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Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

Rating: 5/10 - Recommended only for fans of the series
Platform: PC

(My Broken Sword series reviews: The Shadow of the Templars (Circle of Blood), The Smoking Mirror, The Sleeping Dragon)

You just can't keep those zany templars down! George and Nico are back and tangling with yet another international conspiracy abusing the supernatural for personal gain. This time the bad guys are pretty hard to ignore; with storms and earthquakes wracking the four corners of the Earth, Geoge and Nico better get a move on!

In the third game, the Broken Sword series jumps to 3d. All in all the 3d graphics are good enough and hold up well. However, the designers made the unfortunate decision to spend lots of time on close-ups of characters when they talk. Up close the character's faces are inexpressive, entering an uncanny valley of Botex abusers.

The previous games had moments where you needed to move quickly to avoid dieing. They were occasionally frustrating, but they were relatively rare. Dragon takes a big leap backward her, adding a number of stealth puzzles where timing matters a great deal. Worse, Sleeping Dragon has quick time events. (backup link) Quick! Push 'S'! Push it now, or die! As with most quick time events, you just replay the scene until you succeed, making it pointless and frustrating. They add nothing to the game except for frustration to people expecting a slower paced game.

The game also makes the mistake of having a large number of unskippable cutscenes. These are especially unforgivable when they precede places you can die, like quick time events. I saw a number of the cutscenes over and over again.

The dialog is also unskippable. This is a problem if you accidentally click on something you have already investigated; you'll need to wait until the protagonist finishes repeating themselves before you get to keep playing.

Sleeping Dragon's designers apparently couldn't come up with any new puzzles, so they half-assedly took gameplay from other games. Be amazing coincidence, George and Nico repeatedly face puzzles in which they need to push crates around. If I wanted to play Sokoban, I know where to find it. One or two crate sliding puzzles might have been a nice change. The six or seven you face it repetitive and dull. The Tomb Raider series inspired a mediocre climbing and jumping system. Again, the occasional spice might have been nice, but the puzzles are obvious, (excepting the camera, more on which in a moment), and repetitive. To top it all off, near the end of the game, an ancient Egyptian trap makes you play the crossing a river with a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans puzzle. Thankfully, no Sphinx ever asked me about creatures that use four, two, and three legs.

With 3d graphics came the problem of the camera, and Sleeping Dragon fails in just about every way possible. The game has fixed cameras that pivot to follow the protagonist. As you move around, you'll jump from camera to camera, frequently radically changing the view. A number of locations have relatively complex connections, and the jumping cameras ensured that I never quite understood how the rooms and hallways were laid out. I spent a fair amount of time getting lost in relatively simple areas. As the camera jumps around, you'll sometimes find the protagonist moving in an unexpected direction; George and Nico slammed their faces into walls more than once because of camera surprises. The fixed cameras also frequently deny you views of the very things you need to see. Several puzzles require noticing something just barely visible that would be easy to see if you could view the world through the protagonist's eyes. One particular highlight featured an action scene in which George had to run toward the camera, with almost no view ahead of him.

Beyond the bad action sequences and sokoban puzzles, there are some traditional adventure game puzzles. Some are okay. Many ignore logic. At one highlight George needed to again keep an elevator door open. (They're already out of ideas for puzzles?) A dead body is literally right next to the elevator; surely you could toss it into the doors. Sorry, that doesn't work. Maybe you could use a stout iron bar to keep the bars open. Nope, that doesn't work either. You can wedge them open with a can opener. In later puzzles we yet again discover that ancient societies have nothing better to do than build elaborate pattern matching puzzles.

Where the puzzles aren't inscrutable, they're overly transparent. Occasionally the protagonist will repeatedly harp on a puzzle until you do what they want. It wasn't enough to put a safe on a weak floor, then have a support strut supporting the weak ceiling in a basement. No, George has to spell it out, "I think the strut supports the safe" as soon as you see the strut. There are several other moments where the protagonists won't just shut up.

On the user interface front, Revolution dropped point and click for a "steer the characters around" system. On a keyboard this is frustrating. The game was clearly designed with the expectation of using a gamepad. Using a gamepad this works reasonably well. Unfortunately the game needs 9 buttons in addition to a joystick. But you can't use analog triggers or a directional hat. I hope you have lots of buttons on your gamepad. To use a gamepad, you need to remap the controls. This is fine, but in the process you unmap the old keyboard controls. You can use the gamepad or the keyboard, but not both. However, you can't remap "Escape", which takes you to the menus where you can save or quit, so you still need your keyboard at hand anyway.

Saving is even more frustrating since you can't give your save games meaningful titles. Likely another victim of assuming the gamepad as the primary control. On the up side, you never need to save except to quit! If you die in game, you're taken back a short distance in time to try again.

On the plot side we're back into cliche conspiracies and the supernatural. And again it's good enough. Characters, scenes, and plot elements from the first game come back and are amusing.

There is one frustrating part of the plot: another character sacrifices himself for a stupid reason. The entire scene feels incredibly contrived. Even ignoring how contrived the scene felt, the scene provided ample opportunities for the sacrificee to try and save himself. It didn't feel like the person sacrificed himself for the cause, it felt like a lazy attempt to tug at the audiences heartstrings.

All in all, I cannot recommend this game to any but fans of the previous games who really want to see more of George and Nico, and perhaps adventure gamers desperate for another hit of adventure game, no matter how bad. If you absolutely must buy a copy Good Old Games will sell you a DRM-free downloadable copy for $5.99.

(My Broken Sword series reviews: The Shadow of the Templars (Circle of Blood), The Smoking Mirror, The Sleeping Dragon)

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