"Despite all of its pretensions of intrigue and mystery, the most fun to be had in Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut is found by going around, bothering every character by showing them every piece of junk in your inventory, and eliciting their amusingly rude responses to your queries. There was clearly someone involved in Broken Sword who had incredible writing talent, because the colorful cast of characters is truly one of a kind. Unfortunately, this talent was misguided and misused, and having the best NPC interaction ever is not a substantial enough achievement to make Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut a rewarding experience overall."
I thought my inexperience with the Broken Sword series would allow me to look at the Director’s Cut with a more sober eye than its discontents, many of whom I perceived to be cantankerous purists whining about seemingly trivial changes. Though I cannot say for sure that I would even enjoy the original, it actually turns out that the many of the criticisms of this version are very well founded. To a series newcomer, Broken Sword: the Director’s Cut shows flashes of charm and brilliance, but is ultimately an incomplete and unsatisfying experience.
The game begins as French journalist Nico Collard visits Pierre Carchon, a French government official, for an interview. She passes a very suspicious-looking mime on the way to Carchon’s estate and endures the verbal abuse of the official's curmudgeonly wife while waiting. Before she can discuss anything of consequence with Carchon, the mime breaks in and shoots him dead. This propels Nico into the role of amateur detective, as she searches around the estate for clues to the murder, pockets several items of interest like a kleptomaniac, and makes an ink print of a stolen cylindrical glyph using stolen paint.
Meanwhile, American tourist George Stobbart lounges about a cafe in France while ogling the waitress, only to have his vacation violently disrupted when a clown drops off an accordion bomb to kill a man in a trench coat. While investigating the scene, George and Nico meet, introduce themselves to each other, and ultimately decide to collaborate in their investigative efforts to track down the costumed murderer.
This dual murder is an effective and intriguing introduction that sets up the game’s conspiracy mystery and the partnership that might eventually turn to romance. The game then advances by alternating between Nico and George as they each pursue their own leads on the case. Nico’s portions, which I am told are new to the Director’s Cut, are much more interesting from a storyline perspective, as they are more personal, revealing secrets about the past and her family. They are however, much less interesting to play, and while the revelations are interesting, they are ultimately of little consequence in the game’s overarching story, which is itself something of a mess.
From a design perspective, the problem with Nico’s adventures is that they seem more overtly designed as puzzles for the sake of puzzles, rather than as remotely believable scenarios of manipulating the environment -- and the people and objects within it -- to finagle your way through ancient defense mechanisms and around the villainous players in the conspiracy. The most glaring example of this is a twin set of block-sliding puzzles that serves as the first line of defense guarding the headquarters of a secret society. Item use is fairly obtuse too -- Nico finds a shotgun shell under a rotting boat, which is first used to prop up a cross in an ancient mechanism. After the shell is flattened by slamming a door shut on it, it is later used to pry open another door and as a cutting implement. Yet perhaps the worst part of the new sections is that they involve scarcely any character interaction, which is one of the game’s main highlights overall. Nico is often alone, with only physical objects and the environment to keep her company.
By contrast, George must communicate with his fellow man and woman at nearly every turn of the game. The numerous characters who populate the scenes of Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut often have something George wants or needs, be it a piece of information, an ancient artifact or even a toilet brush. Sometimes they might be in the way, and sometimes they might be willing to help him out. In addition to being integral to the Broken Sword experience, this reliance on NPC interaction is one of the game’s strongest assets because the characters are so colorful. Everyone is at least a little eccentric, if not totally bizarre, and many of them seem almost a little too smart. An elderly flower saleswoman who claims to know the future will reject George’s attempt to shock her with an electric handshake buzzer, reminding him of her precognitive talents, while an obstinate yardman will inform George that he can only be helpful by giving the man the pleasure of his absence.
But while Nico’s sections lead to gripping and shocking personal revelations, George’s sections lead to a seemingly endless trail of historical babble. The present-day murders are somehow connected to the Templar Knights of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and there’s apparently a present-day secret society that goes by the same name. This secret society is supposed to be at the heart of the Broken Sword conspiracy, but George’s adventures mostly focus on uncovering historical artifacts and learning esoteric facts about them. The connection the historical Templars have to any aspect of the present is tenuous at best, and the enormous focus on them makes most of the game feel like a history lesson that may not even be accurate.
The game ends with two abrupt, confusing, and unsatisfying confrontations that don’t flow very well from the misadventures that precede them, making it feel as if content had been cut from the original game. In fact, had I not read about Broken Sword before playing The Director’s Cut, I would not have known at all that there was even supposed to be a love story here, because it barely exists in this version. Virtually no time or attention is given to let the relationship between George and Nico develop, and consequently, it doesn’t. Instead, after numerous exchanges on the history of the Templars and a close encounter with death at the hands of the conspirators, George just kisses Nico while she’s still tied up. To the uninformed, the scene looks less like a man in love with a woman, and more like a frat boy obtaining carnal pleasure in a manner that borders on sexual harassment.
Despite all of its pretensions of intrigue and mystery, the most fun to be had in Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut is found by going around, bothering every character by showing them every piece of junk in your inventory, and eliciting their amusingly rude responses to your queries. There was clearly someone involved in Broken Sword who had incredible writing talent, because the colorful cast of characters is truly one of a kind. Unfortunately, this talent was misguided and misused, and having the best NPC interaction ever is not a substantial enough achievement to make Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut a rewarding experience overall. From the perspective of someone who has never played a Broken Sword game before, The Director’s Cut makes it difficult to believe that this was ever a good game at all, let alone a classic.
Community review by radicaldreamer (November 18, 2011)
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