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Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

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  Reviewed by Erich Becker
March 11, 2004
Revolution Software
When playing a game like Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon it really makes you wonder why the adventure genre has fallen so badly upon hard times recently. I can still remember the old Space Quest series and the hours upon hours I had cussing at the game’s main character, Roger Wilco, and how stupid he was for getting himself killed, again. It wasn’t my fault he got spit up on by some acid spewing mutant in Space Quest V; he didn’t movie his head fast enough! Maybe the adventure series of yesteryear have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of enthusiasm for the genre, which usually features rather slow gameplay with more thought needed than how high you can rocket jump. One thing is for sure, bad games are not the cause as anyone who has played the late Space Quest series, Escape from Monkey Island, and the off-key Grim Fandango, know that these great games were some of the best of their time.

The Sleeping Dragon puts you back into the shoes of George and Nico, stars of the previous Broken Sword games. If you are looking perplexed at your monitor wondering, “What other Broken Sword games?” you wouldn’t be the only one. Call it bad marketing, bad promotion, or simply a lapse in judgment, but before playing through The Sleeping Dragon, I had never even heard of the series before, let alone played through one of the previous games. This provided me with a clean slate coming into the game and I was surprised about how much fun I had playing through the game.

The game starts you off controlling George, an American patent lawyer, who is flying to meet with a doctor who claims to have discovered a power source that never needs replenishing. After your drunkard of a pilot flies into a thunderstorm, the plane crashes and lands precariously positioned on the edge of a cliff, here is where you met your first puzzle. The Sleeping Dragon forces you to think, and unless you plan on ruining your gaming experience by following a strategy guide, you will miss out on half the fun contained within. There is nothing greater than the sense of accomplishment when you finally figure out how to get past a particular puzzle, or how to combine two items and create a whole new item that solves a puzzle you have been working on for 20 minutes.

After navigating George through a small obstacle course of jumps and rocky outcroppings you stumble upon the lair of the good doctor only to see that someone has beat you to the punch and proceeds to murder him, cut to Nico’s storyline. The game’s designers must have had their daily intake of “24” while designing the game, because just when you think you are about to reveal a huge part of the story the game will change gears on you, transferring you to the other character’s storyline.

Nico has been summoned to interview a young computer hacker who claims to have decrypted an ancient transcript, but, apparently, he was sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong and ends up getting himself killed, leaving Nico to find out who did it in a “Law & Order” style after she is arrested for the crime. Eventually the two character’s storylines will cross as the bigger picture comes into play.

Gameplay is handled with the keyboard solely. The arrow keys move your character while WASD allows you to perform context sensitive actions. Space bar brings up your inventory allowing you to manipulate, examine, or combine items in your possession. Depending on the situation the game will jump for you, so the platforming-like elements are of no worry to the gamer. Throughout the game you will be faced with “action events” that require you to hit a specific key in order to avoid danger. These events are very reminiscent of Sega’s Shenmue series where split-second reflexes are the difference between life and death. Luckily, just like Shenmue, when you fail an event, the game only requires you to go back to when the cut scene introducing it started, saving you the monotony of retracing your steps if you haven’t saved in a while.

What is important here is the storyline, and Revolution, the game’s developer, has crafted a mighty fine one that will encourage you to progress through while trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in your head. A bit of humor has been interjected here and there to give the game a lighthearted tone, while still being a serious drama. You won’t find too many games that can succeed on the comedy and drama levels, and have the gameplay to back it up, Broken Sword can.

The graphics are excellent, even though you might experience some slowdown on the more intricate portions of certain levels. One of the big selling points of the game’s graphical engine was the advanced lip-sync technology, but it still is a bit off. Textures are crisp, clean, and look excellent. Several of the levels are full of lush, colorful environments, such as the streets of Glastonbury where you meet a rather odd fellow and his shotgun.

The sound, especially in a game such as this, has to be excellent, and The Sleeping Dragon delivers on that aspect as well. All of the game’s dialog is spoken, and the work of the voice actors may rival that of such excellent games as Rockstar’s Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and the recently released Armed and Dangerous from Lucas Arts. There is very little music present when playing the game, only when you discover a major plot point are you greeted to a score, but the ambient sound effects are done very well and sound excellent.

Even with such high production values as this game possesses, there is bound to be a few problems. Unfortunately the biggest problem comes in the controls. Those familiar with the Resident Evil series will feel right at home with the archaic control system where your character moves via the arrow keys by his or her facing rather than direction. For example, hitting left doesn’t mean you will walk left, or hitting up doesn’t mean you will walk up. It is hard to get used to, and even harder to explain, but after a few hours of gameplay you will get used to it.

The only other major downfalls to the game are minor. The aforementioned lip-syncing problems isn’t a big hit on the gameplay, but it does look a bit odd, especially during long bouts of dialog where the camera will close in on a character’s face. The only other problem I could find with the game isn’t really a problem at all, but some insanely difficult puzzles here and there. The game tries to give you a hint now and then and steer your character in the right direction, but there were times when I had to resort to GameFAQs, just to find out what to do next. Some might find the puzzles easy, others might deliberate on a specific one for hours, but it all depends on how your brain works.

In the end Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon proved to be one of the surprise gaming experiences of 2003 for me. The game itself boasts excellent production values, and it shows via the time and care that was put into making this game look, sound, and play perfectly. Aside from a few problems that don’t detract from the engaging story in any way, The Sleeping Dragon should be a no-brainer purchase for any fan of adventure games and a serious consideration for anyone who likes a thought provoking experience. Don’t miss this one.

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Minimum Requirements...
Pentium III 750 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Windows 98/Me/2000/XP; DirectX 8.1; 64 MB DirectX-compatible video card; DirectX-compatible sound card; 8X CD-ROM drive; mouse and keyboard.


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