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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Review

by: Kris Keilhack
Sept 26, 2006

Broken Sword for Palm OSOriginally a native PC title with a Playstation port also available, Astraware's Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars has now been downsized with remarkable accuracy to the Palm OS.

In a nutshell, the game's plot centers around George Stobbart, an American tourist on vacation in Paris. His quiet sojourn is interrupted by an explosion and subsequent death in a cafe. George begins nosing around the crime scene and quickly finds himself swept into a world of intrigue and cloak and dagger conspiracies. George's globe-hopping quest takes him to several locales throughout Europe and beyond as he seeks to track down an ancient manuscript written by the Knights Templar.

Gameplay
Quite honestly, for a modern PC or console title I would find Broken Sword a bit shallow and one-dimensional. However, when playing it on a Palm OS device and taking into account the many restraints inherent to the OS and portable platforms in general, the game's successful downsizing is nothing short of miraculous. I played the game to completion on my Palm TX and found it one of the least compromised portable gaming experiences ever—especially as a port of a “big” title.

Actual gameplay is very linear and reminiscent of some earlier-generation LucarArts adventure titles. Thankfully, endless tapping for hidden items and switches is made immensely easier due to the game’s feature of showing “hotspots” onscreen. Yet despite the linearity, I never grew bored with the storyline while the game was in progress or found the puzzles maddeningly difficult. Some of the item-pairing solutions make little sense but that’s no biggie. Most of the puzzles are rather straightforward to the experienced gamer but I must confess to having to resort to an online walk-thru to solve one puzzle in the Syria portion of the game.

Each scene in the game is depicted in a “room” with several puzzles/characters/interactive objects. Rooms to room transitions are achieved in a non-animated fashion.

Broken Sword for Palm OSI was consistently pleased by the game’s combination of Hitchcockian suspense plus James Bond globe-hopping. A lot of DaVinci Code-esque conspiracy theories are also thrown into the pot with some heavy doses of humor added for good measure. A few instances of the English dialogue translations-especially some joke punch lines-fall flat and seem rather stilted. These discrepancies are few and far between and for the most part the title treads a nice line between serious storytelling and PG-rated adult situations.

Grapics and Sound
Broken Sword is on the short list of entertainment titles that can actually cause even a jaded Palm OS user to do a double take. While the graphics look at bit coarse in a few places, this is understandable as a byproduct of cramming everything down to run on a 480 x 320 device with no performance penalties. The cartoony, vibrantly colored cut-scene cinematics are the highlight of the game but the in-game character animation comes a close second.

There are additionally some nice scaling effects employed when George walks towards and away from the screen. I would put the game’s graphics (resolution aside) on par with a PC adventure titles from the mid to late 1990s.

When playing on a Palm device other than the T3, T5, LifeDrive, or TX, the graphical report is not nearly as positive on 320 x 320 devices. The game runs in a heavily letterboxed 320 x 214 window on my Treo 700p. As a result, much of the graphical detail is completely lost. Even the text is difficult to read. I seriously doubt I would have had the patience or willingness to play the game through to completion on my Treo, even with screen brightness cranked to maximum. No option to zoom or scale the graphics to fit a 320x320 screen is available.

In-game music and sound are nearly non-existent. There is a decently moody song that briefly plays in the introductory sequence but that’s about it other than an explosion or a few key sound effects. I actually played through most of the game with some relaxing music playing in the background on my stereo (not on my Palm!) to provide some kind of aural accompaniment to the lush graphics.

Broken Sword for Palm OS

Controls/Miscellaneous Technical Notes
A Palm's stylus and touchscreen are perfectly suited for the game and the 5-way navigator provides another means of control if need be. The Palm hardware app buttons nicely toggle the in-game menus and inventory screen.

I tested the game extensively on a Palm TX and a Treo 700p. I ran the game’s version 1.00 entirely from SD card storage with no issues whatsoever other than a few very rare crashes on my TX when loading a new locale. The game occupies 1.6mb of storage space on my SD card.

Do note that this title is not compatible with the Tungsten T or T2 (likely due to heap memory limitations) and certain Sony Clies.

Conclusion
Quite simply, Broken Sword is the best (and only?) conventional graphical title on the Palm OS. While its replayability is nearly nil, this is a must-have for adventure gaming aficionados. I could even see this game, due to its rather friendly learning curve and easygoing interface, being the perfect introduction for casual gamers into the world of graphical adventures on other platforms.

My compliments to Astraware for deviating from their usual puzzle title output! Broken Sword provides a strong sign of not just what the Palm OS is capable of but also how a well-done PDA/smartphone title can compete against the best offerings of the portable gaming consoles.

Ratings:
4.5/5 - Palm Software 4.5 / 5 (on HVGA Palm devices)
2.5/5 - Palm Software 2.5 / 5 (on 320 x 320 Palm devices)

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is currently available from Astraware for Palm OS devices for $29.95

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ScummVM

richardgaywood @ 9/27/2006 6:09:28 AM # Q
Of course, if you want to play classic point-and-click adventures on your Palm, then http://www.scummvm.org should be your destination. All the old Lucasarts games, including Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and Day of the Tentacle (surely three of the greatest such games of all time) can be played under it, in full talkie mode if you can find the CD version (or, cough, download it from an abandonware site).

You can get started right now with Beneath A Steel Sky or Broken Sword 1, both freely and legally available from the ScummVM site. The graphics look great at 480x320 on my T3.. in fact, I'd be surprised if the Broken Sword port carried out by Astraware didn't involve ScummVM somewhere in it's software.

----
T|E | Sharp Zaurus | iPaq 3570 | iBook 800 | S-E T610 | Linux, linux, linux!

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