Saturday, 22 August 2009

Broken Sword: The Angel of Death - Review of the Interface

Broken Sword: The Angel of Death is the fourth game of the Broken Sword series. I'll assume you've played the previous games as I'm going to discuss the interface of this game. First of all this is the second 3D game in the Broken Sword series the first being Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. However it uses a very similar engine to Broke Sword: The Sleeping Dragon.

In Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon the game was designed for the console and PC at the same time. As a result the game has you controlling the main character directly like in an action game. As you approach an object you get several options for the item via the interaction menu that pops up. There were 4 interaction menu buttons mapped onto the 4 buttons of a console controller in a cross. Many PC gamers were unused to this and complained about this interaction but I personally this was a good way of presenting possible interactions with the environment and increased the immersion. For example, if I wanted to climb a ledge, I approached it and pushed the top interaction button where the climb button was mapped on. If I wanted to drop, I pressed the bottom button where the drop off button was mapped on. There were also a number of quick time events where for example, you press left or right swing an object at an enemy for example or down to duck.

In Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, Revolution decided to return back to the old system of point and click while using the 3D engine. Unfortunately, upon the first 10 minutes of the game, it became very clear that they had tacked this interface on to the 3D engine of number 3 without making proper alterations to accommodate this change.

I found basic walking to be utmost torture in the larger environments. When you click on spot, George moves there and then stops. Sometimes this will shift to a new camera angle and you'll be able to do something. But other times, all the camera angle does is shift to the new location so you have have to click again for George to continue walking. This is particularly annoying in long corridors or passages where you have him unnaturally stopping in the middle of the corridor.

The best way around this is to actually hold down the left mouse button so when he reaches the new area he simply continues in the direction indicated but you have be careful because if he actually touches the left mouse button he'll stop and you have click again somewhere else. This actually happened on to me on numerous occasions due to camera changes. Alternatively you can play with the arrow keys on the keyboard which solves this problem remarkably easily! Solving this problem in my opinion is pretty easy, break out large environments into several smaller scenes and create a 'scene exit' icon so players know that they are moving into a different part of the environment.

Also the ledge climbing and crate moving from number 3 is back but this time you have to point and click your way while doing it. Just like walking, ledge climbing can be really annoying as you try to lead your character using your mouse pointer from one end of the ledge to another end while the camera changes. Sometimes it's hard to know whether you can drop off or climb ledges as there aren't any particular indicators a ledge can be climbed unless you've played number 3 before or are an action gamer like me. Crate moving isn't too bad in this particular game but you can also climb the crates meaning instead of grabbing the crate, you end up climbing on it or vice versa. When it comes to actually moving grates, the camera angle caused me to end up grabbing the wrong side occasionally. Perhaps the only good thing is that there are way fewer ledge and crate puzzles. But frankly I still didn't like them that much.

Based on my experiences with this so-called 'point and click adventure' the worst part is that they actually left out the ability to play using the gamepad so you're stuck with this awkward mouse problem throughout the entire game.

Let's compare this to a more recent adventure like the Sam & Max episodes which also uses 3D graphics. In fact, Sam & Max uses a nearly identical interface and yes, there is the unnatural halting in the middle of the room is present in the games as well. So what makes it so different?

Two things, the camera angles and the rooms. In Sam and Max games, the rooms are rarely larger than two screens and the camera rarely shift except to pan a little. In the games, you are playing a relatively 2D game with only occasionally changes into 3D.

In my opinion, if you have small rooms or environment, a 2D style of game play is fine and point and click is fine. If you have large rooms, you should either break them into small rooms or go for an action type interface where you control the character better.

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