Version Reviewed: 1.2
Device Reviewed On: iPad
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Game Controls Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Sad to say, but the adventure game genre has become all but extinct in today's era of first-person shooters and graphical powerhouses. An entire generation of gamers (myself included) cut their teeth on text-based odysseys like Zork first, then moved on to the heady, intoxicating charms of point and click adventures like Loom, Day of the Tentacle, and the Monkey Island games. Fortunately, the iPhone and, now, the iPad have provided a viable platform for these types of games to return. What better way to manipulate a point and click adventure than with an interface that is entirely tactile?
Now, developer Revolution has ported the first in their Broken Sword series of games (originally published in 1996 - hard to believe that was 14 years ago) to the iPad and it's a real joy to play. The game's slower pace may frustrate some younger gamers, but with such a pace comes an effective story and a gaming experience that rewards patience, intellect and creativity.
You play as one of two characters at different points in the game - either female journalist Nico Collard or American tourist George Stobbard - as they try to unravel a mystery that begins with the murder of a prominent French politician, then opens up to a web of conspiracy theories, secret societies and ancient legends. If it sounds like something straight out of The DaVinci Code, you're not too far off the mark. There are puzzles within puzzles, and figuring out what to do next is always a challenge.
The puzzles in the game run the gamut, from simple hidden object goals to more sophisticated slider puzzles or decoding games. None are impossible, by any stretch, and the developer has incorporated a tiered hint system that should get any player through the game if stuck.
Graphically, in spite of Revolution's general update to the title and the graphical prowess of the iPad, Broken Sword HD still shows its age. Backgrounds and colors are nicely rendered, but character models tend to look jaggy during movement, not mention small. That said, however, the character movement is very fluid and lifelike, even if it isn't always the prettiest to look at. Since watching low-res full body characters isn't the most exciting thing to do, the developers have wisely chosen to pull up close ups (using a picture-in-picture technique) of characters' faces when they engage in conversations. This does help build a connection with the characters, while also providing some break up of the monotony of viewing one static screen after another.
The game's use of sound is superb, mostly due to the very high quality of the voice actors. While there is some incidental symphonic music to enhance the mood of the game, and typical ambient sound effects where necessary, it's the voice acting that really makes Broken Sword HD shine. Subtitles are provided, of course, but much of the humor in the game comes from the subtle turns of phrases, and outright sarcastic comments characters like Nico make to others and to you as a player.
In a graphical adventure such as this, the quality of the controls takes precedence over any aesthetic considerations such as graphics or sound. Unfortunately, Broken Sword HD has some issues with control. The overall design is a good one - scroll your finger over the screen until you see a glowing blue circle over an object, location or person. Clicking the blue circle brings up any interaction options such as speaking to, interacting with or examining whatever you have clicked on. Click on an open door, for instance, and, once the character gets to it (characters move rather lethargically about the screen. You really wouldn't think they would be this casual about investigating a murder) you can click the eye icon to look closely at the door, click the gears icon to interact with the door (such as using a key from your inventory on it), or click the pointing finger to leave the room entirely. It's simple and well designed. It's the consistency of the touch interface that is most troubling.
In one particularly infuriating case, I knew that the way to solve a particular puzzle was to click a series of buttons at the top left and right of the screen. However, the game would sometimes let me click them, and sometimes not. I saw no rhyme or reason to this, only that there were some issues with the software registering a touch to the screen. These kinds of issues weren't what I would call frequent, but they were often enough to make me wonder how such obvious bugs were not addressed before the game was made available in the app store. It was also initially difficult for me to figure out how to get an object in my inventory to interact with an object in the room I was investigating. Again, this should be simple, but early in the game I found myself not being able to unlock doors even though it was obvious that the game could not continue until I did unlock them.
These are both small flaws in what is an enjoyable return to the more sophisticated graphical adventures of years past. If you long for those days (and want something to tide you over until LucasArts FINALLY decides to port all of their classics to the iPhone/iPad platform) I recommend giving Broken Sword HD a try. It's a lengthy adventure that rewards intellect over firepower, and that's reason enough for me.