Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Review

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Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Review

Postby Tanuvein » Sun Dec 21, 2003 6:25 pm

System Requirements:
466 66Mhz Pentium
Windows 95/98 (Not ME Compatible, according to box)
VESA 2.0 Compatible SVGA
100% SoundBlaster compatible sound card
Mouse and Keyboard


Pentium IV 2.53 Ghz
Windows XP
52x CD-ROM
SoundBlaster Audigy 2.0

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is the game I have to attribute my sudden immense interest in adventure games to. Since I completed the game the day after its PC release, I've been hungering for every adventure game I can get my hands on. So, it would stand to reason that the first two Broken Sword games would be on my immediate 'to-buy' list. I have to say, I could not be more pleased.

I feel the need to sum up this review before I even get started: Go out and buy this trilogy now. You will not be disappointed. You can easily get the first two on EBay for ten bucks, and as such, it would be a grave error to pass up on these masterpieces.

Broken Sword II takes place six months after its predecessor. You once again take the role of George Stobbartt, the American tourist who just has to get involved in every intrigue he finds. After the first game, George's father took ill, and George was forced to leave France and his girlfriend, Nicole Collard to look after him.

As soon as you return to France, instead of the joyful reunion George was hoping for, Nico eagerly takes off to the home of Professor Oubier, renown archeologist. Upon arrival, Nico is drugged and you are attacked, left tied to a chair in a burning house with a hungry, poisonous spider salivating over your incapacitated body.

The game obviously retains the cinematic flair of its predecessor, and is overall more fleshed out. The ending, I'm glad to say, doesn't feel as sudden and hollow as the ending of the first game.

Its not necessary to play The Shadow of the Templars to understand The Smoking Mirror. There are several cameos you may not appreciate, as well as some history of the main characters you will miss, but its not something that will leave you confused. However, I still recommend you complete Shadow of the Templars first, as it creates a more overall fulfilling experience.

The story is definitely the strongest point of the game, and would convince even a non-genre fan to play through it, which is a testimony to the writers.

Graphically, the game is beautiful. The 2D pre-rendered backgrounds show the artistry you would expect of the game. Unlike most other adventure games of its era, it focuses on a more realistic style. The detail is at times astounding, with intricate textures, varied environments, and superb animation.

Every scene has a large amount of involved detail. Whenever you travel to a new place, it?s possible to do nothing but stare at the monitor and enjoy the scenery. A great amount of time was obviously invested in creating a believable and beautiful world, and in the end it pays off. What could easily destroy the immersion, only adds to it.

The weakest point of the graphics are the characters. While they are nicely modeled, you will notice, most often on your own character, the jagged edges and pixels as they get close to the static camera. While this may have been beautiful when it was made, it contrasts in comparison to modern games. However, it is not near enough to take your eye away from everything else. It is also surpassed by the excellent and fluid character motions. They seem so fluid, at times, that it almost seems as if they must be 3D characters.

The only inconsistency of note is the items in the world. At times, they are bright in contrast to everything else, and stick out sorely. I actually prefer this, because often times, my main problem with adventure games is overlooking an obvious item, rather than getting stuck on a puzzle. Other times, however, the items blend so well in with the world they are undecipherable. This can occasionally cause frustration, as you aren't always sure what to look for.

As in the first game, animated cutscenes portray certain critical events. They show a greater production than in the original, and while there is room for improvement, it fits the feel of the game well. It doesn?t detract from the game experience, and I wish this feature carried on to the third game.

For all you audiophiles out there, this will indeed please you. Most of the time, the music stays on the backburner, out of the way the dialogue and the puzzles. When it is suitable, though, expect a sweeping song to come in. The musicianship is as beautiful as the graphics, and gives a feeling of power to the ordeals of your characters. Some of the tracks are very impressive, and used appropriately enough to never become repetitive.

At times the music threatens to drown out the dialogue, but it never really becomes an annoyance. This is important, because every word in The Smoking Mirror is spoken, even the characters investigations and thoughts. There is an option to turn on subtitles if you'd like, but I never found it necessary.

I'm happy to say that most of the voice actors from The Sleeping Dragon and Shadow of the Templars (or at least, very convincing imposters) are featured in The Smoking Mirror. The talent is strong here, and never rises to be unbelievable or lowers itself to laughable mockery. In fact, only a few supporting characters sound flat. Despite these one or two characters, even the less significant inhabitants of Broken Sword pull off their roles with great appreciation. George retains his dry, often absent minded wit, creating the core source of humor for the series.

The interface and control is as you'd expect in a point and click adventure: tried and true. There isn't much to say about it, honestly, if you've ever played any point and click game before. Your inventory is at the bottom of the screen, and opened my holding your cursor over it. An odd quirk I need to mention is that your game menu for saving, loading, restarting, and quitting is used like your inventory, except it's on top of the screen. While this isn't really bothersome, it?s odd and less intuitive than pushing escape. A new addition is that, at several points in the game, you get to control Nico and see some of her thoughts on things.

The puzzles, for the most part, are the same logical, often easy puzzles you find in the other two games. You will rarely get stuck (unless you miss an item, like I did), because logical thought can pull you through on every one. Even the more obscure and potentially difficult puzzles, like the Mayan wheel puzzle near the end, are solvable with a few moments of thought. This is either good or bad, depending on your taste. I prefer not to get stuck with stupid puzzles, myself. The puzzles, as they are, give you a sense of achievement when completed, and never become an obstacle to the amazing story. That is the perfect balance.

The Broken Sword series has quickly become one of my favorite series of games, regardless of genre. Every single detail of the saga oozes with finesse and polish, and the strong stories leave a memorable residue in my mind. While I eagerly await the fourth incarnation, as I hope you all do, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror is a masterpiece that I hope everyone takes the time to enjoy.

Do yourself a favor, and buy this game as soon as possible.

Interface -95
Graphics - 92
Sound -94
Story - 96
Puzzles -92

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Postby Ghostlady » Sun Dec 21, 2003 7:10 pm

Great review Tanuvein. Circle of Blood or Shadow of the Templars was the first cartoon game I had ever played. Immediately played Broken Sword afterwards. They blew me away. The scenery was breathtaking. Even if the other aspects of the game weren't good (which they were), I would play it just for the scenery.
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Postby Bacardi Jim » Sun Dec 21, 2003 7:13 pm

An excellent review! I will quibble over some of the details but overall I agree with you pretty much completely. You've managed to convey just how special the Broken Sword series is (or should be) to adventure game enthusiasts.

Okay... here are the quibbles. First, I'm pretty sure that two different actresses played Nico in BS1 and BS2 (with yet another one for BS3). But you are right that they sound pretty similar. And yes, Rolf Saxon was George "Jaws" Stobbart in all three games.

As far as difficulty, I personally found BS2 a bit tougher than BS1. Unless one is an inventory puzzle savant they are bound to spend quite awhile getting the architect to leave the island. Don't get me wrong, I liked that BS2 was a little harder, as I found BS1 fairly easy in the puzzle department.

On the other hand, I thought BS1 had a tighter, more cohesive story. BS2 seemed confused at times as to whether it was about archeology or drug smuggling. Part of the blame lays in the abrupt way in which the game starts; you are thrown into the opening burning bedroom scenario with only the briefest, most cursory explanatory introduction. This may be a plus from the standpoint of an impatient game player, but I think the overall focus of the story suffers as a result. It seems unclear for awhile just why you are after Ouisier, and when there turn out to be TWO of him it just adds to the confusion. By comparison, while BS1 had a much less linear design, allowing George to visit sites in whatever order he chose, the actual central story seemed more focused. But if BS2 lacked a little in the story design, it made up for it by being funnier than BS1. Whenever I got frustrated, I knew I could always ask someone about my worm or Nico's panties to get a chuckle.

I suppose the graphics are partly a matter of what you are accustomed to. I know that you have played a lot of RPG's and 3D games, so the "archaic" animations of BS2 may have seemed less than sharp to you. Strangely, those of us who play primarily pre-rendered games find most 3D graphics to look "pixelated" by comparison to what we are used to. Generally speaking, I would call the graphics in both BS1&2 to be superior for the genre. The artists were former employees of the legendary Don Bluth (All Dogs Go to Heaven, An American Tail, The Rescuers, The Iron Giant) and are some of the lushest animation you are likely to encounter this side of Benoit Sokal.

But like I said... these are quibbles. Overall, I'd say you pretty well hit the nail on the head. :thumright:
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Postby Tanuvein » Sun Dec 21, 2003 7:36 pm

I actually found BS2 a bit easier. I only used a walkthrough at one point, (the fish from the flagpole, heh), whereas in the first, I turned to it several times. Maybe its because I'm starting to get use to the genre, I'm not sure.

I still enjoy the story in the second more. I agree it started off too suddenly, but I wouldn't say it was confusing. I personally had no problem wrapping my mind around two Oubiers. Of course, story is pure preference, so its not really possible to argue about it. I've always been more interested in ancient evil gods than conspiracies, so maybe that's why :)

And thank you for the compliments, you two.
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