Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

Review

posted 1/19/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
There is a tattered and largely forgotten card residing in my wallet. As a reward for a dubious afternoon make-out session with Resuscitation Annie, the American Heart Association handed me a CPR card. I could officially save lives! Perhaps hundreds of them! I was already a bonafide hero before leaving the classroom that day….

That card expired three years ago and, along with it, the countless life-breathing adventures I’d planned on having. Thankfully, Revolution Software is still in the business of breathing life into adventure gaming.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is the third installment of the acclaimed Broken Sword series. The photogenic duo of George Stobbart and Nico Collard are once again spanning the globe, National Geographic-style. This time they’re gathering clues and puzzle-solving their way after the Voynich Manuscript (a real-world document that currently resides, undeciphered, in a Yale University library.) Donning a major visual upgrade, The Sleeping Dragon makes the leap to 3D and dismisses the cartoon animation of the previous two Broken Sword installments. And, acknowledging the rumor that point-and-click adventure gaming is dead, Revolution completely did away with any and all mouse controls.

The intro cinematic lowers itself onto the dark, gargoyle-perched rooftops of Prague. We’re lured inside into a stone and candlelit church, facing a bearded priest with gaunt features and a heavy brow. Two hooded acolytes humble themselves before him as his triumphal voice booms, “It has begun!” Their allegiance to their mission is sworn in, then the dark priest further warns: “The price of failure is Armageddon.”

A dual-prop cargo plane swoops low over the Congo. We find half of our heroic pair, George, in the passenger seat swapping guy talk with a beer-swilling Aussie pilot. Flying out to meet a client, George hands over a slightly jaded reminiscing of his ex-romantic interest, Nico. A freak electrical storm hits out of nowhere and takes out both prop engines. “You better strap yourself in, George!” as the plane swerves down into an unknown part of the jungle.

We’re then briefly introduced to a pudgy computer hacker, complete with thick spectacles and bad acne. He’s nose-to-screen, deciphering the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript when a knock at the door interrupts. Expecting a visit from a French newspaper journalist (Nico) he instead finds himself on the wrong end of a revolver aimed at his temple. The hacker’s fears are 100 percent confirmed: they are out to kill him.

With your hands fully engaged on the keyboard, our first episode unfolds in the shoes of George Stobbart: patent lawyer by day, unwitting lady-charmer by night. He’s seated behind the pilot’s cabin, a tiny white light shining off of the seatbelt buckle, the plane crash not enough to disrupt his good hair day.

This is where my muscle-memory is instinctively reaching for the mouse--in a game where no mouse commands exist. I experience an emotion closely related to panic. I grab the instruction manual.

Character movement is accomplished via the arrow keys. The ‘up arrow’ and ‘down arrow’ don’t move you forward and backward (which would be the most intuitive solution), they move you to the top of the screen and to the bottom; the ‘left’ and ‘right arrow’ send you left and right, respectively. This sounds insultingly easy on paper, but it’s a pain in the neck that you’ll never quite get used to during gameplay, believe me.

The W, A, S, D keys are your ‘primary’ and ‘special action’ buttons. Remember that light glinting off of George’s seatbelt? That light indicates that some action is available. In the lower-right of your screen will be several icons indicating what action is specifically appropriate: a set of gears means that a manual action is in order; a picture of a hand means you can pick up an object from the environment; a fist means that you’re in for some crate pushing action; or a magnifying glass icon will indicate the ability to further inspect a highlighted object.

The ‘action stars’ feel somewhat juvenile at first. As you travel through screens, passing within an arm’s length away from an action item (a door, a ladder, a perpetual energy machine) will highlight that object. Sure, it may feel as though they’re holding your hand throughout this supposed puzzle-solving game, but how cheated would you really feel? If you didn’t have to spend endless hours mouse-hunting in a crosshatch pattern over the entire screen, would you miss it?

So your left hand controls the attractive little menu on your right, while your right hand also scrolls through your inventory that appears on the left. (Dyslexic adventurers, unite!) You’re presented with a few cliffhanger moves, when called for, to spice up the walk/run/climb routines. You’re no Lara Croft, but you’ve got a few maneuvers when Point A and Point B aren’t connected by a straight line.

The puzzles themselves aren’t insanely difficult, so don’t fret if your Mensa membership card has expired. The more story-driven puzzles are quite satisfying (i.e., exploiting the superstitions of some Congo locals by kindling flames inside a dragon statue’s mouth.) Then again, too many of the ‘puzzles’ leave you pushing around crates just to reach the next room. Trite.

The voice acting is outstanding. Dialogue is typically forthright when friends are speaking, but our heroes’ interactions with strangers bring about loads of humorous banter. The dry mockery and laugh-out-loud satire had me looking forward to every new conversational topic. I grew disappointed if I was merely handed a significant clue or grandiose piece of the mystery. I was more rewarded in listening to George and Nico’s rapidfire wit throughout the entire script. Even if a character’s voice was annoying it was obvious the writers’ intentions were to grate on some nerves. George and Nico also talk their way through performing standard actions. The acting is so well done that it becomes nice just hearing their voice.

The camera movement adds a subdued cinematic direction during play, thankfully avoiding many stoic side-scrolling methods. The action scenes aren’t choreographed by John Woo, but they’ll definitely turn up the intensity on an otherwise relaxingly-paced gaming experience. The graphics aren’t mind boggling, but they do the genre justice. All of this is encompassed by a clean soundtrack that dynamically unravels to the action onscreen. I’m thankful our mice are given a chance to rest, though I can’t fully approve of their keyboard setups (I’d run out of complaints quickly if they’d allowed me to remap the keys.)

I’ve heard people completely resigned to the idea that adventure games are dead. If you’re also tired of the hackneyed slideshow ‘Myst genre’ adventure games, try The Sleeping Dragon. You’ll be inevitably involved in the plot, immersed in the mystery, and embarrassingly concerned for the characters. It’s good to see that The Adventure Company keeps up on its CPR qualifications.




B-
The Sleeping Dragon removes the mouse, drops the cartoon animation, and graphically adds a third dimension to this popular puzzle-solving adventure series. Mensa members need not apply!