You normally wouldn’t think that patent lawyers get to see a lot of action in their line of work, but George Stobbart is probably an exception. Those who have played the previous Broken Sword games should be familiar with his antics, his wit, and never-ending thirst for adventures. He and his friend Nicole Collard, a French journalist, have gone to some pretty weird locations, met some nasty villains, fought them off in some way, and ultimately saved the day. They’ve nearly been blown to bits on numerous occasions, been shot at, chased, and captured, only to escape in a way that would make even McGyver proud. Now they’re at it again, in what seems to be their most important quest yet.
Nicole and George went their separate ways after the second game, both to pursue their respective careers. At the start of the game George is heading to Congo, to meet a scientist who claims to have made the perfect power source – one that never runs dry. On his way the plane has to make an emergency landing, luckily fairly close to the destination. But things don’t go as George expected, because some mysterious people had arrived before him, their intentions far from being good.
Nicole’s career as a journalist has taken a turn to the worse after Broken Sword 2; she just hasn’t seemed to be able to find any big stories. Her current assignment is to meet with a pimple-faced hacker who claims that he has evidence that the earth is close to destruction. Once there, Nicole has about as much luck as George: someone got there before her, and when they finally meet a strange Russian woman tries to shoot her.
Now George has to investigate what happened at the scientist's, who the gang of criminals that kidnapped him were, and what on earth all that mythological stuff meant. Nicole has to figure out who the Russian woman was, what the dead hacker could’ve meant, and maybe even do something to counter the rather grim destiny. As you’d expect, the two characters incidentally bump into each other, investigating the exact same case. The pair will travel to various European cities, a number of exotic locations, and pretty much do a few things you’d expect and some things you didn’t.
The most noticeable difference between the second and the third iteration is the game’s use of 3D. This move is dreaded by most adventure fans because a lot of developers seem to do this in order to please a younger audience. Platform elements are usually added, the brilliant simplicity is gone, and you’re left with a boring clone of something that just doesn’t work. There is fortunately no jump button in Broken Sword 3, no punch of kick button, and you can’t earn experience points. Some new game mechanics have been added that may wrinkle the noses of the most hardcore 2d adventure fans, but it works out better than I for one had expected.
By default you control the two characters (one at a time) using the arrow keys, along with W, A, S and D for actions. Instead of using the old Alone in the Dark movement controls, where you had rotate the character, and then move him or her back and forth, in Broken Sword 3 you move in the direction of the arrow. For instance, if you’re in the long end of a T corridor and want to move forward and to the left, you press up - but if you hold the up key while the camera changes, the character will still move in that direction. This sometimes makes for easier movement, but it also makes you stop and change direction a lot. To be completely honest it takes a little while to get proficient with the movement controls, but once you do it shouldn’t be a problem. At the bottom left of the screen you have four icons (like console buttons) that’ll fill up according to what you’re next to. For instance, the lower icon may get Use while the right icon gets Look. You’d press S if you wanted to use the item, and D if you wanted to look at it. This works surprisingly well, on all platforms.
When playing the game you’ll obviously run around a lot, and you’ll talk to a lot of people. Dialogues have been a bit simplified in that you don’t choose the actual sentences - you just choose the subject, denoted by an icon. Pressing the space bar you pull up the inventory, where you can look at items closely, which sometimes makes you discover hidden details or items within. You can combine items, use the other character on items, and more.
When running around in 3D, there are a few more things the characters can do. George and Nicole will climb, shimmy around ledges, creep, jump gaps, push and pull objects. The final two are used reasonably often, because throughout the game you’ll find a number of puzzles requiring you to move boxes around, usually to let you reach something you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. Some people may find that the developers should've focused on more typical puzzles that concentrrate more on brain usage, but this does okay as well. There are of course plenty of other kinds of puzzles, ranging from the pretty basic ones, to some that should keep you pondering for a while. Also, there are many places in the game where it’s easy to get stuck, or where you have to do some rather unorthodox actions - so expect to spend time trying every possible action with items, combining every item, and so on. It doesn’t help that you can interact with just about every door in the game - and since not all useful ones are clearly marked. you may also have to try door after door while searching for something.
Fortunately, the game looks extremely good. As I’ve already mentioned George and Nicole will travel to a number of locations, and the artists did a superb job making them stand out from each other. The two characters have really nice dynamic shadows, while the environments have lightmap shadows. The problem with some of the lightmap shadows is that they tend to get edgy, and far from looking as realistic as the dynamic ones. The architecture is mostly top-notch, the characters look most great, the in-game models are very good, and the animations are just about as smooth as you could ever want them to be. Much of the cinematic quality Broken Sword 3 has is achieved with the many close-up scenes with the characters. The facial expressions are great, and it makes most other 3d adventure games look pale in comparison. Unfortunately, the lip-syncing isn’t exactly perfect, and it’d be nice if the faces had a few more polygons to smooth them out a bit more.
Performance-wise the game runs very smoothly, but it runs at a fixed resolution, and suffers from reasonably heavy aliasing. I ran the game at 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering, and that cleaned things up very well, yet not perfectly.
Broken Sword 3’s audio is just about as good as the graphics, possibly even better. If you’ve played Broken Sword 1 or 2 you should recognize at least some of the voice-overs, most notably of George and Nicole, but since you’ll bump into a couple of familiar characters, they’ll also sound the same as they did. During the first couple of hours I noted that there seemed to be a lot of French voice-actors, but that changed drastically. As the two characters fly around the earth and meet the locals in various towns and cities, they’ll sound just about as authentic as possible. Every person is voiced, as you may've expected from a game of this caliber. The humor is better than ever, so you should expect tons of witty one-liners, snappy dialogues, jokes, and more. Rolf Saxon, the voice-talent behind George Stobbart, did what in my opinion is his best work yet; bringing a grin to my face again and again.
The background music is also superb. The soundscore consists mainly of orchestral music, but it sounds just about perfect, without getting pompous, as it sometimes does in other adventure games.
From the main menu you can also read background information about the story and the specific elements, and when you finish the game you’ll have unlocked even more nice stuff to check out.
There are bad adventure games, good adventure games, and great adventure games. Broken Sword 3 falls into the final category. Make no mistake - this is a game for adventure fans, not for those looking for an easy platform adventure title. The difficulty is above average, but if you do keep at it, you’ll probably enjoy the story a great deal – I know I did! The graphics, audio and gameplay is all above average. There are a few tidbits you could attack, but it’d be more or less nitpicking.
Congratulations go to Revolution Software – you’ve made what to me is an instant adventure classic.