Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Review (iPhone)
One of the peculiarities of the modern world is the virtual elimination of boredom. As more of us travel with a smartphone, a DS, an iPad, a laptop and even *gasp* a book, our commutes have changed from quiet periods of window gazing contemplation to core entertainment time. As we go from work to home to work to our friends to home, movies are watched, games are played and friends are poked (in facebook of course). Reflecting on this, I realised that the best way I could judge the relative entertainment value of any of these activities would be how they affected my perception of time. If my journey dragged on interminably then I was not enjoying myself, but if I missed my stop and found myself a hundred miles from home in what seemed like seconds then I could be sure I was playing, reading or watching something very special. It should provide some measure of the success of the newest Broken Sword then that my train was an hour late this morning, but I didn’t notice until I got to work and glanced at a clock (and some irate co-workers).
Developed by the venerable Revolution Software, the full title of this game is “Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered” and it follows on from previous successful iPhone and iPad remastered version of the original Broken Sword and the classic Beneath a Steel Sky. While many may lament the death of the point and click genre, the truth is that its alive and well on mobile devices, albeit with less pointing-and-clicking and more pointing-and-touching.
Re-releases of classic games on mobile devices typically fall into two groups. First, there are the games that have been technologically superseded by modern titles and as such, much of their retro charm is hard to see for those that didn’t play them the first time round. The second group is games that have timeless gameplay conceits and can be actively improved by the application of modern technological advances. Broken word 2 is one such game. By harnessing the unique, quirky atmosphere of retro games of that time period and combining that with all the advances we have in modern games like saving anywhere, hints systems, remastered graphics and sound and no loading times, Revolution have created the definitive version of Broken Sword 2.
In classic point-and-click style the challenge of the game comes from puzzle solving. Although progress can eventually be made by simply clicking on every part of the game world with every item in your inventory, lateral thinking will always provide a speedier and more satisfying solution. While many puzzles in rivals titles like Monkey Islands were a little obtuse, I found that in the Broken Sword series the solutions were always a little more straightforward. The answers to the problems wouldn’t always make sense in the real world, but they always had a kind of logical consistency within the game world.
The main reason to play Broken Sword though is the imagination shown in the storyline and the brilliant characterisation of the cast of heroes, villains and annoying Frenchmen. Having just played through Dragon Age 2, its stunning to see how a massive budget and a huge developer was unable to create a single character as deep or interesting as any of the cast of Broken Sword. One of the most strongly voiced criticisms of modern games is that they feel like they’re designed by committee, but every moment of Broken Sword 2 feels like it was written by a single creative individual. If the average games writer learns how to write dialogue by watching Pulp Fiction or Good Fella’s over and over again, it feels like Revolution actually listened to how people speak in the real world, even if it was just to get a baseline for their amusing caricatures to grow from. Its not all perfect; some of the voice acting is ropey and many of the jokes fall flat. Despite that, its more successful in making you actually listen to what people say than 90% of what you can buy in the shops today.
With all the effort put into the stunning animated characters and backgrounds and the solid audio, its disappointing to see how poorly the developers have managed at designing a workable control method. Small interactive objects which are difficult to see (far less jab with a pudgy finger) abound throughout the game. Furthermore, the whole interface has a sluggish feel as more often than not your input isn’t recognised. Its not too much of an issue in a game where quick reactions aren’t a part of gameplay, but its a contrinued annoyance that I never managed to overcome even after hours of play.
Its a shame that the developers didn’t solve this problem, because if they had it would be hard to fault any part of Broken Sword 2. Gorgeous looking, involving, cleverly designed and effortlessly charming, its a delight for those than didn’t play it first time and a nostalgic wet dream for those who did. Chasin Mayan artefacts in Paris in the presence of George Stobbart and Nicole Collard is an experience every gamer should experience at least once (if not more). If Revolution can rethink the control method that they use for their next Remastered release, it would be hard to argue against anything but a perfect score.
9 unhelpful French NPS’s out of 10