Broken Sword Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut, video game, box art, Knights Templar, man, hood, book, torch, flame

Review: Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut

Revolution Software’s 1996 adventure Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars has many fans the world over. Kim discovers whether the 2009 Director’s Cut has positively enhanced the original or if it needs some fixing.


Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview

Name: Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut
Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release date: March 2009
PEGI rating: 12
Platforms: Android, DS, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC, Wii
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

After an online petition to bring Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars to the Wii and DS, Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil decided to create an updated version of the classic 1996 point-and-click adventure. Rather than simply porting the original title, he thought it time to reward fans with something different and therefore included new material and additional artwork from comic-book artist Dave Gibbons in the 2009 Director’s Cut. The game received positive reviews and was a commercial success, outselling both the third and fourth Broken Sword instalments.

I first played the original shortly after its release and then again when I found a double-pack CD back in 2007 (which I still have – take a look at the photograph below!). While I can’t say that it appears in my list of favourite adventures, it’s certainly one I’ve always remembered because of how well-written it is and I’ve gone back to it a few times. When the trilogy bundle appeared during the last Steam summer sale I thought I’d pick it up to see whether the ‘new material’ mentioned above enhanced the game in any way; and although the escapades of protagonists George and Nico are still as thrilling, some of that old excitement has disappeared.

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Plot

If you’ve played the classic Broken Sword, you’ll probably remember the game opening on a black screen with an ominous voiceover beginning “Paris in the fall…” This is different in the Director’s Cut however: the title opens in the city a day before the original start, with journalist Nicole (‘Nico’) Collard receiving a request to interview a famous media tycoon and potential candidate for President of France. Shortly after meeting the suave Pierre Carchon he goes to investigate a noise coming from the drawing room; and after rushing to his aid, Nico witnesses a mime leering over his corpse before she’s knocked unconscious to the ground.

George and Nico’s investigations lead them to become caught up in the theft of an ancient manuscript, a forgotten medieval legend and an international conspiracy.

The following morning amiable American tourist George Stobbart witnesses a terrorist attack whilst reading a newspaper at a quiet café, when a grim-faced clown steals a briefcase from a stranger in a rain coat and detonates a bomb. Little does he know that his European vacation will take a dramatic turn after bumping into Nico while she’s photographing the scene after the ordeal. Their investigations lead them to become caught up in the theft of an ancient manuscript, a forgotten medieval legend and an international conspiracy – putting the Knights Templar back into the public eye way before Dan Brown ever did.

The core story in the Director’s Cut is the same as the original with only Nico’s backstory added as new content. This means that hardened fans are still able to experience the plot that they know and love, while both they and newcomers alike can see more depth to her character as we discover how her father was involved with Carchon. Nico’s storyline is an interesting one that sadly fizzles out abruptly once George appears on the scene and gains momentum. Our heroine is set up to be the main storyteller at the start of the game; but the fact that she never mentions her discoveries to her partner (in order for the new sections to smoothly fit between the original scenes) feels disjointed and she’s almost reduced to being simply his love-interest as the title progresses. At one point when Nico vows never to tell anyone about what she has found out – not even George – it doesn’t seem natural.

Broken Sword hammered home the tropes without shame and this hasn’t changed at all in the Director’s Cut. There are some particular sections which are could possibly be viewed as inappropriate nowadays and may make some feel uncomfortable, but it’s hard not to be amused by at least one of the double-entendres contained within the script. A particular delight is Lady Clarissa Piermont, a saucy English aristocrat who she tells George what she makes of his tool, advises that the term ‘dick’ is on the tip on her tongue when looking for a term to describe a private detective, and then leads straight into a joke about coq-au-vin.

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Gameplay

Gamers are now able to take control of Nico as a playable character during certain sections which are cleverly interspersed between original material.

Broken Sword provides exactly what you’d expect from a point-and-click adventure in terms of gameplay: you talk to characters, find items within the environment and solve puzzles in order to progress the plot. Nothing unexpected but there are several noticeable differences between the classic and Director’s Cut. Gamers are now able to take control of Nico as a playable character during certain sections which are cleverly interspersed between original material, and they’re pretty well-integrated when you consider that the versions were made thirteen years apart. However, as mentioned above her narrative thread draws to a rather abrupt close around a third of the way in and ultimately has no impact on the overall plot. But it does accentuate the series’ sense of secrecy and discovery, and the new sections came as a pleasant surprise.

The puzzles contained within them are mainly the reason for this. It’s easy to tell they were designed for the Wii and DS rather than PC as their click-and-drag basis is very touch-screen-orientated. Initially I found their appearance to be quite jarring as they look and feel completely different to the inventory-based challenges of the original; but after getting used to the somewhat-clunky mouse controls, it was a joy when they arrived. Examples include a type of combination lock that needs to be correctly configured in order to open a barred door and a code-cracking puzzle where symbols must be matched to letters in order to decipher a secret message. Experienced players who remember most of the original solutions will find these new challenges a welcome addition, although the switch between third- and first-person may not sit well with some.

With regard to the rest of the puzzles contained within the Director’s Cut, there’s a slight lack of consistency: some have had additional steps added that make them more complicated while others have been simplified. For example, when inserting an ancient lens into a statue George now needs to focus it in order to read a hidden message whereas previously this was done automatically; and players have to find the necessary letters on a stone tomb for themselves whereas our protagonist simply read them out before. On the flip-side, several clicks have been removed from that Infamous Goat challenge making it much easier. Hardened fans may therefore feel a little short-changed but new players will find a well-crafted batch of puzzles.

The loss of the death scenes is a shame. They created a sense of danger and urgency, whilst adding some reality to the story and rewarding quick-thinking.

Also gone are the instances where George could make a fatal error. If you left the Hotel Ubu carrying an important clue in the original title and failed to remember the two hired goons hanging around the entrance, our protagonist would find himself wrapped in a body-bag and thrown off the side of a bridge. Players would then have to resort to loading up their last saved game – which could have potentially been hours beforehand. Now however, if you try to leave the establishment through the main door George will tell you that it isn’t a good idea and explain exactly why. Perhaps the removal of these death-sequences caters to a younger Wii and DS audience but personally I think their loss is a shame. They created a sense of danger and urgency, whilst adding some reality to the story and rewarding quick-thinking, and now it all just feels a bit ‘safe’.

On the positive side however, Broken Sword rarely leaves you in a position where you’re scratching your head in frustration and frantically using your entire inventory on every object in the environment to get some kind of result. You’ve usually always got an idea of what you need to achieve and the challenge arises from working out exactly how you’re going to do it. Maybe it’s necessary to distract a workman in order to get at something useful in his toolbox; maybe that newspaper containing a horse-racing tip will remind him that he has a better place to be! This game may not make an appearance in my list of favourite adventures but it’s definitely one of the better designed.

Other additions to the Director’s Cut are highlighted hotspots (although it seems as if some included within the classic title have been removed), eliminating any need for pixel-hunting but also sadly removing some of the challenge. A new tiered hint system is available and although I didn’t make use of this, it seems to be well-crafted: advice ranges from a general clue to full instructions on how to progress, so players are able to accept a push in the right direction when they need it rather than jumping straight to the answer. There’s no in-game penalty for using the system but the number of times it’s accessed is displayed along with the time played for each saved game.

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Visuals and audio

Certain conversations seem to end suddenly and the overall tone of the game is slightly less ‘dangerous’.

Visuals are still bright and attractive despite Broken Sword being made almost twenty years ago, and it’s a pleasure exploring locations around Paris as well as several in Europe. Unfortunately however some of the original dialogue and cutscenes (as well as any blood shown in these) have been edited out. It’s highly likely that new players won’t notice their removal but experienced fans will definitely realise this is the case, as certain conversations seem to end suddenly and the overall tone of the game is slightly less ‘dangerous’.

An addition to the Director’s Cut are the close-up portraits that now appear whenever a conversation is taking place. In the classic title, these were only shown when illustrating telephone conversations so it’s clear the visuals have been adapted for the small screen of the DS thanks to Gibbons. During a couple of instances this new artwork appears over the action happening onscreen so players miss some interactions; and the portraits can seem out-of-sync with what’s being said, with George appearing slightly insane when he smiles at something which is actually disastrous.

Nico’s new sequences and the extra steps added to some of the original puzzles look and sound great, and are very in-keeping with the tone of the classic game. But their high-quality unfortunately highlights legacy elements and it’s pretty obvious when switching between old and new sections. Nico’s voice is clear and the music behind her is grand and sweeping; then along comes George with his fuzzy speech and poorly-compressed video sequences to bring down the show. It’s not enough to spoil the experience but all players, regardless of whether they’ve touched Broken Sword in the past, will notice the difference in audio quality.

It was great to see a different side to Nico, and disappointing when her personal narrative thread ended.

Hazel Ellerby returned to voice Nico for the new sections in the Director’s Cut, playing the journalist once again for the first time since the original Broken Sword’s release. In these segments she comes across as a much ‘softer’ character. I didn’t particularly warm to her whilst working my way through the original game, finding her to be spikey and rude rather than ‘independent’ and ‘strong’ as she’s often referred to; but it was great to see a different side to Nico, and disappointing when her personal narrative thread ended.

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Replay and innovation

A few bonus features have been added to the Director’s Cut including a comic book revealing details about Nico’s past, photographs of the team involved in developing the game and a message from creator Cecil. But while might be of interest to some, they don’t particularly add any replayability value. As with the majority of point-and-clicks, the plotline here is linear and the solutions to puzzles never change so there isn’t much to incentivise players to jump straight back in for a second go; but as I myself can testify, a strong story is likely to draw many back over the years.

And speaking of the story, it’s definitely a point of innovation when it comes to Broken Sword. At the time of its release it was more realistic and serious than other adventure games, partially due to the death scenes mentioned above, and the Knights Templar story comes over as being well-researched. But in terms of how innovative the Director’s Cut is itself, that’s a hard one to clarify. There’s nothing about the PC version which makes it ultimately stand out as unique when matched to other titles in the genre; but if you consider the Android and iOS versions alone, it’s definitely at the higher scale in terms of quality when it comes to mobile gaming.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

Numerous awards were given to the original Broken Sword following its release in 1996 – including its mention in 1001 Video Games.

The Director’s Cut received several awards and nominations. It was nominated for Best Story at the 2009 British Academy Video Game Awards; Pocket Gamer gave the iPhone version the Pocket Gamer Gold Award upon its release in 2010; Metacritic ranked it ninth on its list of the Best iPhone and iPad Games of 2010; and Trusted Reviews placed it at number 31 on its 100 Best iPhone Games Ever list during the following year. These follow on from numerous awards given to the original Broken Sword following its release in 1996 – and its mention in 1001 Video Games.

So on that basis alone I guess you could say that the Director’s Cut should be included in future 1001 lists. But ask me whether this version or the original title is more worthy of a place and I may struggle to give you a definite answer. I love the fact that you’re now able to play as Nico and the new sections add more depth to her character, as well as the introduction of some interesting puzzles; but on the flip-side, I miss the sense of danger that the death-sequences added to the game and some of the puzzle difficulty.

In a sense, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut lives up to its name. Its interesting script with humorous one-liners, well-designed challenges and engrossing storyline make it incredibly sharp and intelligent, and it’s a great way to pass around ten hours or so. But there are a just few cracks showing around the edges. New players may just discover a new favourite adventure but experienced fans may be better sticking with the original.

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Review round-up

Reviewed: PC
Source: We purchased the trilogy bundle during a Steam sale for £3.39
Positive: New fans to the series will find a game with well-designed puzzles and an engrossing storyline
Negative: Broken Sword fans are likely to prefer the original game due to a number of edits
Score: 41 out of 60
Grade: Worth a look
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut, video game, review, graph, Worth a look

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3 thoughts on “Review: Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut

  1. “George appearing slightly insane when he smiles at something which is actually disastrous” oh my god that is so true.

    I didn’t play the original, and with your review I now understand why I thought there was a mismatch in voice-audio quality. I always thought that was strange.

    When I first played this game, I did it in French because I was learning the language at the time, so watching your playthrough it was so jarring hearing their English voices. Though Nico does sound very familiar.

    I agree on Nico, those spots in her narrative deserved a better resolution. If they had gone the full-remake way, perhaps we would’ve gotten a better story out of her, since there would’ve been no need to adapt her “screen-time” into the pre-existing plot thread!

    To this day, when I’m talking to people and telling them about playing Point & Click adventure games, I always point them to this game. I think that nowadays it’s a better introduction to the genre than say Monkey Island 1, which can be very frustrating (though the special edition is simpler).

    Also you mentioned Dan Brown for the Templars, but this was also the game that brought us the Assassin and Templar conflict years before Ubisoft sent us back to the past using the Animus in Assassin’s Creed.

    I wish I could play the original and see how it matches up. I’m intrigued by this “Infamous Goat puzzle” 🙂

    Lovely review, will you go through the series?

    Like

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