By Marty Mulrooney
Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars (known as Circle Of Blood in the United States) is a point-and-click adventure game that was first released on PC way back in November 1996. One of the greatest adventure games of all time, it has been re-released many times over the years, including a PlayStation port in December 1996 and a Game Boy Advance port in March 2002. Finally, the game was re-released as a Director’s Cut for Nintendo Wii in March 2009, before finally returning to PCs everywhere in August 2010. AMO will be focusing on these final two versions of the game for our review, although please note that it is also available, albeit in slightly altered form, for both Nintendo DS and iPhone (iPhone version reviewed here).
Before I begin, I must confess: I am not exactly the most impartial critic when it comes to Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars (now renamed as Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars for the ‘Director’s Cut’). I remember buying the game when it was released under the budget Sold Out label in 1997 and falling in love with the description and images on the back of the box long before I ever pointed or clicked George Stobbart around Paris. An excruciating family meal and car journey home seemed to stretch out forever: £5’s worth of pocket money was on the line and I was nervous as hell.
I needn’t have worried: Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars stands proud as the best fiver I’ve ever spent. The mini-game during installation proved charming, the opening voiceover and music absolutely spine-tingling. My father, uninterested during my Tomb Raider 2 play sessions, wouldn’t leave my side for nearly an hour once I started playing Broken Sword. We were spellbound. I even got up early the next day to carry on playing… my father popping his head in at 6.30am on his way to work, telling me off half-heartedly for being out of bed. I think he was just jealous that he couldn’t stay.
Suffice to say, I am a huge fan of this game. It had a rather profound effect on me as a child, sealing my fate as a hardcore point-and-click adventure gamer and showing me a gaming experience far beyond the usual first person shooters and third person platformers. I will therefore be reviewing both the Wii and PC versions of Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars – The Director’s Cut not only as a critic, but as a lifelong fan: these reviews will deal with the quality of the ports rather than the core game itself, which I personally rate as one of the greatest games, regardless of genre, of all time.
Nintendo Wii Version Review
So what is Broken Sword all about? Players take control of wisecracking American tourist George Stobbart (Rolf Saxon), peacefully vacating in Paris before a killer clown blows up the quiet cafe that he is visiting and turns his whole world upside down. Teaming up with French journalist Nico Collard, the two uncover a conspiracy spanning the globe, stretching back as far as the ancient order of the Knights Templar.
Although Broken Sword on Wii doesn’t fully utilise motion controls, the use of the Wiimote in place of a mouse proves as smooth and responsive an experience as you could hope for on a home console. The interface has been altered subtly from its original incarnation, but overall everything works very well. Players must chat to other characters, pick up items and solve puzzles.
The new hint system is a welcome inclusion, especially near the beginning where players control Nico in some newly inserted scenes that will therefore be fresh to players old and new alike. Clicking the question mark icon in the top right hand corner of the screen when it appears will offer a hint; doing so three times will reveal progressively more explicit instructions.
Also of note are the new character portraits shown during conversations, hand drawn by legendary English comic book artist Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame. Gibbons had previously provided background art for Revolution Software’s Beneath A Steel Sky in 1994. His work here is superb, although there are minor niggles at times: the portraits don’t always match the character sprites, getting basic details such as clothing colour wrong far too often.
Another problem occurs with regards to the pacing of the Director’s Cut. The original 1996 opening was sheer brilliance, a black screen accompanied by George Stobbart’s reflective, ominous voiceover. In 2010, Nico’s new opening feels flat in comparison. Furthermore, by the time we arrive at the original version’s opening, George’s voiceover has been replaced by something far more generic, the pacing of the sequence destroyed by a hastily cut together facsimile of the original cutscene.
Luckily, George’s gameplay (i.e the original game itself) makes up the majority of the Director’s Cut and is still as satisfying as ever. Yet even here, there are omissions that devout fans will not be pleased about. Several non-necessary hotspots have actually been removed, meaning that some of George’s observational quips have now been lost. There are also subtle dialogue changes throughout that puzzled me greatly. Finally, there is a lack of environmental animation, the flags in front of Hotel Ubu being a prime example. In the original, they billowed in the wind, a neat effect for the time. In the Director’s Cut, they are entirely static.
This is a trend that is noticeable throughout. The original game constantly manages to shine through, with a storyline that is still gripping and memorable 14 years later. But the additions (and indeed subtractions) of the Director’s Cut only serve to dim the overall experience. The inclusion of occasional first-person puzzles is a nice change of pace, but unfortunately there are issues with the controls themselves during these sequences. Turning a dial for example should feel great with the Wiimote but the cursor often freezes and doesn’t respond as it should. I also noticed certain spots on screen where the cursor would jump erratically, regardless of where I placed the Wii sensor bar.
The inclusion of Nico as a playable character evidently painted Revolution into a pretty tight corner. Her storyline is certainly interesting, yet because she never mentions any of her discoveries to George (her sections must slice smoothly into the original narrative) everything feels oddly disjointed. One moment where Nico vows not to tell anyone what has happened, not even George, feels slightly forced.
The graphics of Broken Sword: Shadow Of The Templars – The Director’s Cut on Wii look slightly rough. I can’t quite explain, but at 480p on my HDTV through component cables, the game had a distinctive fuzz to the visuals throughout. The new cutscenes and Nico sections fared slightly better, but overall things looked slightly worse to me than they should have done. The FMV’s look about the same as I remember from the original: they’re blurry, especially when scrutinised on today’s modern HD television sets. The game menus look worse than they did in 1996, appearing very low budget.
The sound suffers from similar inconsistencies, with new dialogue sounding far more crisp that the original audio. This is of course not entirely Revolution’s fault: this is an old game at heart and the original audio was never going to sound brand new. Still, it is a shame that not much has changed in this regard, as a boost in visual and audio quality would have surely delighted fans and made the game more appealing to new players.
Overall, the Wii version remains a good game, that is sadly becoming a little dated and mishandled in its old age. The new sections don’t add much and the removal of certain details, hotspots and that iconic opening borders on sacrilege.
7 OUT OF 10
PC Digital Download Version Review
Imagine my annoyance when, after buying a Nintendo Wii to play the Director’s Cut of my favourite game, it arrived on PC the following year! This is largely the same game as we saw on Wii, only with improved graphics and menus, as well as traditional mouse control.
The diary function is now much more pleasurable to read (the Wii version utilised a blurry, digital font) and it does add to the experience of playing the game. It is fun to hear what George and Nico think about recent events, as well as refresh yourself on the story so far and ponder recent clues.
Using a mouse to control the game is just about perfect as well. The Wiimote did a good job but Broken Sword belongs on PC with direct mouse control. The biggest gripe I had with the PC version is that all hotspots now display a small flashing icon as the mouse nears them. It ruins the immersive nature of exploring the game’s environments and makes everything feel far too obvious. A option to turn this feature off or toggle it with a button would have been preferable.
Thankfully, the visuals look far better than they did on the Wii. Background art in particular often looks slightly better than the original game which is delightful, although of course they are still missing the smaller animated details that truly brought the environments to life. I had to run the game in 640 x 480 screen resolution to make it fill my monitor: the three available options in-game all resulted in some odd black bars at the sides of my screen.
The sound seems of a slightly higher quality again. It isn’t perfect but it is likely about as good as it will get for such an old game without re-recording all of the dialogue. Barrington Pheloung’s score is as breathtaking as it was all those years ago. You can finally purchase the soundtrack from the iTunes store too, which I promptly did! UK vocalist Jade Herbert sings over the credits and does a wonderful job of not completely ruining the end of the game.
Overall, the PC version improves on many of the Wii version’s faults, even if it still shares the majority of its disappointments. Both versions are great fun and I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy playing them. Yet the original can still be bought for £4.99 (with Broken Sword 2) from Sold Out and played via ScummVM, so I am not sure where the Director’s Cut stands. Sadly, it seems that it is being positioned as the definitive version of this classic game, which I feel is a mistake. A true Director’s Cut would add more to the experience, not take away from it. What players are left with is an odd alternative version of one of the greatest adventure games of all time. I prefer the original but I am sure many players will still get a kick out of this new version, despite its oddities.
8 OUT OF 10
- GAME REVIEW – Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut (iPhone)
- GAME REVIEW – Broken Sword: The Angel of Death (PC, 2006)
- INTERVIEW – Steve Ince, Video Game Writer & Designer