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Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror - Remastered (PC) artwork

Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror - Remastered (PC) review

"The tricky second game and its reasonable rerelease"

Originally released in 1996, and then ported throughout the years on any platform thatís ever looked at it sidewise, the original Broken Sword really was the apex of the adventure genre, right at a time when it was starting to look obsolete. Never afraid to poke fun at itself, or present puzzles so fiendish they seemingly require their own Wikipedia page, it introduced a new generation to point and click games, and revitalised the faithful still lamenting Lucasartsí choice to concentrate on nothing but average Star Wars titles. Overblown praise? Perhaps, but I remember my time spent playing all those years ago, and just how deeply I loved Broken Sword. It reopened the genre for me Ė I even briefly thought about replaying Myst.

But I didnít. Because Myst is awful just over a year later, Revolution popped up with Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror. While it didnít have the originalís sweeping shots of Paris in the fall, a slow-burn romance left carefully simmering in the background and a murderous conspiracy stretching back centuries, it does reunite the first gameís dual protagonists. But while the last game focused primarily on American busybody, George Stobbart, Smoking Mirror offers a playable role for French photojournalist Nico Collard.

I guess I should break the fourth wall a little here, because this was a game released in 1997, and itís now 2017. This is relevant because Revolution released a remastered edition of Shadow of the Templars in 2009, wherein they added three mini chapters, making Nico playable and trying to increase her personal stakes in the adventure. They were pretty bad, mercifully short, and added nothing positive. So, whereas players whose first experience with the series came with the new Directorís Cut release will not find Nicoís playability new, they will find that her sections are now actually relevant.

Perhaps a little ironically, I'm going to make the argument that, because the remastered version of the The Smoking Mirror does less work sprucing up the original as Shadow of the Templars did, it ends up being the better re-release. Templarís 'Director's Cut' was little more than a dilution of the title, taking away a wealth of dialogue options and neutering the ability for Stobbart's bad choices to end in a game over. Mirror suffers none of that nonsense, but does profit from the good decisions the Cut offered, like character portraits with differing facial expressions to go along with the many, many conversations. Also included is a hint system and a hot-spot indicator that I'm not a fan of, but can certainly see the appeal of having the devious puzzles made easier for a new audience (who'll just run off to an online FAQ should they get stuck these days like the spineless non-elitist quitters you they are!). It's also a boon that this remaster isn't littered with broken audio cues, poorly edited new dialogue offered at differing volumes, and scenes suddenly cutting out for no reason.

Hereís the odd situation, then. Smoking Mirror is the better re-release. But the weaker game.

I suppose itís to be expected; Shadow of the Templars was a labour of love, an unpressured release given complete artistic freedom and as much time as it took to get right. Hereís something you canít expect these days; Revolution were heavily supported by their publisher of the era, Virgin, who gave them all the time and creative control the small team needed to whittle away at their game. The results were a critical and commercial success for a hand-drawn 2D game in an era where 3D was the big exciting development on the block. Most publishers wouldnít even look twice at a game not demonstrating that. To some extent, Shadow of the Templars broke that taboo, but the times were changing. If Smoking Mirror was still to be a viable title, it had to be able to syphon from Revolutionís hype. Where the first game was presented lovingly to the market that would surprise itself by demanding it, the following title was rushed out before anyone could realise a perceived obsoleteness that didnít exist.

Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror is a shorter, less focused effort. It tries to evolve by building upon the original (the original original, anyway) by no longer having Californian smart-arse, George Stobbart the sole protagonist, and instead merely makes him the main one. It finds excuses to rewind his slow-build relationship with Nico that so much of the previous gameís splendour had relied upon. Which probably shouldnít work, but manages to do so, anyway. Instead of the pair using the adventure as a way to subtly endear themselves to each other, they throw themselves recklessly into situations in order to impress upon each other how brilliant and brave they are. Itís an interesting new dynamic which, when coupled with the Mayan-themed adventure, helps Smoking Mirror establish its own personality. All the other games in the series bend their tales around Medieval Europe (someone has to come up with ideas for Dan Brown to plagiarize), so a shift in the scenery is refreshing, even retroactively. But thereís less time devoted to establishing the cast; new characters seem to exist to tell a little bit of the overall tale, then are immediately forgotten about or written out of proceedings. Yes, the gameís significantly shorter than its predecessor, and itís all too obvious which corners were cut to produce that.

Really, all the game has going for it is that itís charming, challenging, funny, engaging, well researched, brilliantly written and beautifully produced. It retains Revolutionís wonderful habit of being completely open to making fun of itself, still draping Stobbart in unflattering shades of dick and delighting in his routine comeuppance. Rolf Saxon predictably shines in a voice role heís long made his own while other series offender, composer Barrington Pheloung, returns to produce a more understated soundtrack than the original that manages to often be more effective, delighting in the Mayan flavours on offer. So, yeah, thereís that.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 05, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Nightfire posted March 06, 2017:

I know that the Broken Sword series is apparently big and has a cult following, yet the only one I have ever played is a crappy Android version of Shadow of the Templars that I never finished because it was barely playable. One day I'll have to properly play through this series and see what it's all about.
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EmP posted March 06, 2017:

I hate that cut. It was especially (and understandably) hit hardest on the mobile port, but it's a real shame that when the new crowd have been hearing years of Broken Sword hype and take up Shadow's Director's Cut, they're left with that awful mess instead of the glorious original.

Still, I love this series. Maybe not so much 4. 4 was not very good.
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SandraElizabeth posted March 11, 2017:

Since this is my First time here for me, the series was nice and One day I'll have to properly play through this series and see what it's all about.

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