Version tested: iPhone
If you've read much about auteur theory recently, you've probably been reading about how it's a load of bollocks. Films, even at the dimmest end of the spectrum, are collaborative affairs, and they present a vision shaped by many hands, right down to the involvement of the Key Grip, Assistant to Mr Spielberg, and that sinister biffer in the shiny overcoat who arranges an unbroken stream of sexy ladies for the leading man after hours.
Videogames are collaborative too, for the most part, and Broken Sword, which is a fairly cinematic sort of game, even opens with movie-style credits - it's a pretty long list, too. That said, if any title feels like it has sponged up the personality of one of its key creators, it's this one. Charles Cecil, co-founder of Revolution Software, is a famously polite and charming character. Self-effacing and mild, he looks a little bit like Tintin, boy reporter, all grown up and finally rid of that dog. True to form, he helped to construct an unusually decent sort of adventure, a gentle chunk of derring-do that is friendly if never bloodless; a game that's urbane, quietly witty, and generally well-behaved.
It's a bit like a Tintin adventure all grown up, in other words, although these days audiences are more likely to invoke the gentle spirit of noted Harvard symbologist Dr Robert Langdon. It is, after all, a rag-tag race around Paris' secret chambers with plenty of time put aside to ponder the legacy of the Templars and flirt with hot French women, before you're off again, doing the rounds of the world's occult locations.
Speaking of doing the rounds, Broken Sword's covered a fair bit of ground since its release on the PC back in 1996. It's been ported quite a lot, and not always wisely. I even played it on the Game Boy Advance, which, with its wonky interface and frequent bugs, required real fondness and reserves of that famous British spirit that got us all through the Blitz. On the iPhone, however, this weary traveller may have finally found its true home.
Broken Sword starts with a bang - or at least it used to before the hour or so of new content came along, meaning that it now starts with a doorbell buzzing and then a bang. It's autumn in Paris, and all manner of luminaries are being offed by clowns and mimes. Business as usual for those laissez-faire continental types? Not quite. There's a conspiracy brewing, and it involves Templar Knights, ancient artefacts, and at least one goat, making a surprise cameo quite near the end.
Before you know it, hard-working reporter Nicole Collard and American tourist George Stobbart are both knee deep in a fascinating mystery - Nicole got decked by a street performer, George had a nice little bistro explode in his face. The duo, united only by their completely inexplicable haircuts, are soon prodding about in churches, collecting and combining unlikely objects, and definitely not going to Syria before they've visited Montfaucon sewers, just in case nobody fixed that showstopper bug from the GBA version. (I think somebody has, though.)
The Director's Cut content from the DS and Wii releases is all included, and there's voice audio throughout, even if it's still suffering from the nasty compression that plagued it before. The additional puzzles are mostly great, though, and while you can see the joins between the old and new material (particularly in the differing styles of the cut-scene animation) the whole game makes it across to the iPhone looking sharp and pretty, and boasting a nice picture-in-picture delivery that makes you think of 24 back in the days before Kiefer Sutherland transformed most of the script writers into ravaged, semi-functioning alcoholics too.
The controls are an evolution of the system used for the iPhone version of Beneath a Steel Sky - moving a finger over the screen reveals the bits and pieces you can interact with, and the inventory is a simple drag-and-drop arrangement. It's probably the best adventure game interface around on the iPhone at the moment: sufficiently slick that you won't ever really notice how clever it is. The occasional unresponsiveness from BASS is gone, however, and there are a handful of other nice refinements, such as a glowing aura around any selected objects which tells you when you're in the right position to use them.
Elsewhere, the hint system from the DS and Wii versions returns in an even kinder form, meaning you'd now have to have some really, really serious head injuries to fail to get through even the least intuitive of puzzles. (I struggled at times.) Perhaps most importantly, however, like BASS, the moment-to-moment nature of a majority of the game's set-pieces means that, although it's probably not as polished and witty as the best of the LucasArts games, the whole thing's far more suited to the short-burst nature of iPhone gaming.
Broken Sword hasn't really aged much, either. Sure, it features character death, which should have been unfashionable in adventure games even back in the mid-nineties, and it certainly has its fair share of arbitrary puzzle solutions, but it also has pleasantly adult characterisations and lots of timeless old-school heroics. You'll scramble around on window ledges, fiddle with ancient door mechanisms, and break simple codes, all of which are nice things to look forward to on a packed commute.
(It's very hard not to mention the price, too. While £3.99's not enough to make a bad game into a good one, when you're already looking at a classic, it's undeniably an added bonus. As with Chinatown Wars, it's weird to think that a title which only months ago would have cost you twenty notes is now yours for considerably less - and arguably in a more satisfying format.)
Nice work, Revolution. With BASS and now Broken Sword, the developer has proved that the iPhone can handily support some of the best classic adventure games. The tantalising question, then, is whether it can generate the kind of returns that would lead to the creation of entirely new ones.
8 / 10