ask them about objects in your satchel or face icons pop up to discuss other characters you have come across. One element I enjoy is in certain situations you have the choice to lie (devil you) or tell the truth (angel you) which ultimately will lead to the same result but is amusing to hear the stories your character can concoct...all in the name of truth and justice of course. There is also a notepad which records notes of events and discoveries from the game as you go along which is a useful resource if you need to check where you are, or have been away from the game and forgotten everything.
The best part of this game however is the brilliantly conceived story with an array of amusing, to irritating (particularly Andre Lobineau - George's rival for Nico's affections) to downright villainous characters backed up with excellent dialogue and witty banter between characters and the cunning way puzzle solving is slipped in to enable the story to move forward and to make you feel like you are genuinely on the trail of an age old conspiracy with ancient manuscripts leading to lost catacombs filled with secrets and an opposing force hot on your tail making you truly feel like you're in an Indiana Jones movie.
George: Let's just say I'm working in the interests of truth and justice.
Todryk: Ah, Thank God, I thought you were the police.
George: You speak very good English for a French girl.
Nico: Thanks. You speak very good English for an American.
Not only do you have to use logic to work out how to combine objects to turn events to your favour, but you also have to perform slide puzzles, decryptions, jigsaw puzzles, word searches and cog and dial puzzles along the way, and so whilst the gameplay is incredibly easy, this is actually a pretty challenging game. But, alas with all point and click puzzles there will come a point where frustration is the overwhelming feeling when you hit a wall and you end up desperately trying all objects with everything, even though common sense tells you using a clown's nose with a sarcophagus probably won't do you much good. Still, the satisfaction when you get moving again makes it all worth it especially when you are rewarded with exciting action scenes that further the story along all the way to one hell of a dramatic, if somewhat abrupt conclusion. It took me about 9 hours to complete this game despite having played it before (with a lot of bumbling along the way mind you) so it is excellent value for money and highly enjoyable all the way, despite a lot of frustration and if you leave it long enough you will have forgotten everything and can easily play it again.
Due to the massive entertainment factor I'd give this one 9/10.
==Game 2 - The Smoking Mirror: Remastered==
Released in 2007 and re-mastered in 2010 This game picks up 6 months after the first game finished with George and Nico reuniting after George had been away in their typically adventurous way with Nico taking George to an appointment with an archaeologist Professor Oubier which naturally leads to Nico being kidnapped by Central Americans and George left precariously tied to a chair and trapped in a burning room with a poisonous spider on the loose. Uh oh! Breaking free George has to track down Nico before the two of them find themselves embroiled in another conspiracy, this time involving the ancient Mayans and their deadly god Tezcatlipoca who was trapped in a mirror by some Mayan shamans and held there by three powerful stones which of course a shadowy figures is after to unleash the power of this god for their own nefarious devices. Can George and Nico stop this evil from being released?
This game imitates the first game with the same 2D cartoon styling, scoring and the same point and click functionality including playing as either George still voiced by Rolf Saxon or Nico (although predominantly George in this one) now voiced by Flaminia Cinque, having a satchel for all the objects you illicitly steal and notepad and so you don't need to learn anything new for the gameplay of this one which means you can jump right in. So this game veers away completely from the Knights Templar concept of the first one and branches off into another legendary group abound with secrets, the Mayans. This allows for more exciting globetrotting by going around France to dingy warehouses, to the fictitious Central American town of Quaramonte complete with jungle, to the British Museum (which couldn't have been more different from the real life one if they'd tried) and a lost tube station in London to a Caribbean island named Zombie Island which again makes you feel like you are going on a proper adventure. The witty dialogue and character banter is still there, with George and Nico still displaying their sarcastic outlook on life and there are plenty of new fun and silly characters to add humour to the game.
Whilst I did enjoy the plot of this story which was pretty exciting and intrepid with the now trademark humour in full flow, the actual game only took me about 5 hours to complete with the mandatory bumbling and so this game felt a whole lot less complex and less challenging than the first game and overall felt perhaps a bit rushed (given that it came out a year after the first one this could be argued to be the case...). There was also a distinct absence of the varied puzzles that were present in the first game, with just a couple of instances of having to move boxes around and only one giant puzzle at the end which once you figure out how to solve it was actually just repetitive and not all that fun so really it became a bit of a generic point and click game without the magic of the first which was a shame. Although one good thing that did spice it up was the ability for the characters to die which was very unusual in these kind of gentle paced games and something I was totally not expecting. Eep. This made me a lot more alert during the gameplay and feeling a lot more under pressure during dramatic moments in case I accidentally killed my players, which was a nice touch.
Due to a lack of puzzles and a slightly rushed feel I'd give this one 6/10.
==Game 3 - The Sleeping Dragon==
This story starts with Nico (now voiced by Sarah Crook) and George (still voiced by Rolf Saxon) no longer together, with George off to the Congo Basin with his mate Harry to meet up with a scientist and Nico stumbling across another case when a hacker who had successfully decoded the Voynich manuscript was murdered just before they were due to meet and she was framed for it. Their separate investigations lead them to reunite as they realise they are on the same case, to stop a ghoulish figure named Susarro, a neo-Templar, from using ancient powers through the Earth's ley lines (you bet they end up in Glastonbury at some point, though no Stone Henge sadly) to gain immortality and ultimate set out to rule the world, yada yada. Will they managed to stop him and his deadly assassin Petra, or are there even darker forces at work?
This game, which is a negative for me, saw a change up from 2D to 3D gaming which is not something I enjoy on a PC format. The obvious need to move with the times and showcase better programming skills unfortunately detracted from the ease of gameplay of the previous games which irked me quite a bit throughout. Being the lazy bones I am I didn't even consider reading the manual but when it came to trying to play and simply moving the mouse pointer and clicking nothing happened. Argh. I then found out the game controls had moved to the keyboard using the W,A,S and D keys to operate onscreen commands in a four circle hierarchy and hitting Space to access the inventory. Whilst not complicated, I often had to think about what button to press and did make a fair few mistakes. Secondly, the realism (although I admit cartoons are obviously highly unrealistic they work because that is what you are expecting) compared to the other games was a bit lost for me as in striving for more realism this third dimension actually made objects look weirdly out of proportion and the shifting scenes as characters moved about were often a little slow to catch up giving a hint of motion sickness here and there. Overall, a step back for me.
Still, the plot was back on track delving into the shifty world of Neo-Templars with a suitably exciting climax that made all the usual frustrations worth it, the characterisation was all still there with some old and some new characters with their usual exaggerated charms and with real danger given our protagonists could still meet an untimely demise with careless gameplay this game was once again another thrilling adventure in the lives of George and Nico. Once again the puzzles in this game never quite reached the dizzying heights of the first game, with only really the shifting of boxes offering logic puzzles beyond the usual logic applied throughout the game, and these became most tedious at times. But, nonetheless, despite all these quibbles, this was another fun filled game which took me a good 13 hours to complete so the longest so far.
Due to the horrible shift from 2D to 3D and trickier controls I'd give this one 7/10.
==Game 4 - The Angel of Death==
This game was first released in 2006 where we find George working in a bail bonds office in New York when a scared young woman Anna Maria bursts in needing his help to decode a manuscript. After a run in with some mobsters, George (Rolf Saxon) and Anna Maria (Regina Regan) follow the manuscript and end up in Istanbul where they break in to the Topkapi Palace and locate a golden cherub...mysterious. However the next morning, George wakes to find the cherub and Anna Maria gone and he himself suspected of being a terrorist. Escape comes in the form of Nico (now voiced by yet another new actress Katherine Pageon) disguised as a nun, and they once again join forces to uncover the conspiracy to find how who Anna Maria really is, what the cherub is to be used for, and just what the Angel of Death is. The truth is a truly frightening one and George and Nico face an uphill battle to once again save the world and themselves from deadly, supernatural powers.
Once again this game uses a 3D style, which whilst improved from the last game still, for me, has the same inherent problems although thankfully the designers have gone back to using the mouse for an easier point and click control and scrolling to the top of the screen to access the inventory. Although now, you can use the cursor to walk around as well as pointing to where you want to go which made crashing in to walls and giving yourself motion sickness while trying to traverse spiralling staircases all too easy to do, so once again the overall gameplay was less enjoyable than the first two games. The same style as the previous games was still thankfully present though, with repeat characters from the past making an appearance with inside jokes as well as the usual bunch of new fun characters to spice things up; George and Nico's usual dry, sarcastic and often cynical wit ever present; the standard globetrotting to such places as America, Turkey, Rome and The Vatican (filled with lots of intimidating nuns), plus history lessons on the Knights Templar to add some intrigue and credibility to the plot.
Puzzle wise there were a few good additions, particularly with a hacking tool that required redirecting beams through servers in order to break in to classified computers which became more challenging as the game progresses, especially one that needed to be done quickly to prevent a bomb going off. I think I killed George and the surrounding apartment inhabitants at least 8 times before I solved that one. That was before I even tried to diffuse the bomb. Unfortunately the crate moving puzzles were still there but there were a lot more riddles and puzzles to solve based upon ancient manuscripts which required a bit of thought so added back in another more challenging dimension that had perhaps been missing from the previous two games and again made you feel like you were in an Indiana Jones' movie. Alas, the ending was a bit abrupt and given the nature of what happened it actually lessened the impact somewhat, but given that it had taken me almost 14 hours to get to this point I was mostly just relieved to have finally got there.
Once again, due to the slightly unsettling gameplay as a result of the 3D programming, but because of increased puzzles making it highly challenging I'd give this one 8/10.
The essence throughout these games is of well-conceived plots, humour, drama, excitement, puzzles and great characters & dialogue which makes them all incredibly playable and they certainly stand up to the other point and click giants of the time like Monkey Island, Sam & Max, Simon the Sorcerer etc with aplomb, but really none of the sequels could quite live up to the magic of the first game with either a rushed feeling or issues with controls and graphics letting the side down. Despite the seemingly simplicity of these games control wise they are challenging, so I'd still recommend them all as they are great fun, even if they can be hair-pullingly frustrating at times (and honestly, if you really get stuck in these games you can easily hop online to any of the numerous walkthroughs available so you will always find a way to complete these games morally or otherwise). For £7.99, and, assuming you are as slow witted as me, with 40 hours of gameplay with great re-playability options if you leave it long enough this compilation pack is an absolute bargain for retro game fans. Thankfully, I hear the fifth game is reverting back to a 2D style to pay homage to the success of the first game so I will be waiting for this one with baited breath...