"Paris in the fall. The last months of the year, and the end of the millennium. The city holds many memories for me - of cafes, of music, of love... and of death."
How about that for an opening gambit? These are the first words spoken by George Stobbart, American tourist and the hero of Broken Sword - one of the most celebrated games in the history of point-and-click adventures. As our story begins, we find George sitting at a café, flirting with the waitress. A man with a grey hair and a briefcase appears, and moments later a sinister clown arrives on the scene. The clown snatches the man's case and runs from the café, leaving behind an accordion with a suspicious blinking light. It's a bomb. The ensuing explosion utterly destroys the café, but George survives and immediately sets out to find the red-nosed killer.
It's a highly provocative opening - or rather, it was. The original Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars began with the sequence I've described, but this new Director's Cut shakes things up a bit by starting its tale with Nico Collard - a nubile photojournalist whom George encounters shortly after the bomb-blast. Nico ends up witnessing the murder of a celebrity named Pierre Carchon, a man who may have had some connection to her father. Nico's investigation into the killing forms a new prologue-like episode that dovetails neatly into George's main adventure, adding a couple of hours worth of fresh gameplay.
Gamers familiar with the original PC and PlayStation versions will quickly spot a few other changes. The Wii Director's Cut of Broken Sword now features large portraits that appear whenever two characters enter into dialogue, close-ups drawn by Dave Gibbons - co creator of the comic book Watchmen. These images are only loosely animated (i.e. there's no lip-synching), but they add something to the game's colourful array of strange characters. Revolution Software has also implemented a series of mini-game-like puzzles that occasionally pop up to provide a break from the standard point-and-click progression - more on the these later in the review. Finally, the developer has also thrown in a hints system and removed the ability to die - concessions that should make the game slightly more accessible to a wider audience.
Naturally, most people reading this review won't have played the original; you're probably less interested in the changes, and rather more keen on hearing about how the game plays today. Well, to paraphrase Talking Heads, it's "same as it ever was". Back in 1996, the best things about Broken Sword were its neatly-designed puzzles and its well-written, ever-engaging plot. Both of these elements stand up well today. As I said in last week's preview, Shadow of the Templars rarely leaves you in that position where you're simply rubbing your entire inventory against every object in sight, vainly hoping for some kind of result: You've invariably got a fairly good idea of what you're supposed to be doing to progress - the challenge lies in working out how you do it. Perhaps you might need to distract a workman so that you can get at his toolbox (ahem). Give him a newspaper to read, and he'll wander off, leaving you free to plunder his wares.
The game's slippery plot has also lost little of its lustre, ferrying you around Paris and to Spain, Syria and even to a busy little pub in Ireland. Without giving too much away, the crux of the story involves a shadowy group of villains who appear to have some form of connection to the legendary Knights Templar - the medieval order who were at one point the most powerful force in Europe. The central mystery blends historical mythology with a hefty serving of murder and conspiracy theory; it's a bit like The DaVinci Code, apart from the fact that it's a not a big pile of steaming dung.
A large part of the game's success can be attributed to its lovable cast. George himself is a brilliant hero - witty and chivalrous, yet ever so slightly foolish. He's ably supported by a wide range of memorable characters, and all of them - from the incompetent gendarme to the lusty English aristocrat - are amusing to talk to. Thirteen years has done nothing to blunt the game's highly amusing script... which is why it's something of a shame that the audio sounds so rough for much of the time.
You see, Broken Sword is a classic game that has been given a new lick of paint and put back out on the shelf - and unfortunately there are a few places where Revolution missed a spot. Yes, there are areas where the developer has re-recorded or inserted important bits of dialogue, but most of the time it's the original audio - and for some reason, a lot of it sounds as rough as a badger's arse. This is particularly noticeable when a new recording is played directly before or after one of the new ones. One moment George sounds crystal clear, the next he sounds like he has a sock in his mouth. While it's hardly a critical flaw, it takes the player out of the story for a moment.
It also smacks of a certain degree of laziness, or at the very least it underlines the fact that there wasn't much money to spend on the project. To be fair, it would have been a mammoth undertaking to re-record all the dialogue in the game, but you still might argue that the developers could have tried to smooth over a few jagged edges. While they were at it, it might have been a nice idea to commission a handful of new cutscenes instead of using the low-res FMVs from before the turn of the millennium. About halfway through the game there's a particularly bad one involving a red sports car that seems to have been plucked straight out the first Need For Speed. It's embarrassing to look at, and made me feel quite sad for some reason.
While I'm having a moan, it has to be said that the new Nico-related sections of the game are slightly awkward in their implementation. As a stand-alone episode they work fine, but there's something a bit strange about the fact that you now begin the story with one character, get to know her for a bit and then completely switch to focus on George. It feels a bit odd, and it also has the unpleasant side-effect of diluting the explosive opening of the original. Again, this is more of a minor irritation than a fatal failing, but it's still a strange design choice.
On a more positive note, most of the new content is great. Some of the new puzzles are top-notch - particularly the coded-letter I described in last week's preview - and there are a few smart instances of using the Wii remote in an interesting way: one early challenge gets you to re-assemble a torn-up photo by dragging pieces around, tilting the controller to rotate them about. The game's interface and general presentation is also a plus, with helpful vibrations being used to indicate when your pointer is floating over something interesting. I also have a lot of respect for the new hint system - slowly providing increasingly-clear pointers, and rationing the frequency with which you can ask for help. It's quicker and easier than looking the answers up online, and it encourages the player to think their way through difficult bits. After all, solving difficult puzzles is one of the true pleasures of the genre.
I've found it quite hard to settle on the score for this game. On the one hand, it's really just a port with a handful of new elements - a port that really comes up lacking in a few areas. Most people will already have a PC capable of playing this game, provided that they can be bothered to buy a copy off eBay and then download the software to make it run on a contemporary machine. The thing is, most people who are bothered enough to do this have probably already done it. This release is aimed at new people, those of you who've never played Broken Sword before, and the vast majority of you who try it will absolutely love it. When all is said and done, this is a cracking little game. It's intelligent, it's funny and it's overflowing with charm.
This Director's Cut deserved to be spared from patchy audio and shonky cutscenes, but it wasn't. Regardless of this fact, the brilliance of the Templars remains largely undiminished.