Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon

This is something I always dread: the move to 3D. This can mean so much for any series, either breaking new grounds, staying solid, needing time to grow or what I have seen 80% of the time: struggling or simply falling and crashing. Though one interesting thing to consider here, is that the Broken Sword-series skipped one generation of 3D consoles before they went this route. Playstation only got the two 2D titles and one exclusive title from Revolution Software (as well as the underwhelming Gold and Glory). This could have been a smart way to experience with 3D before creating the third instalment for stronger consoles like the PS2 and Xbox. However, this is one title I never hear much about. This is the turning-point for the series, not just with the new 3D look, but also with a completely new engine being used, RenderWare. Because of this, the lack of any recognition for this instalment is worrisome.


A reason for why I hate the 2000’s

We start off the story by seeing possibly a sign of the Templars returning, before shifting to George Stobbart flying to Congo Basin to meet up with a scientist who claims to have created a machine that can make limitless energy. I am not sure why George was asked to meet him really, but before he even gets any answers, the scientist is killed off by an obvious bad-guy named Susarro after torturing him for information. Meanwhile in Paris, Nicole Collard, a previous partner of George, is on her way to meet a hacker named Vernon Blier who has some important information that is so dire, it could destroy the world. 

If it sounds like my description is shallow, it is because the story really is just that. It provides a loose plot and only a slight “mystery” that ends with someone being power-hungry, and nothing else. There are no interesting clues, historical connections that provide lore, or even intense uncertainty in all of this. Who is the bad-guy is clear as a sunny day, and what is going to happen is almost as obvious, if incredibly silly in the end (which I of course will not spoil). There is really nothing that happens, except for two twists that do not amount to anything, which confused me as to why they were even included. There are not even funny or intriguing events to speak of, making this whole setup feel pointless. 

While I cannot say there was anything interesting happening in the plot or its progression, I severely hoped that at least the charm of the dialogues and our main-characters could hold up the story. I have no idea what happened here, as the dialogue is just exposition of what is going on and incredibly forced. This makes the dialogue sound unnatural, but not helping is whenever they try to be “hip“ with their comments, such as a goth-girl being so fascinated by an American man, and mentions their achievements like the moon-landing. It really confuses me, and no one has a natural bond or interesting personalities, just tropes that go nowhere. We even have jealousy out of literally nowhere, just because they cannot write female characters well, which is awful, especially when you can consider Nicole one of the strongest female leads in any game.

While the main-duo also comments with the most obvious remarks, at least they share a history together and some witty comments on what is around them, creating a nice connection. However, these are minimal as neither has an interesting personality and it boils down to Nicole being a bitch to everyone and George being a clumsy one-liner. Some of these comments can also be downright uncomfortable. I would personally have a hard time making fun of someone who had their entire torso ripped apart, especially continually. They are very direct with descriptions of the world and objects around them, so this comes off as a bizarre thing to do.

There are some highlights, but in a complete mess of a story. I personally think the blame can also be directed to the era of the game’s release. The 2000’s was a time when being dark and broody was a cool thing, which excused the writing from being any kind of mature. This is clearly used here and because of this, the tone is all over the place. The bad guys are hard to take seriously, and our heroes have a single trait each for creating personalities. All of this makes every aspect of the story terrible and uninteresting. At least, it has something to do with the Templars again, but that is about the best thing I can say here. 

Story Score: 1.5/10


Nothing broken, but dull and worthless

So, this is an odd shift for the series, but not an abstract one. We are set in a game that is somewhat an adventure-puzzle title, but it is not a point-and-click this time. Instead, Broken Sword 3 provides traditional movability with WASD, and fixed camera-angles that would fit right at home in an old-school survival horror. Already here, I have tons of problems. First off, I hate this as the controls will shift with how you move whenever you enter a new screen, causing you to run into walls and get slightly stunned. I can understand not everyone enjoying tank-controls, but games had this because of the lack of camera-controls, so why not implement it here? Second, these camera-angles are so poorly placed, they can hide areas you need to enter, causing frustration when you do not know where to go. Finally, there is platforming involved, and these are context sensitive, meaning you just have to push a button and the character will automatically jump or climb if one of the four circles in the right corner shows you can. It is completely shallow.

All in all, moving around is bizarre and tedious, but you still have an inventory-screen for items to combine, use on objects or people, as well as conversation-options to further the story. I am happy that these interactable objects and items are not hard to locate again thanks to blinking light showcasing whether you can do so or not. Sadly, 95% of all the puzzles are so straightforward, they feel more like context sensitive events. Only two puzzles were interesting, with one involving getting a key from a keyhole on the other side of the door, but that is about it. The rest are all lacklustre, and are simply there to try to make you feel accomplished without doing anything significant. They can be as simple as using a bottle-opener to open a bottle of beer, which happens to be one of the puzzles.

The conversations you can have are just as bad since you will only be using all dialogue-options to further the plot, so I will not go further with this. However, since the puzzles are terribly shallow, it seems like the team wanted to add more variety to the game in other aspects, and they are even worse than the mentioned “platforming”. One is a simple stealth part where it was the first and only time I used the crouch-button with brain-dead guards that were easy to avoid, and another was simply running away from danger for 2 or 3 seconds. That is it. It does not help when these puzzles demand backtracking at times, or the random QTEs having you mash one button to get them over with. You will quickly retry them too if you fail, so what is the point?

However, this is where it gets tricky: I have no idea how to describe the gameplay other than lazy. The areas are bland and have barely any NPCs to talk to, puzzles are so simple a toddler could do them, and the platforming and QTEs are worthless. You will just be basically on auto-pilot for almost the entire journey. This is really the bare minimum of gameplay involved and with the exception of two puzzles, I cannot say there is a shred of creativity, focus, or worthwhile effort. 

Gameplay Score: 1/10


Uneven tone and quality

At least, this is the aspect of the game I do not completely hate. The environments can look quite nice with different buildings and locations, such as the mountains in Congo, the small town of Glastonbury, familiar streets in France and more. All provide strong colours to be memorable and a nod to the traditional, cartoony style of the series’ previous games. Though the areas can be quite blocky, it is rather what they do with the places you visit that is a shame. Congo only has one mountain-side and a cave, visiting Glastonbury is limited to only one street and one another location for short period of time, and while some parts of Paris are nice to look at, most are quite uninteresting. In fact, all areas are bleak due to the lack of people, vehicles, or even much of furniture or decorations. It could have easily been a horror-game had it not been for the strong and playful colours.

These empty areas are highlighted with an awkward silence that provides only environmental sounds, such as your character’s footsteps or maybe a bird tweeting. It is completely deserted and lifeless to the point of creating unintended discomfort. Even the caves are dull. When there is music, however, it is actually serviceable, with both ominous tracks and bombastic ones you would hear in generic action-movies with a huge orchestra. I put it like this, as the variety in notes are not grand or highlighted to make any track memorable. Despite this, Ben McCullough did a fine job at setting the mood and the soundtrack is a nice effort, if forgettable and nothing special.

Sadly, it does not save the rest of the audio and visuals as they are terribly awkward. Animations on characters range from stiff with no emotions, to overblown cartoony slapsticks where they move their arms everywhere when they talk, or have a walk-cycle that is laughable. Lip-syncing is at least decent, but the change in animation and versatile expression is all over the place. The same can be said for the voice-acting, as either the actors sound like they are about to fall asleep or have incredibly thick accents to hide their lack of talent. In a game that tries to be taken seriously, these thick accents make it all feel dumbed down and I hate how overblown everyone sounds. Only the voice of George, Rolf Saxon, is the one giving a solid performance. Then there are the sound-effects that can be lacking or have a completely different sound than expected. A frying-pan hitting the floor would not sound like a stack of books collapsing on a desk.

Presentation Score: 4/10 


Verdict

It is amazing when you can make a game that takes about 8 hours and make it feel like three times as long. There is really nothing here worth revisiting, and while there are some decent attempts in the presentation, it does not take away what a chore this was to get through. Cecil stated in an interview that the development costs were £2 million and though the game made $40 million, Revolution suffered a massive loss. I honestly do not think they can blame that entirely on the decline of point-and-click-fans as many would. This is rather due to Revolution’s own work. 

20/100

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