Now here's something I didn't need. Another version of Broken Sword, this time for the iPhone. Over the years, I've bought this game on the PC (twice) and the DS. Even so, when I saw it offered for free as part of iTunes' 12 Days of Christmas promotion, I snapped it up. Why? One very simple reason: it's brilliant!
The game is a classic, old-fashioned point and click adventure updated for the new gaming platforms. You take the roles of George Stobbard (an American tourist in Paris) and Nicole Collard (a French newspaper reporter). Both become involved in the hunt for a mysterious "Costume Killer" and join forces to solve the mystery. Their discoveries lead them to a 700 year old puzzle surrounding the Knights Templar.
One of the (many) reasons Broken Sword works so well is because the plot is genuinely interesting. The story really sucks you in and the more clues you uncover, the more involved you become. The plot makes sense, the locations are convincing and you become very attached to both George and Nico. There's also a genuine sense of progression to the plot. Everything you discover opens up another part of the story and gives you new clues as to what you need to do or who you need to visit next. This leads to a constant feeling of achievement as the story slowly opens up before you.
The game is also genuinely amusing. Not in the absurd, surreal Monkey Island way, but in a slyer, more subtle way. There is a genuine sense of wit and sarcasm to much of the dialogue, making it really fun to listen to; even when examining an item in your inventory, the spoken descriptions often provoke an amusing response. This light-hearted humour adds a great deal of spark to the game and you'll find yourself prolonging conversations with people, just to hear some of the great banter between them.
Puzzles are, for the most part, logical. That's not to say they are easy or obvious and there may still be times when you have to resort to the internet to solve them. However, there are none of the ludicrous puzzles you get in some games where you have to use ridiculous combinations of items in extremely unlikely ways in order to progress. The puzzles in Broken Sword can usually be solved by talking to people to get clues, looking at the items in your inventory and then using a bit of lateral thinking about how you might use them. Think about the puzzles in Broken Sword and the clues you have been given and the chances are you will be able to work out what you need to do.
There are a couple of the puzzles I found slightly annoying, particularly the ones based around those "slide puzzles" you used to get when you were a kid: where you have to move blocks around a grid to get a particular piece to a particular location. I've never enjoyed these (mainly because I don't have the patience to sit and work them out!) and did groan inwardly each time I came across a new one.
Like an awful lot of adventures, a large part of the game involves meeting and talking to the various characters and you do find yourself backtracking across the same location several times to go back and have another conversation with a character in light of what you have just discovered. Some people hate this kind of dialogue-heavy interaction, fining it tiresome and slow-paced. Personally, I feel it really adds to the game's atmosphere.
The graphics of Broken Sword have always been excellent, and things are no different in this latest incarnation. The combination of hand-drawn 2D backgrounds and strong, well defined characters work well. Inevitably, they are note quite as impressive on the iPhone's smaller screen and some of the lovely detail is lost (also an issue on the DS version), but their cartoon-like quality still makes them stand out.
The iPhone's screen does cause some issues (again, as it also did with the DS). It can be very easy to miss small, but crucial items. On an early screen, there is something you need to collect before you can make any real progress and it's all too easy to overlook. This can result in frustration, as you wander around in circles, getting nowhere and becoming increasingly frustrated. You soon learn to squint hard at every object in each location!
Sound is also pretty strong. The music is hugely atmospheric and the soaring orchestral score adds a huge amount to the game. The context sensitive music really adds to the atmosphere: When Nico or George are in danger, the music becomes loud and discordant; when they are on the verge of an important discovery, it becomes more urgent and hopeful. This use of musical c(l)ues adds a surprising amount.
The speech is, on the whole, very good. The slightly muffled dialogue that marred Revolution Software's last iPhone game (Beneath a Steel Sky) has been sorted out, and everything is much clearer and crisper. All the dialogue is also reproduced using on-screen subtitles, so if you prefer to play with the sound down, you can.
The one aspect over which I had major concerns was the controls. Broken Sword was designed as a point and click game, something which is easy to produce on both the PC and the DS. Revolution Software have clearly given a lot of thought over how to implement this on a touch screen, and come up with an intuitive and comfortable system that works very well.
For the most part, the game just replaces the mouse or stylus with your finger. Press on the screen and any objects you can interact with pulse with a small circle. Press one of these circles and a series of icons will show the actions available to you. If you need to use an item from your inventory, you just touch the Bag icon to open it up and select the thing you want to use. The controls are so intuitive that there is no real need to read the instructions which appear on the opening screens and within just a few minutes of game time, you will have mastered everything you need to know.
I started this review by noting how many different formats I've owned Broken Sword on, but there is a simple reason for this: the game is so good that it doesn't matter what platform you own it on, it's a fantastically entertaining piece of software. An engrossing storyline, solid characters, amusing dialogue and fiendish but logical puzzles make for one of the best adventure games ever created. There's an awful lot of game play in there. Even if you've played it before and know the exact solutions, there is probably at least 8 hours worth of game time. If you're new to the game, then you can at least double that as you try to work out what to do next.
At only £2.99 to download, this is fantastic value for money. Of course, if you already own it in one of its previous incarnations, then there's not much new. True, it is the Director's Cut (as were the recently released DS/Wii versions), so if you've only played the original PC release, there are a few new screens, although not really enough to justify buying it all over again. On the other hand, if you don't own it in any format, then go off and download it immediately. Broken Sword is a fabulous game - arguably one of the best adventure games ever created and it will provide hours of entertainment and enjoyment.
© Copyright SWSt 2011