As I write this, Red Dwarf is making its reappearance on television, Oasis is floating out of my flatmate’s room and I’m sat with a big, stupid grin playing Broken Sword on my Nintendo DS. Give me a bottle of cheap cider and a park to drink it in and it could be 1996 again.
This makes me happy. I liked 1996 and seeing Broken Sword is like bumping into an old schoolmate you still get on with. For anybody who missed this adventure classic the first go round, the majority of the game is spent in the company of George Stobbart, an amiable law student holidaying in Paris, who witnesses the bombing of a cafe. Displaying an endearing lack of caution, he sets out to discover who’s behind it, unearthing the mysterious Templars and all manner of other underworld shenanigans along the way.
As is the way with this breed of point-and-click adventure, the path to unravelling the international conspiracy is best accomplished by talking to everybody and indulging your inner kleptomaniac. If it’s not nailed down, and sometimes even when it is, pick it up and store it in your voluminous trousers for use at a later date. After all, you never know when you’ll need to open a door with a diamond ring, a box of cornflakes and a papier mache sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. To be fair, such an event doesn’t occur in Broken Sword and actually renders its puzzles a disservice.
They’re pleasingly logical, though rarely satisfying. They’re just too easy. Indeed they’re occasionally so simplistic it feels as though the developers threw them in out of embarrassment: just to give you something to do before the next big reveal. On the one hand this helps to keep things skimming along, which in a game about international conspiracies is a necessity, but at the same time it’s not that long in the first place and a few head scratchers wouldn’t have gone amiss.
On the whole though, Broken Sword has survived the rigours of time brilliantly. This is thanks in no small part to a series of superb design decisions. The hand drawn backgrounds from Dave Gibbons – of Watchmen fame, no less – are beautiful to behold. The screen overflows with incidental details and colour. The characters are also superb, blessed with charm and flaws and served by a superb script full of wit and wry observation. This is handy because there’s a lot of talking in Broken Sword. Lots. Really, lots. Anybody who considers a lunch menu a heavy read is undoubtedly going to have a hard time, but for those of us who like this sort of thing, Broken Sword is a rewarding experience. Even though the dialogue choice that will help you progress is often obvious, you’ll probably click every option simply to hear what the larger than life characters have got to say for themselves.
So, the old holds up well, how about the new? The principal new addition is a subplot in which photojournalist Nico Collard investigates the assassination of a philandering French politician. These sections are interwoven with the main story and work well for the most part and those who never played the original will struggle to find the seams. Cleverly, the puzzles in these sections take advantage of the DS’s touchscreen interface, offering a variety of minigames that will see you dragging bits of a torn-up photograph to reassemble the original and tapping letters and glyphs to break codes.
The DS port has also given Revolution a chance to tweak the interface. Now, instead of having to click on every part of the backdrop in order to find the exact puzzle-solving pixel you need, dragging the stylus around the screen highlights objects you can interact with, bringing up context sensitive options when tapped. It may sound like dumbing down in print, but it’s actually a much needed refinement of a system that’s always been more hindrance than help in the past.
The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that I said the new sections hold up well “for the most part”. There are flaws, but if anything, they’re not in implementation, but rather design. In the original we started with George, and finished with George. Now we start with Nico, giving us a chance to see her determination and intelligence from the off, so when the switch to George comes a quarter of the way through the game – its original beginning – the effect is jarring. The brave, determined Nico is suddenly content to stay at home and wait for George to get on with the dangerous stuff beyond her door. It doesn’t make sense.
Still, playing Broken Sword again is a bit like going home. Sure, your mum’s moved the furniture around in the 13 years you’ve been away, but this is still fundamentally what you remember and love. If you’re a newcomer, you’re in for a treat. Games aren’t made like this anymore, and even in 1996 this was a gem. Now, how much is a bottle of cider these days?…
Broken Sword is out now.