Discussion Review: Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut

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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars was originally released for the PC and Mac in late 1996, followed quickly by a release for the original PlayStation. More than five years later it was brought to the GBA (GameBoy Advance), along with a bug that could kill your game if you chose to go somewhere before you were supposed to. A few years after that it was ported to PalmOS and soon after to Windows Mobile. Now, nearly three years later it has arrived in a ‘Director’s Cut’ on the Nintendo DS and Wii. For this release, Matt and I look at the two versions, with Matt covering the Wii release and me playing the DS version.

Mike: Just for a bit of background, my wife thinks I am insane when I buy something more than once – she considers it extraneous. Generally she is right, and I seldom do it – but there are also times I go overboard. For example, there are several games I own for both Mac & PC so I can play whatever platform is available. Also, I recently bought ‘Puzzle Quest’ for the iPhone, which is now my 8th copy – I bought it for the PSP, two copies for the DS to play multiplayer with my kids, the PC, Mac, Wii, and normal cell phone version. All except the Wii version (which has terrible controls) have gotten enough play time to justify the cost. There is another game to add to that list – Broken Sword, which I have now played for the fifth time on different platforms. In fact, as I was playing the DS release I loaded up the Windows Mobile version from 2006 to compare and contrast the added and improved content.

Broken Sword is a classic ‘point & click’ adventure game. In that genre, the screen is mostly static and you need to click to interact with various objects in order to make progress and uncover the story. There are generally loads of puzzles of various difficulties throughout as well as clues to help you to make choices about where to go and what to do. These games are very nicely suited to stylus-controlled devices such as PDA’s and the Nintendo DS and Wii. As I had hoped and expected, the controls and interface on the DS are fantastic, making it feel right at home.

Before I dig any deeper I’m interested in hearing about whether or not you’ve played this game before, Matt? And also whether or not the Wii version works as well as the DS?

Matt: Over the past five years or so I’ve played a ton of PC point-and-click adventure games, and in general I’ve become a big fan of the genre — I always enjoy seeing what new adventures companies like Telltale and Dreamcatcher put out, for instance. But, admittedly, I don’t have a long history with the genre. The original release of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars came out well before I caught the adventure game bug, so the Wii version is the one and only version I’ve ever played (I have played a couple of the more recent Broken Sword titles, though). Therefore you’ll have to speak on what “Director’s Cut” content has been added.

But what I can say about the Wii version in particular is that it’s a very solid adventure game. Nothing spectacular, but a quality adventure experience nonetheless. Like the DS stylus, the Wii Remote works perfectly with the game’s point-and-click interface, so sorting through the inventory, examining the backgrounds for clickable hotspots and manipulating various puzzle apparatus is all very intuitive.

One small thing I have learned while playing this game, however, is that adventure games of this ilk don’t quite jive with the console lifestyle. When you’re playing the game on PC or DS you are pretty close up on the screen, but when playing on a console you’re generally kicking back on the sofa a good distance away from the TV. In the case of Broken Sword, I found myself missing key items and hotspots because I simply couldn’t see them at first glance from where I was sitting. Sure, “hotspot hunting” has always been a bugaboo of the adventure genre, but it seemed more prevalent a problem to me on the Wii than other platforms. Before sending over the DS copy I did pop it in real quick to make a quick comparison on my own, and even from just a few minutes I could tell the game was a better fit on the DS.

Mike: It is interesting you mention consoles and adventure games mixing like oil and water. This last winter I’d had ‘Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None’ for the Wii sitting on the shelf for quite a while, and had already played it on the PC quite a ways back. My family decided it looked like a cool thing to do, so we gave it a try. Pretty soon we were all standing up a few feet from the screen working together looking for clues. And since then, none of us has ever wanted to play again. I blamed it on the controls and the game type not really appealing to our family game time, but I think your explanation makes much more sense. Why is it that huddled around a DS or PC we would work on any variety of puzzle and adventure games, but not on the Wii?

However, on the DS it works extremely well and stands as an excellent entry even with the other great adventures that have already been released on the platform. What makes it work so well? First, excellent use of the dual screens allows you to interact with things while simultaneously viewing details. Next, you get easy access to all pertinent items – inventory, diary, and menu – right from the main screen. Finally, this is a game that lives and dies by visual cues and stylus control. Broken Sword looked good when it arrived, still looked solid on the GBA release, and was improved for the PalmOS and Windows Mobile releases – but this is the best looking version yet. And the precision of the stylus just makes it feel like it was originally designed for the DS. How do you find the graphics on the Wii? Do you think that contributed to the feeling of a poor-match, or is it really a genre problem?

Since you’ve not played the original, one of the biggest changes – and a source of concern for many – was the addition of a large amount of new material played from Nicole’s point of view. The design goal was to keep everything from the original game, and add stuff only hinted at as full content. So there is a whole thread of ‘dark mystery’ running beneath the main story that is explored much more fully than before. For me, the new and ld material meshed together very nicely – which was aided by the graphical updates and addition of things like facial animations in the ‘Director’s Cut’. What did you think of the two character approach to working through the game?

Matt: Actually, adventure games can work really well on the Wii, it just takes a focused effort on the developer’s part to build it specifically for the Wii. Broken Sword and the Agatha Christie game you cited both originated on PC and were then ported to “fit” the Wii, so some of the inherent PC-centric designs of the game don’t mesh with the console setting. But a game like Capcom’s Zack & Wiki was built only with the Wii in mind, and that game played marvelously – it’s still one of the best Wii games to date by the way, go get it if you haven’t already! The DS is definitely a better home for PC adventure game ports/adaptations.

Quick question though- does the DS version have any multiplayer functionality to it? On the Wii there is a two-player mode in which a second player can jump into the game and help search scenes for clues while the main player directly controls everything. It’s not the most exciting cooperative experience, but this is a feature that can alleviate some of the problems spotting certain visual cues.

The Wii’s interface is great too. Again, maybe not quite as precise as directly interacting with the game with a stylus, but every bit as accurate as scouring the scenery with a mouse. Obviously the two-screen factor sounds like another benefit of the DS version, but on the Wii all of the menu items are also in easy reach during gameplay. In each corner sits a different menu icon, so getting to the inventory, accessing puzzle hints and getting to the main menu to save/load or set options is a breeze. Thankfully, the Wii motion-sensing is used sparingly throughout, only as an enhancement to certain puzzles where it makes sense, like safe cracking type stuff and block sliders. Ubisoft didn’t go crazy shoehorning a bunch of tacked-on Wii waggle crap into the game, and I was glad to see that.

As for the graphics, the Wii version looks excellent… for a touched-up port of a game that dates back over 10 years. The static backdrops are colorful and well defined — trouble picking up visual cues isn’t caused by a lack of graphical definition, it’s all about not being huddled directly in front of the TV — and the animations flow smoothly as characters move and interact on the screen. The comic-style story scenes are nice too — not sure if those have been updated from the PC, but they look great and advance the story in an entertaining way.

And speaking of story, I do like the two-character setup. I’ve always been a fan of games that let you play through a story from the different perspectives of multiple characters. Nico and George both make for interesting protagonists — Nico in the role of the French journalist, George playing the role of American tourist — and the story itself is chock full of the murder mystery and ancient conspiracy intrigue typical of an adventure game. For the most part, the voice acting holds up pretty well too — I’m assuming the old PC game had voice acting here. Some of the French accents can be a little grating, but nothing too detrimental.

Mike: It is interesting – when each of us hears a genre, a certain set of characteristics come to mind. When I hear ‘adventure game’ I think very much of the PC-centric entries in the genre … though I’m glad to shed having to type in commands manually! But it does make sense that more console-centric adventure games would be a better fit for console gaming!

The DS version doesn’t have any form of multiplayer, but neither did any of the other incarnations, so it was never anything I even thought about! I’m glad they added it to the Wii version, as I’m sure it helps to add something to the experience. Whereas I am glad they didn’t add it to the DS version. In fact, along with great use of the stylus and dual screens, it all adds up to what I call ‘right-sizing’. I felt throughout the game that this was a truly ‘made for DS’ experience, in spite of my past experience with the game.

Another thing that the Wii got from the PC that is missing on the DS is voice acting. This is unfortunate, as the PC game series has always been known for solid voice acting. I honestly don’t recall the quality of the French accents as being problematic, but a game really has to have terrible voice acting to stand out so many years later – and none of the subsequent ports I played had voice acting. The dialogue and storytelling, however, have lost nothing to the years in my opinion. Of course, good writing is immutable and 13 years is barely a blip in the history of storytelling, so there is no reason to expect any less.

I wanted to talk a bit about ‘new and old’, and I’m glad you mention the voice acting, as that is one of my questions. But first, while everything has been cleaned up for this release, all of the cut-scenes and animations are from the original game, with the added stuff from Nico’s perspective and new puzzles made to match the original art. Also, the new facial animations and character portraits have been made to look modern while capturing the same feel as the original. I was concerned about how they would pull that off, as too often things mesh poorly. I was recently replaying Gothic 2 Gold, and there are clear differences in the recording of some of the original lines and those added to integrate the expansion pack a couple of years later. But while I knew what was old and what was new, I never felt that it showed through in the presentation.

So did you notice any problems with new and old stuff looking or sounding different? I’ve heard that there were some issues with audio quality between new and old stuff, but nothing major.

A final ‘new vs. old’ comment. In the original, George had some action-y combat on a couple of occasions and could actually die! This carried through all of the versions I played until this one. Gone are those moments, and in their place are a load of additional puzzles. My opinion? Good riddance! It is good to maintain the original version faithfully, but sometimes changes make sense – and I think this is one of those times. There are plenty of action games around, and puzzles make more sense in the modern context of adventure games. I enjoyed the new puzzles, and found more than once I only realized after the fact that I had just played something new!

Matt: You know, it’s funny you bring up the “old vs. new” thing. Since I haven’t played the PC version I can’t say for sure, but now that you mention it I do recall a few times throughout the game where I swore a random line of a character’s dialogue sounded a bit different, almost as if a different actor/actress was brought in to record a few new lines and they weren’t blended in properly. This was rare, and honestly if you hadn’t brought it up I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought, so it’s not worth making into a big deal.

In the end, I’m glad Ubisoft decided to bring Broken Sword back and put it on the Wii and DS for new players, like myself, to experience for the first time, and update it enough for returning fans to appreciate all over again. But as I have expressed here, I do have certain concerns about how well this game, and ported PC adventure games in general, perform in the console environment. So even if you really enjoy adventure/mystery games, for the Wii version in specific I think it’d be wise to try before you buy…or just forget about it entirely and go get the more compatible DS version or track down a copy of the PC/Mac original if you have those options available to you.

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Pros:
+ Intuitive point-and-click interface
+ Excellent graphics and animations
+ Compelling story and characters
+ Smart puzzle designs

Cons:
– Certain parts of the game don’t feel quite at home on the Wii
– Some minor voice acting inconsistencies

Mike: I think you make a good point that seems obvious but bears repeating – some game types are better suited to certain systems more so than others. My favorite example was playing Guitar Hero III for the Mac & PC using the keyboard and mouse. Talk about a poor fit – that is a game that needs you to be standing up holding a cheap plastic guitar-alike and pretending you are actually playing to really get the full enjoyment. So I appreciate what you are saying about the Wii version being a solid game but perhaps a poor fit for the console gaming mechanic of the Wii. We will disagree on our recommendations, but not because we disagree about the core game – it is just a better fit for the DS (or PC) than the Wii.

I started the DS version with three different thoughts, two negative and one positive. First, I knew the core game very well and knew that even if they did nothing but port the game I’d played on Windows Mobile adapted to dual screens (since it already had the touch interface), I’d be happy. But on the negative side, I have seen more than a couple of classics not do so well when brought to the DS (The Settlers comes to Mind), and was concerned that we would end up with a lazy and sloppy port. Another negative thought had to do with the use of controls – we have seen all sorts of GBA/DS permutations in games in the more than four years since the DS was released. Some play like a GBA game lazily ported with a few DS-specific things tacked on. Others go stylus & microphone crazy, even using the stylus to move in action games, for example.

Fortunately, neither of my negatives came to bear, and my positive was an underestimation of how the game was made! As I’ve said, the controls and interface make the game feel like it was made for the DS alone, and the way the story was greatly enhanced and tweaked to match modern adventure game expectations and provide a fresh experience for even long-time fans was thrilling. I have been heartily recommending this to old adventure game fans since I started playing, and advise anyone who likes adventure games and has a DS to buy it.

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Pros:
– Still a great adventure game
– Updates make sense and look great
– ‘Right-sized’ for each system

Cons:
– DS gamers might miss the voice acting

Game Info:
Platform: DS, Wii
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Revolution Software
Release Date: 3/24/09
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1 (DS), 1-2 (Wii)

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!