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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut (DS) artwork

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut (DS) review

"Itís all in Directorís Cut. But so are those trade offs."

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars: The DirectorĎs Cut defies the usual port complaints by opening up with a completely new scene of sassy French photo-journalist, Nico, visiting the home of a retired media mongrel at his bequest. Itís prefaced with the expected birdís eye tour of Paris in Autumn that previous incarnations showcased, but not with American tourist and professional busybody George Stobbartís lazy morning being ruined by a bomb-packing clown. Instead, Nicoís dream interview is intruded by a homicidal mime and a swift blow to the head.

This starts an interesting duality that the original game never saw. While George makes his expected appearance sooner rather than later, the promise of more involvement from the ever-distant Nico is welcome, as is the slow uncovering of the motives behind why she so desperately wants to follow the chain of international murders the game is centred around. To this end, she snoops around the deceased manís mansion, evading the ire of his newly-classified widow and steals anything of worth she can find, from ornate hand-carved wooden elephants, tubes of canvas paint and the contents of a hidden and electronically-sealed safe.

Itís a somewhat backhanded trade-off. While it does present a fresh angle to an already stellar and engaging plot-driven mystery title, a lot of what makes Broken Sword one of the foremost point and click adventures is left by the wayside. Character portraits now adorn the top screen in an appreciated touch, giving the cast member you control a new albeit limited lease on life courtesy of the same facial expressions repeated constantly. Missing, though, is the originalís fantastic voice acting and without that, a very large slice of the characters' personality withers away. The majority of the lines are intact, and the exchanges between characters and the progression of the story remains the titleís top selling point, but so much is lost when, instead of the expected voice work the industry still now struggles to match, you get lines of text instead.

Itís a shame, because itís really the people in Broken Sword that make the title memorable, even in its neutered form. Most of the story revolves around George, a law student from California whoís simply not as clever as he likes to think he is. Vacationing in Paris, he unwittingly becomes tangled up in a century-old conspiracy after chancing across glamorous photo-journalist Nico, then doing his level best to impress the hell out of her. The game never outright tells you so, but he subtly stumbles around her, lapping up as much attention as he can ascertain while she uses her feminine wiles to keep him keen, teasing him with stories of other would-be suitors. But the underlying connection between the pair is genuine; Nico opens up about her guarded past in subconscious bubbles floating between words of murder, ancient holy sects and betrayal, while George will shrug off his pseudo-intellectual wisearse routine the more comfortable he gets around her. Somewhere in between all this oozing personality is a chain of murders stretching back to the crusades and several people in envious positions that donít take kindly to the dual protagonists' snooping.

As such, itís as easy to get lost in the narrative as it is to be stumped by the lateral puzzles that bar progression. Before the recent revival of point and click adventures, Broken Sword was heralded as the last big hurrah for the genre, and the logical but taxing puzzles that never stray into the ludicrous play a big hand in this praise. Early on, Georgeís chase of the explosion-happy clown leads to an abandoned back alley. After some examination, pulling on dilapidated guttering to ensure it canít hold the weight of the fleeing killer and checking the reeking trashcans stacked nearby arenít being employed as particularly unsavoury hidey-holes, only a solid metal sewer lid remains as the villains likely escape route. Thereís a nearby workman, sweaty, obese and very, very French, but heís not enamoured with lending his tools to the busybody American tourist. Using only items gleaned from the back alley and what little of the cafť remains exportable post-explosion, George has to offer something of worth to the workman, or trick him into leaving his post entirely.

But, mainly, he stumbles headfirst, clumsy and over-confident, through any obstacles that block his path. When he tries to match wits with a bored handyman he finds his supposed intelligence drown by a wave of unrelenting indifference. This forces him into a spontaneous and complex multi-step plan involving public payphones and an only-slightly willing patsy. When trying to impress the locals of a quaint Irish pub with his law-trained intellect, he finds himself cerebrally assassinated, ruthlessly and unapologetically, by the regulars often enough for them to eventually feel sorry for the arrogant Yank they assume is trying too hard. Georgeís adventure is crammed full with personality and charm; characters who other titles relegate to background decoration sprouting uninspired lines needed to nudge the player onwards are given lives of their own. Distinct, engaging personalities that stop them from being a human-shaped question-and-answer box.

Itís all in Directorís Cut. But so are those trade offs.

Taking Broken Sword on the road means more than losing out on the voice acting that has some ten years later still yet to be surpassed, but added in is an obnoxious amount of hand-holding as if to confirm that the gamers of old were an altogether smarter bunch than those catered for today. Gone are the situations where you need a dash of quick thinking in order to keep George alive. Need to trick a cold-blooded assassin holding you at gunpoint on the ledge of a cliff with nowhere to run? While you try and figure this out, heíll patiently stand there with his pistol levelled at your head from now until forever. A hint system is included, threatening gamers with a running count thatís supposed to shame them into not employing it, but offers no penalties for doing so.

The main selling point, then, lies in the extra chapters presented by Nicoís private investigation to peek beneath the seemingly perfect veneer of a Paris socialite that promises to make her involvement in the game all the more personal. Itís a promise that never gets fulfilled; three bite-sized chapters clumsily shoehorned in to the main plot adds nothing but a scant handful of lines duct-taped on to the ending. Itís an anticlimactic conclusion when compared to the promises exhibited by Directorís Cut's brave decision to start things off on unfamiliar ground. Itís also perhaps the best way of summing up the experience with my revisit to Revolutionís 1996 PC classic spruced up and presented afresh on the DS.

The titleís more than good enough to overwrite any complaints the conversation throws up, but it's silly to pretend that a vastly superior copy doesnít already exist out there. If you donít mind playing a neutered version of the first Broken Sword, then you can still enjoy its numerous highlights and still get a lot out of potentially one of the best told interactive tales this medium will ever see. Or you could man up and buy the PC version, playing the game how itís meant to be played.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 30, 2009)

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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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

Gary, as always this is excellent writing. But, of course, I have a little more to say than that:

1. One thing that could have helped for me, at least, would be if you told me from the get-go what this game was a port of. I can tell that you know and that you have some attachment to the series, but I was a little lost as to what this game was imitating so imperfectly. (Yes, I know at the end you say 'play the PC version, the way the game was meant to be played,' but perhaps earlier...?)

2. Your paragraph about the puzzle involving getting the dude to leave his post was the highlight of the review. Smooth, descriptive, colourful... TRADEMARK EMP writing.

3. The drawback to being known for colourful writing full of adjective and adverb-heavy clauses, is occasionally you'll overload one:

When trying to impress the locals of a quaint Irish pub with his law-trained intellect, he finds himself ruthlessly and unapologetically cerebrally assassinated...

"Ruthlessly and unapologetically cerebrally" is a bit thick, no?

4. Finally: this thing is extremely polished! Did you pay Wolfqueen extra this time out for her sexual proofreading services?

C'est tout. ^_^
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EmP posted October 23, 2009:

Thanks, Marc. I shall respond to your numbered bullets points in kind, as a mark of respect!

1/ I think the main reason I didn't feel the need to mention what it's ported from right away is two-fold. Firstly, I was under the impression that everyone knew what Broken Sword was, though I forget the good folk in Canada are often snowed in for years on end and such things pass them by. Kidding aside, the main reason was that it didn't seem to matter; the point at hand was that, instead of it being a direct port bringing the exact same thing over to a new platform, seemingly significant changes had been made.

2/ I modestly accept your kind praise. I was unaware good writing had become my trademark, but I'm delighted to hear it!

3/ You're quite correct on that phrase. I'm trying to think of a way to dial it down now. I think I might have eaten a thesaurus for lunch that day.

4/ Every now and then, I actually manage to proof worth a damn, leaving WQ little to do but find something else to nag about. Bless her, she always finds something, too. It's her gift!
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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

Yeah, maybe we Canadians don't know our Broken Swords from our hockey sticks.
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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

Gar, far be it from me to suggest how someone should write, but even ordering your same words differently makes it read less thickly:

When trying to impress the locals of a quaint Irish pub with his law-trained intellect, he finds himself cerebrally assassinated, ruthlessly and unapologetically...

What say you?
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EmP posted October 23, 2009:

Good suggestion. I claim it as my own.
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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

You would.
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sashanan posted July 24, 2010:

I always enjoyed - and from your writing so did you - the fact that George as a protagonist has the joke on him at least as often and probably moreso than anybody else. For all his Chandler Bing-esque sardonic wit, he is at almost every turn outdone by everybody he gets into conversation with. He's no Gabriel Knight by a long shot and yet I can't help but love the guy.
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EmP posted July 26, 2010:

George usually getting out-witted was just one of the many things that made the BS series the best written dialogue in a videogame.

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