Sword: The Smoking Mirror
466 66Mhz Pentium
Windows 95/98 (Not ME Compatible, according to box)
VESA 2.0 Compatible SVGA
100% SoundBlaster compatible sound card
Mouse and Keyboard
4x CD ROM
16 MB RAM
Pentium IV 2.53 Ghz
SoundBlaster Audigy 2.0
Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is the game I have to attribute my sudden immense interest in adventure games to. Since I completed the game the day after its PC release, I've been hungering for every adventure game I can get my hands on. So, it would stand to reason that the first two Broken Sword games would be on my immediate 'to-buy' list. I have to say, I could not be more pleased.
I feel the need to sum up this review before I even get started: Go out and buy this trilogy now. You will not be disappointed. You can easily get the first two on EBay for ten bucks, and as such, it would be a grave error to pass up on these masterpieces.
Broken Sword II takes place six months after its predecessor. You once again take the role of George Stobbartt, the American tourist who just has to get involved in every intrigue he finds. After the first game, George's father took ill, and George was forced to leave France and his girlfriend, Nicole Collard to look after him.
As soon as you return to France, instead of the joyful reunion George was hoping for, Nico eagerly takes off to the home of Professor Oubier, renown archeologist. Upon arrival, Nico is drugged and you are attacked, left tied to a chair in a burning house with a hungry, poisonous spider salivating over your incapacitated body.
The game obviously retains the cinematic flair of its predecessor, and is overall more fleshed out. The ending, I'm glad to say, doesn't feel as sudden and hollow as the ending of the first game.
Its not necessary to play The Shadow of the Templars to understand The Smoking Mirror. There are several cameos you may not appreciate, as well as some history of the main characters you will miss, but its not something that will leave you confused. However, I still recommend you complete Shadow of the Templars first, as it creates a more overall fulfilling experience.
The story is definitely the strongest point of the game, and would convince even a non-genre fan to play through it, which is a testimony to the writers.
Graphically, the game is beautiful. The 2D pre-rendered backgrounds show the artistry you would expect of the game. Unlike most other adventure games of its era, it focuses on a more realistic style. The detail is at times astounding, with intricate textures, varied environments, and superb animation.
Every scene has a large amount of involved detail. Whenever you travel to a new place, it's possible to do nothing but stare at the monitor and enjoy the scenery. A great amount of time was obviously invested in creating a believable and beautiful world, and in the end it pays off. What could easily destroy the immersion, only adds to it.
The weakest point of the graphics are the characters. While they are nicely modeled, you will notice, most often on your own character, the jagged edges and pixels as they get close to the static camera. While this may have been beautiful when it was made, it contrasts in comparison to modern games. However, it is not near enough to take your eye away from everything else. It is also surpassed by the excellent and fluid character motions. They seem so fluid, at times, that it almost seems as if they must be 3D characters.
The only inconsistency of note is the items in the world. At times, they are bright in contrast to everything else, and stick out sorely. I actually prefer this, because often times, my main problem with adventure games is overlooking an obvious item, rather than getting stuck on a puzzle. Other times, however, the items blend so well in with the world they are undecipherable. This can occasionally cause frustration, as you aren't always sure what to look for.
As in the first game, animated cut scenes portray certain critical events. They show a greater production than in the original, and while there is room for improvement, it fits the feel of the game well. It doesn't detract from the game experience, and I wish this feature carried on to the third game.
For all you audiophiles out there, this will indeed please you. Most of the time, the music stays on the backburner, out of the way the dialogue and the puzzles. When it is suitable, though, expect a sweeping song to come in. The musicianship is as beautiful as the graphics, and gives a feeling of power to the ordeals of your characters. Some of the tracks are very impressive, and used appropriately enough to never become repetitive.
At times the music threatens to drown out the dialogue, but it never really becomes an annoyance. This is important, because every word in The Smoking Mirror is spoken, even the characters investigations and thoughts. There is an option to turn on subtitles if you'd like, but I never found it necessary.
I'm happy to say that most of the voice actors from The Sleeping Dragon and Shadow of the Templars (or at least, very convincing imposters) are featured in The Smoking Mirror. The talent is strong here, and never rises to be unbelievable or lowers itself to laughable mockery. In fact, only a few supporting characters sound flat. Despite these one or two characters, even the less significant inhabitants of Broken Sword pull off their roles with great appreciation. George retains his dry, often absent minded wit, creating the core source of humor for the series.
The interface and control is as you'd expect in a point and click adventure: tried and true. There isn't much to say about it, honestly, if you've ever played any point and click game before. Your inventory is at the bottom of the screen, and opened my holding your cursor over it. An odd quirk I need to mention is that your game menu for saving, loading, restarting, and quitting is used like your inventory, except it's on top of the screen. While this isn't really bothersome, it's odd and less intuitive than pushing escape. A new addition is that, at several points in the game, you get to control Nico and see some of her thoughts on things.
The puzzles, for the most part, are the same logical, often easy puzzles you find in the other two games. You will rarely get stuck (unless you miss an item, like I did), because logical thought can pull you through on every one. Even the more obscure and potentially difficult puzzles, like the Mayan wheel puzzle near the end, are solvable with a few moments of thought. This is either good or bad, depending on your taste. I prefer not to get stuck with stupid puzzles, myself. The puzzles, as they are, give you a sense of achievement when completed, and never become an obstacle to the amazing story. That is the perfect balance.
The Broken Sword series has quickly become one of my favorite series of games, regardless of genre. Every single detail of the saga oozes with finesse and polish, and the strong stories leave a memorable residue in my mind. While I eagerly await the fourth incarnation, as I hope you all do, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror is a masterpiece that I hope everyone takes the time to enjoy.
Do yourself a favor, and buy this game as soon as possible.
Graphics - 92
Story - 96
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