For adventure gamers the arrival of a new Broken Sword story is like discovering an oasis of creativity in the midst of a desert of mediocrity. As comfortable as a favourite pair of slippers, this fourth outing for slightly dim American treasure-hunter George Stobbart is a return to traditional point ‘n’ click gameplay after the less successful experimentation of the last episode, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon.
Although the 3D graphics remain, it’s also a return in theme to the Knights Templar of the first in the series, with George in pursuit of a terrifying power originally unleashed by the Biblical Moses on the Egyptian Pharaoh. Times have been hard for George as he’s currently working as a bail bondsman in a seedy neighbourhood and the money is fast running out.
Then, in true film noir style, a dazzling blonde dame walks into his office seeking refuge from some Mafiosi who want her life and a manuscript revealing the whereabouts of this ‘treasure’. Soon our hero is on the run with Anna Maria, travelling from Istanbul to Rome to Phoenix, Arizona in search of his elusive goal.
Those expecting an early appearance from his flirting sidekick, the delectable French journalist Nico, will be disappointed as she only comes into the action relatively late in the game and Anna Maria, although pretty, has all the seductive allure of a cabbage. Still, there’s a colourful array of comic and menacing characters and accents, including an Elvis-loving hood, a Turkish waiter who loves his job, a priest who loves action movies and a hobo who loves Nico.
The gameplay is the classic cursor-led affair, clicking on the screen to move, clicking on the inventory items to ‘add’ them to doors, etc., and clicking on people to chat. Conversations are determined by icons at the bottom of the screen and they frequently have to be completed before you gain vital information to progress – which can be frustrating. Also, George’s default mode is walk, not run, when virtually every scenario benefits from speed, including some puzzles that are against the clock.
The puzzles themselves have the familiar range from laughably easy to fiendishly hard (via totally illogical) which will please hardened adventure gamers no end. Some puzzles are on George’s PDA when he’s trying to hack into programs and involve positioning refracting mirrors on a map. Others have rotating symbols but most involve picking up an item, possibly combining it with another and applying it to a third.
For many the graphics will seem outdated, the path-finding is frequently random and unexpected bugs will pop up (our copy, for instance, kept losing audible dialogue and we had to rely instead on the subtitle option). But for fans of the series, there will generally be a collective sigh of relief that George is back to his wry humour best in an engrossing story that will severely tax those little grey cells.