Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

Game Description: The murder of an underground hacker in Paris is just the beginning of this extraordinary adventure for George Stobbard and Nico Collard in the highly anticipated Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. Powerful seismic events are shaking the world. An Ancient Conspiracy, the Secrets of the Templars, and a fiendish source of pure Evil are responsible. From the jungles of the Congo to the deceptive calm of the English West Country and gothic castles time is running out for the Earth and only George and Nico can save it. An epic narrative from Europe's master interactive storytellers; Stunning graphics delivered by a radical new graphic engine; Wholly intuitive direct control interface fresh gameplay navigation for full control of the character; Movie quality script and voice acting, with facial animation choreography using Virtual Actor Engine.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon – Review

The term "adventure" is now being used for games that could more accurately be labelled "action-adventure." That is to say, action games with real-time combat that happen to have a better-than-average plot, some dialogue, and an items inventory. The Legend of Zelda immediately springs to mind.

Those of us who are a little older probably have a different definition. I grew up playing King's Quest and Space Quest, using a joystick and inputting simple verb-object commands with the computer keyboard. The technique was eventually replaced by the mouse's point-and-click interface, but the core concepts remained the same: exploration and puzzle-solving, main characters that generally did not carry weapons or engage in random battles, and gameplay that relied on manipulating the environment and using inventory items in creative ways. The games were 2D and nothing special graphically, but were characterized by witty dialogue and mind-bending puzzles that required an active brain instead of twitchy fingers. I loved them, and because of that I commiserate with the current state of adventure gaming and the serious soul-searching that's going on among its faithful.

Adventure games have a strong legacy in spite of their recent decline in popularity. Broken Sword's lineage stretches back to the 1996 PC/PlayStation release, Circle of Blood, which was recently ported to the Game Boy Advance as Shadow of the Templars. A sequel followed in 1997, and then there was nothing until 2003's The Sleeping Dragon. In the interim, Revolution Software's Charles Cecil, who also happens to be lead designer on The Sleeping Dragon, declared at a press conference that "point-and-click gaming is dead."

So where does that leave The Sleeping Dragon? Cecil seems to imply that there's a fundamental difference between point-and-click and the adventure genre itself. The Sleeping Dragon is meant to be a departure from the stale point-and-click formula and a breath of fresh air for adventure gaming. While there's no doubt The Sleeping Dragon spectacularly achieves the latter, I'm not convinced that it's so much of a departure from certain rigid limitations that continue to define the genre.

The Sleeping Dragon once again features American lawyer George Stobbart and French journalist Nico Collard as the two main characters that the player alternates between over the course of the adventure. The two globe-trot around the world to the Congo, Paris, England, and Prague and stumble upon a strange and ancient power while investigating a pair of murders.

The most obvious departures from the series are the switch to 3D graphics and the introduction of a direct-control system. In other words, George and Nico are now controlled with the analog stick in a similar manner to Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and a slew of other 3D action games. This gives them more of a free-range over the environment, and introduces the ability to sneak, run, climb, and drag objects.

I wouldn't call either of these changes revolutionary. The move to 3D and the resulting ripples are innovative and by no means detrimental. However, nothing else about The Sleeping Dragon seems poised to turn the adventure game genre on its ear. For fans who were left biting their nails after Cecil's bold words, this may come as a relief. It also might explain the genre's continuing decline in popularity among contemporary gamers.

For example, the game still relies on "hot spots" to dictate which items in the environment can be manipulated. Hot spots appear as glowing asterisks over the items that can be picked up or examined, and over characters that can be spoken to. Also, the gameplay remains tightly linear as opposed to the continuous, free-exploration worlds offered in Morrowind and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Environments are presented in fixed-camera perspectives, and certain arbitrary barriers prevent characters from wandering too far away from where they're supposed to be. Point-and-click has been replaced by run-over-to-the-object-and-press. The core concept hasn't changed.

That being said, The Sleeping Dragon is a refined, immersive, superbly scripted, and generally well-executed adventure. It's possibly the best example of sustained convergence yet experienced in a videogame. Characters chat to each other while walking around or performing other activities. Music seamlessly reacts to live-action events. Cutscenes depict lifelike, subtle characters with realistic facial expressions and believable personalities.

The pacing is sometimes perfect, but suffers at times from two things that occur too frequently to ignore. The first is the unwelcome overabundance of puzzles that rely on dragging crates around. The push-pull process is clumsy to begin with, and often the solution to a puzzle will be obvious but the execution just excruciatingly slow.

Also, the load-time to travel between areas and in and out of buildings often approaches thirty seconds. Needless to say, this frequently cripples momentum, especially when puzzles require repeatedly travelling back and forth between two rooms.

The dialogue in The Sleeping Dragon is often seamless. During one scene in Paris, for example, Nico sneaks up on two old women gossiping about her, and can stand listening in the shadows to the whole conversation. When she walks over to the two ladies, they hurriedly shush each other, triggered by her presence. Nico and George, during the scenes they share, frequently banter back and forth in a casual way instead of cutting to a cutscene. This is something I would love to see more of in games, as opposed to clunky Action Dialogue Action Dialogue progression.

Character dialogue is impeccable, but occasionally some of the rote responses to red herrings (items that don't do anything, but are there to be clicked on anyway), and artificial barriers, gets a bit lazy. While George is exploring a lane of row-houses in Glastonbury, he can be made to walk down an alley in between two of the buildings. Instead of emerging on the other side, he is dumped back into the same street uttering something like, "oh, I'm here again. Imagine that."

Other times red herrings will be dealt with by a scripted bit that nicely fleshes out either the character or the situation, such as the instance that Nico examines a vase and launches into a monologue about how great it would look in her apartment, before finally deciding that she doesn't really need it. It's a fancy way of saying, "I don't need that," but the extra effort is appreciated. Nico's response is much more indicative of the overall flavour of the game's dialogue.

In terms of winning over new gamers to the cause, I doubt that the addition of a few things to climb on, some very elementary stealth scenarios, and a whole bunch of crates to push around doesn't change the game enough to appeal to those who find adventure games boring to begin with. The Sleeping Dragon is more about keeping the faith than anything. Rating 8.0 out of 10.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon – Second Opinion

Like Erin, I also spent time with some PC adventure titles during my youth, most notably Space Quest and the infamous Leisure Suit Larry series. 1998's Grim Fandango was a more recent one, and I enjoyed that just as much as the old-schoolers, if not more. So, it comes as no real surprise that I thought Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon was a great disc to spend time with. It meets all the genre's quasi-requirements like snappy dialogue and a light tone, presenting a genuinely enjoyable adventure. It may knock twitch gamers unconscious with its lack of combat and relatively slow pace, but this is a kind of game that I don't want to see disappear into the annals of history, mouse or no mouse.

There are certain things you have to expect from a game that fits so comfortably into its niche, both good and bad, and The Sleeping Dragon is no exception. Looking at the bad, some of the puzzles are intuitive and quickly solved, but more than a few are obscure and difficult. I do give credit to Revolution for avoiding most point-and-clickers' tendency towards totally outlandish solutions, but several of them had me saying, "I never would have figured that out!" I think part of the issue is that sometimes it's not entirely clear what you're trying to do, and without a goal it's tough to problem-solve. I guess your brain just has to work a certain way, and mine evidently doesn't. Having an FAQ on hand will go a long way towards eliminating frustration, though it would have been nice to have a few in-game hints (perhaps disguised as dialogue from your partner) for the adventure-game impaired like me.

However, I accept the humiliation from the brain-twisters because I enjoy the rest of what the genre (and The Sleeping Dragon) offers so much. The writing is super-snappy, and a dialogue-aholic like me ate up every conversation. I'm confident that just about anyone will get more than a few chuckles out of the one-liners and sexually charged banter between George and Nico. They're both very enjoyable characters, and have a natural energy to their personalities, even reminding me a little bit of one of my favorite television shows, Moonlighting.

I also appreciated the use of the real-world locales. It's not very often that games are set in the present day, unless you count all those military-themed shooters based in Baghdad or some other war-torn third world country. There's nothing wrong with combat zones or the usual imaginary kingdoms, but playing a game in places I could personally identify with was a great, strangely fascinating treat.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon runs a little rough technically and has a few minor hiccups here and there, but if you don't mind those and can get past ungodly loadtimes regularly exceeding thirty seconds (bring a book) you'll find it to be a great ride well worth the time and effort spent. For those who like their games a bit on the cerebral, talky side, it's great addition to help round out the Xbox's lopsided library. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot. Rating: 8

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon – Consumer Guide

According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gord, Mild Language, Violence

Parents should be aware that this game isn't geared towards young children. There are a few dead bodies in the game, some of them graphically depicted, and some moderate sexual innuendo, but nothing in the game goes out of its way to be crudely offensive.

Fans of the Broken Sword series will recognize a few faces and places, and can rest assured that the feel of the previous games is intact.

Adventure gamers can buy this with confidence, although they should be prepared to be patient during the load times and irritating crate puzzles.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers can enjoy full dialogue subtitles that are also color-coordinated to better keep track of who is speaking. The subtitles also cover certain important noises, like the barking of dogs. A fine effort was made in this department.