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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars


Just about perfect point-and-clicker on the perfect system for it
What's It All About:
Point-and-click adventures have fallen on hard times, after being somewhat huge in the early days of PC gaming, as the simple mechanics of looking at an object, picking it up and using it as part of an adventure or quest made for game play that was easy to get into, yet offered enough mental challenges to make for extensive fun. Today, it's rare to see real effort put into this genre, though Sam and Max and Homestar Runner have been represented well in this area (taking advantage of the properties' humor) and the CSI series has done a nice job of accentuating the natural connections between forensics work and point-and-clicks. But if you want to get into some serious P&C'ing, you have to travel back in time a bit.

With the popularity of the Wii though, with it's instinctive pointing control scheme, the P&C has a console to call its own, and developers haven't missed that fact, porting over several pointer-based games, to varying levels of success. The latest is one of the greatest from the PC days, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, the story of American tourist George Stobbard, who, while vacationing in Paris, gets entwined in a mystery that just grows deeper and deeper as he attempts to solve it. But instead of just throwing the game onto the Wii platform, Revolution has gone the extra mile and created a Director's Cut of the game, meaning those who fell in love with it on the PC have a whole new reason to check it out on PC.

Gameplay:
Though the original game started with George at the scene of a bomb set off by a clown (yeah, a clown. It actually isn't as goofy as it sounds.) here, we begin as Nico Collard, a French journalist visiting a wealthy business man who requested she interview him. But when she arrives, he's struck down by... yep, a clown. Thus she's now more of an intrinsic part of the storyline, and through her scenes, and by working through the mystery with her and George, you get a more involved story than the original game, involving family affairs, international intrigue and grand conspiracies. It's one of the most cohesive and appropriately paced stories I've ever played in a game, as it's far more about unveiling the plot than getting from point A to point B (even if the game is very linear.)

As with all games in this genre, your focus is looking around areas, picking up and examining items, using them in ways that make sense (and sometimes not), interacting with other characters and solving puzzles. But because the writing and overall story is so good, it doesn't simply feel like filling in blanks. You'll enter more detailed screens, where normally an item is to be picked up, and instead get a bit of backstory, or a piece of foreshadowing. You'll have a chat with a character, and instead of a straightforward answer, you'll have a legitimate conversation that makes sense for the characters, which is nicely implemented by the occasional choice of an "angel" or "devil," which lets you do the appropriate thing, or break the rules. In the end, you have to follow the correct path, but the trip there is half the fun.

Unlike so many P&C ports on the Wii, the console's motion controls were considered, but not implemented willy-nilly. So you have some puzzles that are more than button-pushing exercises, like a combination lock you must turn back and forth. The puzzles tend to offer a real challenge, but nothing that is ridiculous for anyone who doesn't subscribe to Games magazine. There's also a decent variety in these puzzles, from your normal logic games to code-cracking activities, and that variety carries over to the exploring in the game. While some may get stuck on a puzzle or two, another new addition to the game is the hint system, which allows you to request assistance. What's really great about this tool is it allows for different levels of puzzle-solving skill. Thus, you get different levels of hints, so if you just need a push in the right direction, you can get it, but if you need a walkthrough, that's there too.

What's most impressive about this game (aside from the art) has to be the writing, which is some of the best and most adult seen on the Wii (or anywhere else for that matter.) While this tale or murder and betrayal unfolds, the characters act like real people, like breaking tension where necessary with a joke. Normally, when a game attempts humor, the attempt falls flat (and yes, there are a few clunkers here) but there are several very funny bits of dialogue in this game, and with some solid actors delivering the lines, the effect is more like a movie than a game. In fact, a movie based on this game might not be a bad idea.

Controls
This is a Wii-mote only game, which tends to be the biggest annoyance when it comes to point-and-click ports on the Wii. You have this excellent control scheme, allowing you to move with the nunchuk and manipulate with the Wii-mote, yet these games stick to the concept of clicking where you want to move. Besides that problem, it's a pretty smooth transition to the Wii, as you simply point and click with the A button, and use the B button for alternate options, like looking at objects instead of picking them up or using them. There's not much more to it, though thankfully there is a skip option during the dialogue which lets you progress at your own rate. As good as the writing and voice work is, sometimes you just want to get going already.

Graphics
Whenever someone complains about the graphics on the Wii, it's normally because the off-putting imagery is part of a less-than-engaging game. Make a game fun, and you'll never think twice about how it looks. Here, both sides of the equation are high-quality, as the spectacularly enjoyable gameplay is paired with beautiful graphics, courtesy of respected comic artist Dave Gibbons (.) The art and animation is reminiscent of the work of Don Bluth (Dragon's Lair) or perhaps Heavy Metal and sports serious details and impressive fluidity in the movement, even if it is a bit limited (again, think Dragon's Lair.) To give you an idea of how good it looks, when my wife walked through the room as I was playing, she asked "What are you watching?" not "What are you playing?" If there's a negative here, I don't think I've seen it, as the design plays to the Wii's strengths.

Sound
The Dolby Digital sound in this game is just as good as the art...for the most part. The voice work is some of the best and most diverse heard in a game (thank you to the creators for not making another mumbler on the Wii) and the music and sound effects effectively create the right atmosphere for the game's legitimately enthralling story. But with some of the dialogue recorded for PC about 13 years ago, and some recorded just recently for the Wii, there's an issue of inconsistency in the sound. It's not CB radio versus DTS, but it is a bit weird to the ear.

And in the End...
As I've stated in the past, I love point-and-click adventures, but Broken Sword, with its engagingly deep storyline, gorgeous art, fun writing, entertaining puzzles and terrific vocal cast, just raised the bar to a level that will be incredibly hard to meet for any game. One only hopes perhaps this success will spur developers to take another look at this somewhat dormant genre, supplementing the wave of Wii ports with something new and original. Of course that depends on people buying this game, which they certainly should, as it delivers accessible yet challenging fun for anyone.