Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Review: The Adventure That Doesn’t Die
Back in the middle of the 1990s, adventure games were still going strong, at least when they weren’t made by failing companies like Lucasarts (who forgot their SCUM engine and decided to stick with the Science Fiction money-maker, “Star Wars”) and Westwood (who had good reason with solid strategy games to get moving on). Nowadays, adventure games are a largely a niche genre and make up only a small percentage of the gaming market, left to the wayside for independent developers and occasionally the re-creation of older titles with new detail. “Broken Sword” is one of them.
Originally released in 1996, “Shadow of the Templars” followed American tourist George Stobbard, as well as photojournalist Nico Collard, as he goes from nearly becoming an ashen pretty-boy in a pub in Paris at the hands of a psychotic clown into a conspiracy about the Knights Templar. With memorable animation, and the sheer degree of things these characters could do in the game with the hardware limitations at the time proved that the game would not soon be forgotten. The level of depth of everything in “Shadow of the Templars” from the plot, to developing characterization between the two protagonists and their relationship to one another was astounding. The artistry and animation mimicked animated cartoons, complete with an orchestral ensemble and voice acting to create an adventure that easily drew the player in without too much explanation - not that the player every really gets one since the game is a mystery that took place all over the world. “Shadow of the Templars” was a success on the PC, and was ported once before to a hand-held market on the GBA. It didn’t receive the same numbers, but the game has been re-released again on both the Wii and the DS.
The DS version of “Broken Sword” no longer contains the voice-acting that I remember so well, but, unlike many remakes in video game history, the additions to this game are significant and well-placed. Instead of entering the game from the cafe explosion, you play as Nico as she is present at the murder of her father’s closest friend and confidant. This opening sequence spurs the discovery of a larger plot in the works between hiding her information from the police and uncovering information kept secret for centuries. The game is played completely with the stylus, allowing the player to explore every room by waving it over the screen for investigation, item collection, and dialogue.
Control - as well as individual inventories - switches between the two characters as scenes change and objectives are completed. The level at which the developments made stark differences between the two is astounding; when you examine the same thing with each of the game’s characters - one, a native Parisian with a kind heart and the other a bumbling, headstrong American - you get two very different responses. This is visible in nearly every aspect of the game - the diary entries during a switch, the examination of items, and dialogue with character are all significantly different, allowing the player to easily recognize and relate with each of the protagonists. The game itself is very impromptu in terms of gameplay, since not all puzzle solutions are straight-forward, and some work within a very tense time constraint, or the character dies. Hope for have a fresh save too; repeating a solution isn’t fun when you’re on the clock.
A new feature in the DS version are the hand-drawn illustrations by Dave Gibbons, the illustrator and dabbling animator for another adventure game, “Beneath a Steel Sky.” If that isn’t enough to recognize him, he was also known for doing the lead pencil and color work for Watchmen, the legendary graphic novel-turned-hit movie, so how about that? The only thing that could have made this game better would have been a good soundtrack, which doesn’t carry over to this version. It has ambiance during the gameplay scenes, and the cutscenes have some more engaging music, but that’s not much. The game has these light and uplifting tones which don’t fit the situation that well. Despite the fact that more time could have been spent there, it’s at least worth your time for most of the visual atmosphere and the good story development. If you’re a fan of collecting everything that isn’t nailed down for some obscure purpose, I’d check it out.
“Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars” was originally released in September 1996 for the PC. “Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Director’s Cut)” was released for DS and Wii in March 2009. This review is based on the DS version of the game.