After replaying the fantastic Broken Sword and the Director’s Cut for the review, I was excited to play the next game in the series. Compared to the original’s expanded rerelease, Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror got a polished upgrade instead with better graphics and sounds, added portraits, and a better interface to name a few changes. These and more were added after Charles Cecil replayed the original Broken Sword 2 and noticed many issues that he wanted to fix, and with Dave Gibbons helping in by adding an extra comic and upgrading the visuals, they did just that. This version was first released for phone-devices and later on PC, and while you can play the original game from GOG, why you would neglect an upgraded version for any other reason than by being stubbornly connected to the past, is beyond me.
From tales of the Templars and ancient wars, to the Mayans and an eclipse
After being away from Paris for nearly half a year, George Stobart returns to his assumable girlfriend Nicole Collard, hoping to spend some time relaxing with her. However, Nicole has other plans and takes George with her to meet an archaeologist named Oubier, who presumably can tell them more about a Mayan stone Nico found. Entering the house upon their visit, they are promptly knocked out. Nicole is abducted and George is tied up with a poisonous spider crawling towards him. Oh, and the only exit is on fire.
I will start somewhat controversial and say that this setup with Mayan lore and their religion being connected with the solar eclipse, is not that interesting in the grander scheme. There is certainly some cultural lore that is intriguing, but these are few and far between. Most of the historical characters who are involved with this event, is limited to only a couple of figures and are short-lived. This problem also continues with the puzzles as they are connected to the situation you are in, and not for discovering clues for the overall plot about the Mayans. Because of this, the historical or cultural ties the plot has, feels second to everything else and thus, the overall plot is not engaging, despite not being below average necessarily. The bad guys are also too stereotypical without much to remember them by, despite that the reason for their actions are interesting at least. It also admittedly feels odd to call this Broken Sword 2, without having anything to do with the Templars like the original did.
Though despite this, what holds up and makes this story enjoyable, is the cast of characters. George Stobart returns as the star, having witty comments that are as insightful as they are sarcastic, giving a charming protagonist that is never on the verge of insensitivity. Nicole is also just as strong, being humouristic, though a strong-willed female lead, making her easy to relate to as well. Their personalities are recognisable and they still complement each other with their similarities and differences, but seem to have been affecting each other since the last game, as their sense of humour has changed slightly. It is minor, but a beautiful detail I admire and it really feels like time has passed and that they have spent it well together due to these slight changes.
Because of this, I always cared about the duo and their safety throughout this dangerous adventure, and the rest of the characters are just as interesting. They can be over the top, serious, or hit a perfect note in-between, but are always used to provide the game with smooth transitions between its serious moments and the more lighthearted ones, which is wonderful. One other thing I want to highlight is how they tackle characters you meet from the last game, as they have seen some significant changes. My favourite example is the retired policeman, who has had quite the transition from his over the top appearance to a depressed man who misses the old days.
Then, as with any point-and-click games, you have the comments on the area, objects or persons by our main characters, providing a sense of atmosphere and personality. All lines that can be provided are humorous or interesting, giving you plenty of reasons to click on just about anything in any way. My favourite pastime is to offer characters bizarre things, such as a worm or dog-biscuits, with no comment being the same, which is an impressive feat. I also love how creative new locations can be, such as a tribe being taught modern Christianity, or a movie-set with a heavily retelling of Treasure Island. It is amazing how much characters and a personality can hold up a story, despite that a the plot not being engaging and therefore underwhelming.
Story Score: 8/10
Polished, just not refined
Broken Sword 2 sticks to the first game’s genre with a point-and-click setup, which definitely was for the best as the studio has upgraded a lot from their humble beginnings, and it is shown here as well. Finding items to hold onto and their correct use, combining them, or figuring out how to use the environment and/or whom to talk to for progressing through the story, is always engaging and fun, with subtle clues being provided visually or through creative thinking. Returning with the Remastered-version, is the diary for keeping a log on what has been going on, as well as a hint-system that I never used, but is handy for those in need.
Also added, are the blue aura that will appear whenever you are close to an item you can interact with, neglecting the dreaded pixel-hunting. This is a fantastic element I am happy to see return, and like the last game: right click will make you look at an item or an area, while left click will make you walk towards or interact with an object, with the cursor showcasing how you can interact with them. I am a bit bummed that I have to wait for the controllable character to walk off the screen to move over there, instead of skipping this animation to provide a better flow, but it is a minor annoyance.
While the puzzles are usually great and logical, there are a couple that are a bit far-fetched. Some will have an unnecessary pattern which feels more like a way to extend the game than to make the puzzles creative. Though I am not going to spoil anything, there were a couple that were just tedious. One puzzle had me talk to about 5 people on multiple, separate occasions, despite that I knew what I had to do to solve it. The other has to do with two puzzles near the end. The last had a strange operative-system that made it tiresome to walk back and forth and flick switches, and the one prior made you just match symbols with pictures and included animations that dragged what was one of the simplest puzzles, out way too long.
These are luckily not enough to drag down the entire experience, as the amount of creative and enjoyable puzzles were about 80%. What really shocked me was how well they showcased through the presentation, the scenarios where you can die. In the original Broken Sword, you could die at any time without being aware, which made the developers (thankfully) remove them in the Director’s Cut-version. Here, you are always in clear danger when this can happen, signified by both the music and the setup, such as one part where I had to stealth my way through a harbour and plan every move. These are impressively well made and give you enough time to be familiar with the environment and make use of it for your benefit.
While the puzzles follow a more traditional setup by finding the correct uses for items or the best conversation-topics, Broken Sword 2 does these to a great extent with only a couple that are uninteresting. They can definitely be bizarre, but none goes on the verge of moon-logic, making you feel rewarded for each scenario you get through, with the enhancements added by the Remastered-version, being a Godsend.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Quality talents, though lacking in divers scope
Continuing the breathtaking style of the first game, Broken Sword 2 is a beautiful piece of art to look at, especially with the upscaled visuals in the Remastered-version. The Virtual Theatre engine from the last game is still being used here to make characters move around without being hard to find, with the same artists from the last game giving them fluent animations. Eoghan Cahill and Neil Breen return to draw the backgrounds, which are again filled with details like animals leaping in the foreground in the jungle, or the small crumbles of stones in the abandoned, English metro. Just like the previous game, it is done by pencil before digitising it, and even two more designers are on board this time: Amy Berenz and Lee Taylor.
I can see that there are more graphical designers here, as there are more cutscenes with huge amounts of animations by frame, and while still mature and at times violent, they have made the characters more cartoony, and provided more attention to the animations’ details, like wrinkles. Though there is a slight disappointment here, as while the visuals are wonderful with our characters being bigger and having great amounts of smooth animations and visual features in-game, the environments are not diverse. You will visit the shores of Caribbean, which could be mistaken for parts of a Central-American harbour, and while you will visit London, it is only for one museum, the metro and again: another harbour. It really could use more creative locations to distinguish one area from another and to make the world memorable.
Still, it is hard to deny how great every area looks and the characters are heavily expressive, especially thanks to the animated portraits added for the Remastered version, adding more visual personality and emotions to the characters. Rolf Saxon returns as the voice for George, providing still the same charm as he did before, while Nicole has gotten a new voice-actor this time; Jenny Caron Hall. Despite the change, she is a welcoming one as she adds a voice that is just as good as the previous one. The rest of the cast is also just fantastic, providing diverse personalities through their voice work, creating a lovely atmosphere.
What is on par with the previous game, is the music composed by Barrington Pheloung. While not as varied as before cultural-vise, it still contains plenty of gorgeous, orchestral scores, with some being ominous, varying from somber to intense, or having instruments for highlighting an area, like pan-flutes in Central-America. Both the audio and visuals are top notch in terms of quality and go with a clear style. It just could use more variety for creating a scope.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Despite showcasing more effort to make this a polished version of the original, Broken Sword 2 is a shorter and a smaller project in comparison to the first one. It does everything with passion and feels like a great adventure, but rather like a great episode of a show than one amazing movie like the first one. The puzzles are solid with more item-use than deciphering codes, presentation is fantastic despite more similar areas to visit, and the story has interesting lore, and a bunch of characters to remember. It is definitely an adventure worth experiencing.