Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars / Circle of Blood

Developer:  Revolution
Publisher:  Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Year Released:  1996

Review by Gordon Aplin (November, 1996)
Broken Sword is a fun, cartoon-style, graphic adventure game from the people who brought us Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky and, I must say, I enjoyed it much more than those previous titles.

The opening sequence quickly sets the scene. George Stobbart, a young American visitor to Paris is seated at a pavement table outside a cafe, relaxing with his coffee, when WHAM! -- some clown blows the place up, killing the mysterious Monsieur Plantard. (Methinks the writers have been reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail). From that moment George's fate is sealed and he resolves to track down the culprit not knowing, at that stage, that he is about to embark on a quest that will take him from the sewers of Paris to Ireland, Spain, Syria and Scotland before the mystery is solved. Along the way he will learn about the Knights Templar and their fabled treasure and meet many characters who will help or hinder or, maybe, even try to kill him. He may even find romance, if he ever rids himself of that clown's nose.

Innocent abroad
George is an innocent abroad, not inept, just naive. An ideal character for this sort of game where humour plays such an important part. I found myself asking everybody I met about all the items in my inventory just to get their responses and on more than one occasion my frequent chuckles turned into unreserved laughter. Even the 'outrageous' French accents were reminiscent of the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". This is a light-hearted adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously, nor does it try too hard to be funny. For me it worked well.

Broken Sword is by no means a difficult game to play, but it is certainly captivating and it makes a refreshing change to return to this more traditional, 'light', adventuring fare. The puzzles are of the find-the-item-and-use-it-in-the-correct-location variety, which I always enjoy, and some of them are quite subtle. Nothing too obscure, mind you, but you do need to be alert and on the look out for clues in descriptions and conversations.

Also there is a good range of traditional adventuring obstacles. Some you must overcome by yourself (ie manipulate various objects) whilst others rely more on conversation, or you may need to enlist the help of another character. I was having so much fun I didn't even mind the one or two sequences where time is of the essence and you have only a second or two to react.

Look before you leap
Interacting with the game is made very easy by use of a cursor that changes shape to represent the action you can perform whenever it passes over a 'hot spot' -- a 'mouth' for talking to other characters, a 'hand' to pick up an item or 'gears' to show that something can be used. However, no matter what shape the cursor assumes a click of the right mouse button allows you to look first before you carry out the intended action. This feature has overcome one of my pet hates -- the point and click interface that operates an object before you are even sure what it is or what it might do.

Conversations are lively and generally to the point and really allow George's character to shine through. In fact, it is the dialogue that makes the character and it is very well scripted. There are some sequences where you have no control over what is said and these usually move the story along, but once you initiate a conversation the mode changes and your inventory appears at the top of the screen and people or things you have learned about appear as icons at the bottom. Click on a topic of conversation and George will ask about it in his own way -- there are no pre-set questions. Once you have found out all you can you must exit the conversation mode to continue on your quest. This is not as cumbersome as it sounds and the whole process slots smoothly into the game.

The rest of the time your inventory is hidden but can be accessed by moving the cursor to the top of the game's playing area which is not quite full-screen. Whilst the inventory is displayed you can take a closer look at various items and modify them if necessary.

Impressive graphics
The bright and cheerful graphics are excellent and the game offers lots of interesting locations to explore. If I have one minor complaint here it was that after having finally managed to enter a couple of secret Templar sites, notably in Ireland and Spain, I was whisked back to Paris without the opportunity to look around for myself -- George, it seems, had seen enough.

Broken sword will play in DOS or Win 95 and has a very friendly install program that provides a tiny brick and ball game to occupy you while waiting for files to be copied. You can install a minimum 18 MB to your hard drive but, if you have the room, a medium installation of 155 MB or full 200 MB is preferable. The game comes on two CDs and auto-ejects without warning when disk swapping becomes necessary -- a 'feature' that frightened the life out of me the first time it happened. Included in the package is the booklet 'Savage Warriors', a brief history of the Knights Templar which helps to provide some background to the theme of the story. Of course, you don't have to read it to play the game, it's more helpful to read the manual, but the text is so tiny in this document you might well have to embark upon your own personal treasure hunt first to find that old magnifying glass that you haven't seen for years.

Useful features
It is possible to make a mistake which has dire consequences in this game (and I would advise you do so just to see what happens) however, there are plenty of save game slots that allow for experimentation. Another feature of the game is the option to display text for all conversations and descriptions. It's pure fun and not too harrowing, so it's great for everyone, for novices as well as for experienced players who still have a soft spot for humorous cartoon-type graphic adventures.

For some inexplicable reason Broken Sword is being marketed in some countries as Circle of Blood, possibly in the hope that the very mention of blood will get the juices flowing of those who are seeking a blood thirsty game -- such people are going to be very disappointed and, what is worse, it may turn away the very people who would enjoy it. But enough of my cynicism. I thoroughly appreciated it from the opening sequence and found I didn't want to stop playing even when I was tired. Consequently, I finished it very quickly and it left me wanting more. Fortunately, I watched the credits through to the end and learned that there will be a sequel. Yes, please!

See the Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486/66 (Pentium recommended), 2xCD-ROM (4 speed recommended), Vesa 2.0 compatible SVGA card, 100% Soundblaster compatible sound card, mouse.