Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon

2003 Revolution
Designed by Charles Cecil, Neil Richards, Steve Ince, Tony Warriner, Jonathan Howard
Reviewed 2004 July 28

Rating -3 Linearity straight
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance moderate
Interface 3rd 3D menu Real-time occasional

A few years after their previous adventure, George and Nico independently follow distantly separate murders until their paths cross, finding out they're on the same case. Some megalomaniac is trying to harness the power of ley lines to take control of the planet, and George and Nico must stop him. Their good buddies, the Templars, also get mixed up in the affair. As usual, their adventures take them to far-flung lands, including Paris, Glastonbury, Congo, and Egypt.

It's a good story, and a good story for an adventure game. The bad guys are bad, our heroes are light-hearted, and there are several supporting characters who are nicely developed. The plot progresses through your actions with a brisk, continuous pace. The dialogue is often fun. It had the charm of a disposible pulp adventure novel, or an Indiana Jones type of movie.

The presentation is nice, using a good 3D engine. The locales are attractive. The characters are puppets, generally well done. Their movements were usually restrained, but Nico had a tendency to break into an inappropriate stretch. The voice acting was good.

So far, so good, but that's all that's good. While the engine is fine, the direction of the presentation was poor. The camera changed frequently, making character motion difficult, and making it hard to get a sense of the layout of the locales. This was made worse by poor choices of camera position. For example, when you first enter a room, the camera is usually pointed at your face, showing you framed in the doorway -- it doesn't show the room, which is what you're primarily interested in. So you have to blindly wander around to map out the room and find and areas of interest.

Character control is via keyboard driving, relative to user viewpoint. When the camera position changes, the same key will send your character off in a different direction. I think I prefer character relative control, but the real real problem here is that the direction you usually want to go is diagonal, and the keys only give you orthogonal directions. It gets confusing after a camera shift, especially when you're running away from something.

The save/load game interface interface has an annoying quirk: it always starts with the first saved game, and you have to explicitly scroll to the end to get to the most recent or empty slot. There's also a too-limited number; that's just lazy.

The Sleeping Dragon really hits the skids in the game side of things. There are a few good challenges towards the end of the game, but the vast majority of the game is trivial drudgery.

The first theme you find is box pushing. This is like Sokoban, an old puzzle game, but lobotomised. You have to push crates (or stone blocks, etc.) around in a nice square grid, usually to align them up so that you can climb them to get somewhere. It's not very relevant, but it could still make for a decent puzzle. Unfortunately here the setups are almost all trivial, so they became tedious make-work.

The next theme is mazes. It tries to hide behind an "action" interface, but it's really a maze at heart. They're not really action, though, just non-action commands to jump gaps, squeeze along ledges, and so forth; the sort of thing you might find in Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, but without any time/co-ordination pressures, so that they become nothing but tedious, trivial little mazes.

The last big theme is timed-sequences. On the plus side, dying is automatically restored to the start of the sequence. That's it for the plus side. The sequences are usually blindingly fast: I usually wasn't aware of the sequence at all until I saw the death sequence. Despite the speed, there's no challenge to them. In almost all cases, the game tells you what key to press to win the sequence, and there's only one key. My pattern was: 1) see the death sequence; 2) watch the entire sequence again to see what key needs to be pressed; 3) bang that key repeatedly during the third play of the sequence. No thought or skill is required, hence no fun is had. A couple of timed sequences involved more complicated action, including running around; one almost defeated me, but at least they were some kind of challenge that might appeal to somebody.

There were a couple of machine puzzles, not terribly relevant but decent enough.

It's hard to imagine whom the game side of The Sleeping Dragon would appeal to: few adventure challenges, few action challenges, and a bad exploration interface. The story is decent, for a game, so fans of the previous games would probably enjoy it.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.

Related reviews:

  • Broken Sword 1
  • Broken Sword 2
    David Tanguay's Game Reviews
    Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.