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Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror

Review by Jen

I have a great pile of games as yet unplayed, and this was one of them. I had played the first Broken Sword game (Shadow of the Templars; Circle of Blood in the US), and my opinion of that one was pretty lukewarm. I thought there was far too much conversation and not as many puzzles as I would like, but parts of it were truly outstanding. However, I know these Broken Sword games are many people's all-time favorites, and I wanted to try to understand why. Here's what I thought of Broken Sword II.

You return as George Stobbart from Circle of Blood and go to meet up with Nico in Paris after a six-month separation only to find her in the midst of being kidnaped. In your attempt to rescue her, you get into a bind involving a giant spider. After you save yourself, you must locate and save Nico. You find out that Nico has a Mayan artifact that she was on her way to show to Professor Oubier when she ran into trouble at his home. George and Nico must escape the immediate danger and track down the origin of the mysterious artifact. They learn that they must obtain two more artifacts to go with the one they already have, in order to stop the rebirth of the Mayan demon-god who was trapped in a pyramid by the three artifacts. Their quest leads them to a Central American jungle, the Caribbean, Marseilles, and the British Museum.

I am no historian and have not researched the background at all, but the story gives the appearance of being well-founded in actual history and mythology. Some of the elements in this game have turned up in many other games as well, particularly the Mayan parts. That seems to be a favorite theme for game designers. The designers of the game seemed to have taken bare-bone historical facts and written a credible, magical story around them, much as the authors of Black Dahlia did with that well-known story. The only holes in this plot involve the characters' ability to travel across the world instantly and without ever having to worry about money, but I guess you just have to suspend your disbelief. Also, while I don't want to give anything away, the ending video sequence was a disappointment. However, on the whole, the story is extremely strong and well thought-out.

This is a cartoon-style game. It has easily the most well-drawn and detailed backgrounds of any game I have ever played. (The same can be said of Broken Sword I.) The artist(s) really took a lot of time and care in drawing the scenes, and it pays off in the beauty of the game. The backgrounds rival Michael Hague's illustrations for The Wind in the Willows, a book I'm sure many of you enjoyed as a child, and are in the same style. The cut scenes are very high-quality, too. There is no jerkiness and no pixelation, even in the fast-action parts.

The movement of the characters on the screen during gameplay is sometimes kind of goofy, though. It is obvious that there are only set paths they can take, so when you go to look at something or talk to someone on the other side of the screen, the character will take a long, circuitous, rectangular path instead of the straight-line path. This is a very minor flaw present in most games of this type, but it is disconcerting nevertheless.

The gameplay is tedious. It involves a lot of pixel-hunting and way too much conversation that doesn't move the story or game along. If you get stuck, you just go talk to everyone again, at length, ad nauseam, try every item on everything else, and then go talk to everyone again. Sometimes the thing that makes no sense at all is the one that works. It seemed to me, though, that this game had less conversation than Broken Sword I, which is a small blessing. I had forgotten how much I disliked that aspect. Most of the puzzles, besides the conversing ones, are inventory-based, and there are a couple of "traditional" puzzles in the end game that require manipulating objects on the screen.

One thing I did like, however, was that the viewpoint in the second half of the game switched between George and Nico. I know this is nothing new—witness the Maniac Mansion games and Gabriel Knight II—but I really like switching styles and perspectives in a game. I do wish game designers would try to incorporate a little more of this, especially involving woman characters.

One technical note: Your CD drive must be lettered D: or E: to install the game. I found that out by looking at the FAQ on the Virgin web site, which, by the way, offered no patch or update to fix this. My CD drive is G:, and I spent quite a long time wondering what was wrong with the CD before checking the Virgin site. My DVD drive is D:, so I just used that. While it is a small matter to reletter your CD drive, it would be a pain in the hindquarters to change it back and forth every time you switched between playing the game and using all of your other already-installed-using-a-different-letter CD software.

The music is nothing special—it serves pretty well to set the mood but is not memorable. There is not a lot in the way of sound effects. This is mostly a conversation game with some inventory puzzles. The voice acting is largely passable, but the voice actor for George Stobbart is particularly annoying in his insipidness, and some of the minor characters got on my nerves in a big way. Pearl and Duane, the American tourists in Syria from Circle of Blood, reappear at one point in this game. They were big-time irritating the first time around and no less so in this game.

I was also never convinced of any kind of attraction between George and Nico, who are supposed to be an item, and I wondered what a cosmopolitan, sophisticated Frenchwoman such as Nico would be doing with a lout like George in the first place. He always refers to Nico as "my girlfriend" and she just calls him "Zhorzhe." Maybe it is a one-sided attraction on his part. Maybe in Broken Sword III, he will be a stalker whose mission in the game is to have Nico be his alone ... forever! The two major characters were never quite persuasive.

I would recommend this game for the good story line and the beautiful graphics, but if you want a game that has more adventuring, look for another. The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Revolution Software
Release Date: 1997

Available for: PlayStation Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium/Windows 95
16 MB RAM
DirectX 5

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