Review – Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut

The Knights Templar were an order of Christian soldiers from western Europe who gathered substantial influence and wealth during the Crusades. Many were tortured and/or executed in France in the early 14th century, primarily because King Philip of France owed them money and felt it was more expedient to kill them and disband the order than it was to pay. Of course, he did this under the pretense that they were not in fact true Catholics but rather practitioners of any number of bizarre rituals. As a result of these probably false accusations, their previous military prowess and influence, and the massive fortune they acquired through donations and the early bank-like system they developed, the story of the Knights took on mythic proportions.

Just like in real life.

Unfortunately, they are also an overused trope in movies and pop literature, either as grand puppeteers that actually rule the world from behind the scenes, or as the source of some treasure beyond all of our wildest dreams. Despite its great characters and some very good scenes, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars suffers from the use of the Templars as a mere plot device. There is an engrossing mystery to solve, I just wish Revolution hadn’t resorted to the use of such a hackneyed plot device.

Not all of the game bothers itself about this Templar business. Many of the early scenes (I believe these are what adds “Director’s Cut” to the already lengthy title) feature French journalist Nico Collard as a playable character. Her plotline is much more intimate; her now deceased father, who was a hero of hers as a child, worked on a mission with some of the same people who are currently involved in chasing down the same Templar artifacts you are. His exact role in the mission or even what the mission was remains unclear, despite some endearingly reflective scenes Nico has while discovering fragments of his past. All this is related to the larger Templar story, but is mostly tangential, barely revisited, wraps up early in the game, and just gets the ball rolling for George, our main character. As smart and funny a character as Nico is, her scenes seem to exist mostly to beef up what would be an otherwise brief adventure.

Once Nico’s story has run its course, the game narrows its focus on American tourist George Stobbart and his globetrotting adventures to uncover a conspiracy involving the eponymous Knights. At the outset he is shown to be carefree and mostly interested in making time with the girl from a coffee shop. As the story progresses we get to watch George develop into someone who takes his responsibilities (in this case, saving the world) and relationships (if he has his way, with Nico) a bit more seriously. As with Nico, the best parts of the plot, dialogue, and characters emerge when the plot remains small and local; the game does not fall apart when tackling its grander aspirations, but it does misstep.

My primary complaint about the plot, besides Templars conspiracy theories being overdone, is that George, despite his development over the course of the game, is mostly ignorant of the history and supposed powers of the Templars and their successors, yet he is able to stop their vaguely defined, but apparently world threatening plot. How threatening could these people have been if two twenty-somethings with no training are able to defeat them? And when we do uncover the present day Knights, their numbers and constituents are unimposing.

The mime was suspiciously quiet about the dead body in the room.

If we are to give the game the benefit of the doubt, we could say that these two things restore the balance: George and Nico may only be two people, but the grand conspiracy is never that grand to begin with. Being less charitable, we could say the developers could not reconcile the global plot with the characters, and the odd sense of scale is the result. I tend to think its the latter, primarily because the game has you travel to several countries and meet with many different factions, which created an illusion of something big going on, despite the eventual finale.

You will encounter the one (actually two, but its the same one twice) puzzle that is potentially unfair during one of Nico’s chapters: she finds a note written in a substitution code and we are asked to solve it with no hints or clues. This is tough, but ultimately possible (hint: names are a good place to start). The motivations for a few puzzles are a little contrived (such as when George needs to find money for cab fare after taking several international flights), but the solutions are clever and usually make sense. Some of the best puzzles benefit from taking place in a specific location, as when George needs to trick some naive and stereotypical American tourists who are shopping in a Middle Eastern marketplace in order to advance.

Broken Sword is a very good adventure game; even though I complain about the use of the Templars and the grand conspiracies they are constantly and posthumously engaged in, there is a reason these stories are popular: they are fun. Navigating the network of henchmen and their masterminds, the artifacts, and the corruption that allows the henchmen and masterminds to do their dirty work is engaging theater, and I can’t fault Revolution for taking advantage of our love for it. The game is a very enjoyable romp, especially if you can convince yourself not to think too hard about King Philip IV, Jacques de Molay, and Clement V – a task easier said than done.

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