Before you ask, yes, I’ve played the first Broken Sword, subtitled The Shadow of the Templars. And I’ve played the third Broken Sword, subtitled The Sleeping Dragon. And now I’ve played the second Broken Sword, subtitled [SEE TITLE].
To bring you up to speed, the first Broken Sword was released in 1996, the second the following year, and the third long after in 2003. There’s a fourth game, but I’ve never seen in in person, and frankly I think it’s avoiding me. All of the games follow the American George Stobbart and his on-again, off-again French girlfriend Nico Collard. Or, to put it another way, the games focus on French Nico Collard and her attempts to help her sometimes-boyfriend George Stobbart out of trouble.
The first game I played by myself. It entranced me from the first scene where George narrowly escapes death by clown. Technically, death by clown who plants a bomb in the café where George is enjoying coffee – luckily, he’s outside at the time.
I don’t remember how the clown comes into play, exactly, just that the clown and the bomb start George’s investigation into the modern day remnants of the Knights Templar and his attempts to stop them before they can use the sword of Baphomet to, I don’t know, take over the world or something. It’s a fun game, with witty meta-dialogue in the tradition of traditional adventure games.
From an unnamed and unnamable source, I received the third game in the series and ended up playing through The Sleeping Dragon with Megan. (Partly, this is because I always prefer playing story-based games with other people; partly, it’s because I needed the help; Mostly, it’s because we both enjoy playing games, and enjoy doing so together. So there!) The game was a lot of fun, the art well-done, and the puzzles well-designed.
So when the opportunity came for the second Broken Sword to come into our hands, we leapt at the chance and snatched it from the air like a homerun you’re afraid is going to hit the elderly couple behind you. And when they get upset because they were totally ready to catch it themselves so they could give it to their grandson as a present, you say you have to go to the bathroom and then drive home instead, the baseball secure in your passenger seat, because your grandparents never gave you a baseball and oh how you wanted one!
Yes, it was just like that.
Well, we just finished playing catch with that baseball, and I must admit that we were disappointed.
Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror used the same art design as Shadow of the Templars, making the game look like an animated movie rather than a computer game. Even with the rough edges caused by the older computer graphics, the game still manages to charm the eye visually. The cut scenes that are fully rendered as animation are always beautiful (even if, as Megan pointed out, the way characters look from one sequence to the next can change rather dramatically).
And the sequel uses the same mechanics as the first game, which was both comfortable (for me, since Megan had only played the fully 3D The Sleeping Dragon) and a little disheartening. Even the puzzles seemed similar.
Which is really just to say that we weren’t impressed and, for the most part, we were a little annoyed. The Smoking Mirror has a richly-developed world to introduce us to, and a wealth of characters and interesting dialogue, but the puzzles – which are the heart of an adventure game – often stumped us either with illogic or with the fact that we’d tried something already, but slightly messed up the sequence so that solution didn’t work and, so, we discounted it.
Granted, this is as much a problem with ourselves and our style of play than the game. Also, the experience probably wasn’t helped by being strung out over the course of half a year (Megan’s job limited how much we could do entertainment-wise, so we often switched between all the various activities we enjoyed: computer games, video games, crafting, movies, taxes, etc.).
But all of that still doesn’t explain the major let-down that is the final sequence in the game. Also, as you might guess, there are SPOILERS ahead.
The whole plot involves the Evil Guys attempt to return a Mayan god of death to the world, while George and Nico try to collect specific Mayan stones that, when used correctly, will prevent this return. The last sequence of the game takes place inside the Mayan temple where the death god will reappear, and separates (as is usual) Nico and George into separate rooms and, therefore, separate puzzles.
The non-fun begins with Nico finding herself in a room whose only exit can be opened by completing a code. Unfortunately, said code involves rotating two massive code wheels and pressing stone buttons when the symbols on the code wheel match up. Note to future puzzle designers: This is not so much a puzzle as it is a vast waste of time. It took only a few seconds to figure out what had to be done and how, but it took a good twenty minutes to slowly rotate the wheels, walk Nico from one place to another, slowly, until all the buttons were pushed and the door opened.
After that, George has a puzzle which took far less time to complete (it’s one of those where you have levers that open doors, but each lever (there are five of them) opens a different combination of doors (there are three of them) and, really, these puzzles just annoy me so I end up playing around until, like magic, they solve themselves) and then walks down some stairs, walks down some more stairs, and cue final cut scene where the stones are used to beat back the god of death and the player has no involvement whatsoever. Afterwards, we see George, Nico, and their native guide stare out at a beautiful, unapocalypted day, and credits.
If I haven’t managed to explain how blah that ending was, then let me try again:
That’s what I think of you, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror.