Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon
For a game that promised a new way of looking at the tragically-defunct point-'n’-click genre, the lovely new 3D engine Revolution has given to The Sleeping Dragon seems incredibly unsurprising and non-revelatory at first. Anyone who has played the Game Boy Advance version of the original Broken Sword will know what to expect here – it’s still, for all intents and purposes, a point ‘n’ click adventure, albeit one that utilises the analogue stick to move, and trigger buttons to run or sneak as opposed to, well, pointing and clicking with a mouse. Thus, we begin with a simple warning: the evolution of the Broken Sword series is unlikely to satisfy gamers expecting a counterpoint to the recent (and shockingly weak) Tomb Raider sequel, or those who were expecting something more akin to an action RPG. If you didn’t like the relaxed sleuthing of previous point ‘n’ clickers – or that progress relied on your own mental development, or that hitting a brick wall for two weeks meant waking up at 3am after dreaming the answer to a particular puzzle – then you are unlikely to maintain the level of patience needed to complete this dialogue-heavy adventure. If upon reading this review, you are still unsure if you and The Sleeping Dragon are compatible, then XBM recommends renting a copy before purchasing. Why? Because this game deserves better than to lose sales to bad word of mouth based upon such instances of mutual disdain between Xbox and user. And in any case, you’ll have your saving on the hard drive for when you buy a copy…
Okay, enough negativity – fans of the series will be pleased to know that the narrative of The Sleeping Dragon is just as strong as in previous chapters, covering the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript (a real life artefact, which is either the secret of the world or an ancient gardening manual, depending on who you ask), a murderous frame-up, the earth’s infinite natural energy and the neo-templar knights bumf from Broken Sword 1. And nothing whatsoever is rushed; conversations commonly last five or ten minutes, though this is nothing compared to the time spent frustrated, scratching your head in the hope of solving yet another obscure challenge. Which is exactly what fans of the series would hope from this title: in essence, it is a perfect continuation of the previous chapters in the series, with an intriguing story, much-loved characters and a fat load of puzzles to work through.
The game begins in tandem, as the narrative flits between George Stobbart and Nico Collard, both of whom are investigating apparently unrelated mysteries. And at this point, newcomers to the series might find themselves wondering exactly what they should be taking away with them. What is more important – the story or the puzzles? Who are these people, and why does the game begin with my character already hanging over a precipice with little hope of escape? But, as any regular player could attest, this is exactly what pulls Broken Sword away from the predictable, bog-standard level of most adventure games – it causes the player to constantly question everything around them, to investigate further in the hope that they might have missed something. So there’s backtracking, and you’ll find yourself checking an environment for the fiftieth time in the hope of turning up some new clue or other… but again, that is what the Broken Sword series has always been about, and experienced gamers have learnt to blame themselves for their crime-solving weaknesses by now, rather than take it as a limitation of the game. Revolution must be hoping that fledgling adventurers will accept the same level of culpability.
If there is a serious criticism to be had here, it’s that the detail level of the 3D engine cannot hope to compete with the exact character interaction and precision performances conveyed by the hand-drawn animation of previous instalments. As a result, conversations are a lot more static, and the subtle character shifts possible in 2D animation are replaced by more obvious changes of stock facial expression. The player has to rely far more on the performed voices to infer character; the timing is less punchy, and more of the jokes fall flat. But this is a superficial criticism in relation to the game itself – much like reading a great literary work and saying that you loved the story, but didn’t like the lead character’s taste in clothes. It’s not quite the revolution we had expected, perhaps, but it’s still got classic Revolution written all over it, and that’s just about fine with us.