Game Over Online ~ Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

GameOver Game Reviews - Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (c) BAM! Entertainment, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (c) BAM! Entertainment
System Requirements Game Boy Advance
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Thursday, June 6th, 2002 at 09:23 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Broken Sword as a franchise was an oft-heard name last decade when the PC version debuted in the very beginnings of the adventure genre slump. Known then as Circle of Blood, it garnered critical praise but failed to really capture a popular audience; an audience already disillusioned with the offerings of then adventure gaming stalwart, Sierra Online. Now rechristened more appropriately as The Shadow of Templars, Broken Sword is transformed into a handheld title. The story continues to follow George Stobbart, a rich pampered American tourist with a journalistic eye, who happens to be lounging along the sunny cafés of Paris. By chance, he witnesses an odd event, whereby a suspicious clown steals something from a café patron and consequently bombs the café itself, killing the patron and earning the ire of Stobbart. It's rather bizarre for a tourist to chase down an odd clue to a murder on vacation but Stobbart's character and the story itself exudes a Hardy Boys-like naiveté, subsequently growing into a much more complex tale.

Templar will take Stobbart through many locales in Europe in his attempt to track down the holders of the manuscript, which dates back to the medieval order of The Knights Templar. While Templar is a mystery adventure game through and through, its story incorporates a great deal of factual history on the Knights Templar making its conclusion all the more tantalizing to uncover. For much of Templar, Stobbart will be conversing with people. Unlike the original PC version, there isn't any dialogue spoken in this GBA translation. Conversations are carried out in text and Stobbart's responses, whether to the negative or positive are answered via a quick thumbs up or thumbs down. This convention, found in the game's antecedents, translates wonderfully into the handheld game. It is refined even more so by Revolution, the developers of the GBA edition.

Even without the speech, which was quite hackneyed when it first came out in the mid 1990s, the GBA version maintains a high quality of penmanship. We can come away from Templar with memorable quotations and moments of Stobbart and the various characters he meets, not because of any visual trickery or impressionable speech but because of the writing involved. The aristocratic Lady Piermont, the self-assured Sergeant Moue and sinister Grand Master are individuals that will resonate to Templar players because of this: the ability for the text to flesh out and embody the different figures Stobbart meets. This is on par with some of the best written games and here, I'm thinking on the levels of Planescape: Torment or Fallout.

Pay close attention to how the relationship between Stobbart and his female companion, Nicole Collard, work. They grow more intimate in tandem and Nico, as we come to know her, is not only crucial to becoming a companion for Stobbart but also acts as a plot device, subtly prodding Stobbart in the right direction when the gamer is completely at loss of what to do. Note also how the conversations are lengthy and people often talk to each other, instead of reciting a few lines to talk at one another. Stobbart is patient and often, it takes many tries to elicit anything useful from a character. This isn't a design flaw but part of the dramatic design that is exuded in every corner of this game. In the beginning, for example, a quick flash of the police business card can garner you quite different responses. In turn, the difference in tone is easily detected even though no one is really talking out loud.

Sometimes, and developers these days are quite often forgetting or simply ignorant, the easiest way to convey atmosphere and depth of character is through the written word; tapping into the imaginary recesses of our minds, rather than forcing down a contrived or fixed view of what the developers think needs portraying. On the GBA, that's almost crucial because of the limited hardware involved and the fact that Templar is still based on something that is close to a decade old. The visuals that remain, however, are not to be looked down upon in disdain. Templar carries the colorful tradition of the original. One of the things that struck me most when Circle of Blood came out was its unique style. It was like the Don Bluth answer to Disney, something utterly different from what I had always expected from an adventure game. The usual style, flare and mechanics of the King's Quest, Space Quest and Quest for Glory were always relatively the same, until quite late in Sierra Online's adventure production period. Templar's take on the classic adventure genre is still fresh today. I liked the fact that each background was meticulously hand-drawn. The attention to detail is particularly attuned to the intricacies of European architecture. The only drawback is the inability to find all the requisite hotspots that need attention in a particular scene.

Intuitive controls, however, saves the player from this frustration. In Grim Fandango, the protagonist was able to twist and turn his head to focus on things that need attention. The animation of Stobbart, although well done, is not as advanced as that recent game. Instead, the right shoulder button is used to cycle through these hotspots. It works equally well and is indicative of the care the developers have put into this game. Another positive trait about Templar is the ability to save. Taking a page from the Circle of Blood on the PC, Templar allows you to save anywhere and not just at specific save points or with save keys. This lets pick up the game anywhere you like and doesn't force you to complete a pre-determined amount of the plot.

This is crucial because regardless of any platform, finishing Templar is a long affair. On the handheld, this length is exaggerated but the time it takes to build a comprehensive story based on Knights Templar lore is well worth the wait. Your effort in finishing it won't be wasted at all. There's not much in the way of replaying the game but Templar is so satisfying you won't regret going through it again. The conversations, while not as sophisticatedly varied as the PC version, still carry some forked paths that are interesting enough to run through on a second try.

There are few aural effects in Templar that are significant enough to be critiqued. On the other hand, Templar features the original soundtrack. Unlike other GBA ports, the soundtrack managed to escape MIDI bastardization that is so common on this platform. The music, though not sweeping in any sense, is subtle. Its commentary is always reserved but in instances where it is required to supplement the mood, it answers effectively.

Revolution has actually done a lot more than simply port the game. The visuals, although in concept are all faithful to the original, are in fact redrawn, repainted and reframed specially for the GBA. The result is wonderful and if you take a look at the Templar website, you'll see the difference between the coloring in the PC and GBA editions. The GBA scenes are more vibrant to cater to the dark nature of the device's screen. Again, Revolution's meticulous care shows through. Holistically speaking, this is what makes Templar such a great work of art on the GBA. Its patience, maturity and depth are some things that I rarely see, if at all, on this platform. True, the title is based on something that was released in the last decade; a long time ago-almost ancient in game terms. In this day and age, where every work seems to be a vapid 3D clone of others, there doesn't seem to be any title that exudes a unique personality or style like the one Templar is able to convey. Thus, while Templar's precursor may have been merely good when it was initially released, in the face of new competition from much shallower titles, it is even better, like Citizen Kane's positive reappraisal. Revolution's Templar is a powerful elegy to a genre that is sorely in need of a reminder of its former status.


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