So at this point, I am kinda scared. Sleeping Dragon was just terrible, but actually got some decent reviews at the time it came out and I have no idea why. Nonetheless, alongside THQ, Revolution released the fourth in this series titled: The Angel of Death (or Secrets of the Ark: A Broken Sword Game in NA), and was apparently in huge demand by fans. It would this time be exclusively released for the PC to make sure it stayed true to the point-and-click gameplay, and was co-developed with Sumo Digital, due to Cecil believing a bigger team would be beneficial to create something outstanding.
Thus, Revolution took care of the game’s design, while Sumo dealt with the production and decided to use the “Sumo’s Emmersion Engine”, as well as for the first time ever: use amBX. Sumo Digital I know nowadays for some fantastic titles like Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing, and some nice ports for the PSP, so I am intrigued on how this team could help with a fourth instalment. It cannot be as bad as the third game, right?
“Gotta love them geese”
After witnessing a ceremony from 1338 BCE for the sake of creating suspense, we cut to the modern days where we meet George Stobbart, who is now running a bail bonds office with his new partner Virgil. Things are tight at their agency, but a woman by the name of Ana Maria has come to seek their help. Unfortunately, by simply coming there, she has also put George in danger from mobsters that are after her. George is forced to help her escape their clutches and is thereafter dragged into another adventure, involving an ancient manuscript.
The story starts out strong, providing a familiar character that is as funny as he has always been, and a nice new companion that is a strong female-lead who shows support, as well as a quick mind. Both complement each other well, with George always providing funny commentaries on just about anything around him, while Ana Maria keeps him down to earth when needed. It makes it easy to care about these characters as they show great chemistry and diversity, while always providing at least a chuckle every few minutes. It also works well with the tone of the game, as while you will witness murders, dangerous criminals and more, there is always an appropriate joke or lighter moments to break up the tensity and dark tone nicely.
Speaking of, the journey is once again interesting and intriguing thanks to the historical knowledge being sprinkled all over the tale, while also introducing many “what if”-scenarios that are clever theories. Using a manuscript for finding a hidden treasure is a great setup and provides plenty of neat puzzles, making you always study the artefact thoroughly. As a smart detail, your phone can provide you with more historical facts should you wish for it by searching online, which makes it feel more authentic and interesting. It also a nice way to introduce lore that are both necessary for furthering the plot or just interesting additions that can add to the overall story. Quite reminiscent of the first game’s concept, without being a clear copy-paste.
This is all great, and the adventure will take you to places in New York, Rome and Istanbul to name a few, as well as some important landmarks like the Pasha Palace. Characters you will meet on the way are also quite funny and diverse, and it helps whenever George can utter snarky comments or witty responses to them for the sake of providing humour. In other words, this game is very funny even when compared to the first two titles. However, after about halfway through the game, the plot of the historical artifact gets set aside for a rescue-mission and while it provides some uncertainty on what is really going in, it is a shame that the historical aspect is set aside and we now focus on only one person to save. Thankfully, the one needing rescue is one you will easily care about, just not enough to carry the story. It also does feel forced when one character returns for the sake of nostalgia (which the boxart probably already revealed).
Though what is the biggest shock, is the ending. Without spoiling too much, it just ends on a sad note with no revelation, no insight into what happens after the climax, just credits. The villains’ motives are also hard to swallow and definitely feel forced and quite unnatural. I will not spoil what, but it all is revealed towards the last hour of the game. Since it is also a short game, it clearly shows how rushed the project was sadly, and it is a huge shame when the rest of the story is interesting and fun, despite the lesser half. I was very unsure on how to take Broken Sword 4′s story because of these issues, but George really holds up the story thanks to his likeable nature and humour, and while it does end on a sour note, it is hard to not appreciate the tense events or the entertaining moments.
Story Score: 7/10
“Hey, Anna Maria?”
Although you can still use the uncomfortable arrow-keys for free-movement, we are finally back to being able to use a simple mouse for any interaction by pointing and clicking, fitting for the genre’s name. We still have the fixed camera-angles that move along with the character which can make for some awkward movements, but it is leaps better than using the arrow-keys, especially when tank-controls are not an option.
I would like to go further with the actual gameplay and mechanics, but I have to highlight that the controls are still poorly handled, unfortunately. The items you can gather throughout the game are highlighted on the upper-screen and it is not very responsive to your movement upwards for fetching one of them, and walking around can still make your character run into walls, even if you click on a clear opening. It is a weird combination of movements being stiff, unresponsive clicks, and the need for precision for when interacting with the world around you. I suppose using the actual door vs its keyhole is a difference, but it makes it incredibly frustrating when you have to be so precise with your clicks.
Thankfully, while you will have to have pinpoint accuracy, finding items you can pick up and use is not tedious. You will have to have a keen eye, but besides one knife that was for some reason the only one you had to have compared to the other ones in a restaurant, it simply needs you to be aware of your surroundings and explore. The puzzles are in focus and it is a joy to see that none goes to the bizarre level of moon-logic. Although it is not always clear on what to do and some puzzles will demand you looking at an object for description before interacting, or have talked to the right people, it is a minor inconvenience as this does not appear often. Some puzzles are really creative as well, having you alter the environment to your benefit, using the manuscript for deciphering codes, or reflecting streams for hacking.
However, other puzzles are just terrible as they will make you backtrack to multiple areas and can need unnecessary steps just to make a puzzle arbitrarily longer. This padding is also the game’s worst aspect, as this does not just go for the brainteasers, but also other unneeded inclusions. We have forced and simplistic stealth-missions that drag the game to a slow pace with you waiting for the right opening to click further, the areas can be huge to traverse through, and every action can be stretched out thanks to unskippable animations. If the game was slow just because of my own fault for not understanding how to solve a puzzle, that would have been fine as this is a genre relying on you using your mind. This, however, is not, as things are padded out to make the experience artificially longer, making the whole adventure bog down. It does not help when climbing around contains stretched out animations to make it seem tense, despite that you only point-and-click and nothing more.
There are some nice callbacks to what the genre holds dear, and I am happy that interaction is simple with familiar commands in form of “look” for description, “interacting” for picking up or using an item, “talking” for some insight and of course: using items correctly for furthering the plot or solving a puzzle. Unfortunately, due to the awkward controls and unnecessary padding, it slows the game to a halt and makes what could otherwise have been a fine game, into a dull and uninteresting one. Even if some puzzles are great.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Darker tone, but actually showing some style
While I am a fan of Broken Sword’s 2D hand-drawn style, I do enjoy their darker and realistic style that they are going for with this instalment. There are great use of textures, strong and fitting colours, and characters have memorable and well-designed looks to them that can show clear expressions. It is sort of a compromise between the more realistic look and the more cartoony highlights, which is an impressive feat to accomplish. The character’s lip-syncing is off, and interactions between them are as awkward as a failed handshake can be, but they are generally well-designed, and every location is distinct and memorable
Visiting the mentioned places such as Istanbul will provide visually intriguing places, and all are diverse and personal from one another. The exception is the caves, which can have low textures and be quite empty, vast and uninteresting. On a more technical level, lighting is also great, and I love the weather-effects being well implemented, as well as minor details, such as birds flying from the ground. Sadly, there are a lot of graphical glitches that can take you out of the experience, with characters doing a 360-spin with their body being stiff as a pole, for example. Still, the developers did a great job at making the world come alive and provide it a distinct style that is memorable and appealing.
The soundtrack has seen a major upgrade from the last game. Ben McCullough is providing the scores, and goes with a mix of symphonic and orchestrated soundtrack, with them being thematically appropriate, such as violins and trumpets with slow and dark tones for the Italian mafias, which is reminiscent of The Godfather. All tracks are great to listen to, and provide lovely tunes that are hard to not enjoy or remember, thanks to highlighted and varied notes using plenty of instruments. The voice-acting is great as well, and it is wonderful to hear that Rolf Saxon still provides the voice of George Stobbart, giving him a lovely personality through his acting alone. The rest is solid with a great cast of characters giving good performances, with only slight accents to make them sound like they have a clear nationality outside of the US, and are easy to remember by their distinct voices and acting.
Presentation Score: 7/10
After The Sleeping Dragon, The Angel of Death is definitely a step in the right direction if they wanted to make the series take a darker tone and move over to the realm of 3D. It does fall down storywise in the latter half, and due to the uncomfortable controls and elements that can drag the game down, this entry can only be recommended for those that are into point-and-click from the start and can overlook the off additions for some great puzzles. The journey will also take you to interesting places, feels in tone with the series, and is filled with humour, with visuals that have aged decently and audio that is pleasing both from voice actors and composers. Overall, approach with more than the average man’s patience.