supermooseman's Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror (PC) review

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Despite not as great as the first, still an amazing experience

Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror is the sequel to the hugely popular The Shadow of the Templars, developed by Revolution Software and released in late 1997. This point-and-click adventure game will again see you travelling across the globe, delving into the interesting Aztec history and meeting many different characters along the way. Despite keeping the core ideas of the franchise, The Smoking Mirror still manages to be a worthy follow-up to an excellent game.

You again take the role of American tourist George Stobbart, and the opening cinematic sees him and Nico Collard (now his girlfriend) visit Professor Oubier's house in Paris. However, things take a turn for the worst when the pair are knocked out, and George wakes up to find a poisonous spider crawling towards him, the door blocked by fire, and his beloved Nico kidnapped. After escaping from Oubier's house, George sets out to get to the bottom on what happened and where Nico is. He soon finds himself delving into the story of Aztec God Tezcatlipoca and collecting all of the ancient Mayan stones. This is definitely Broken Sword.

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Familiar faces from the first game make a welcomed return, such as Duane and Pearl. As fellow tourists they don't feel out of place at all, and thanks Duane's conspiracy-ridden brain he has some of the best lines in the game. Perhaps less welcomed by George is André Lobineau, who shows up at the very start of the game outside a French cafe. He only appears for a very brief time though, which works well due to his substantial role in The Shadow of the Templars. A whole cast of new faces appear too, from the women lover General Grasiento to the baked-bean lover guard at the dock. Meeting all the different characters is a treat, and they all have individual personalities and dynamism.

Luckily the brilliant Rolf Saxon
makes a return to provide the voice for George, although the voice actor for Nico has changed. It is a shame as there was nothing wrong with the original, but the new Nico is just as good. It isn't just the main characters who have perfectly suited voices either. Every single line spoken matches that character perfectly, in both delivery and writing. Never will a voice feel out of place, instead it immerses you in the experience and really helps you connect with the people. The music throughout the game is not memorable, but there are clever moments where a character is about to reveal new information, and a musical track kicks in to signify this.

One thing that didn't carry over from the first game was the length. The Smoking Mirror is a linear game, and won't make you backtrack to previous locations to pick up items or talk to characters. Once you've moved on from somewhere, that is basically it. This makes the game easier, but also helps keep the pace going. Sadly, it also detracts from the time it will take you to complete the game. It is noticeably much shorter than The Shadow of the Templars, and it certainly shows with the ending cutscene which - although grand - feels rushed and leaves some plot advancements unexplained.

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The same unique visual style has remained, and the seamlessly transitioned animated cutscenes sprinkled throughout help retain interest. The bright graphics again hide a mature side to the game, and even more so this time round. There are a few swear words, full-on views of someone being shot, and of course the gruesome ending cutscene which has to be seen to be experienced. However, these are rarities and the witty dialogue and the vibrant locations take the forefront of the game's themes. There are also some new graphical effects, allowing different levels of shadows on everything that moves in the game, exampled when George walks into the forest and his body is instantly darker. There is a lot of movement going on in the scenery, whether that be birds flying past or characters moving around and talking, which makes the game livelier.

Gameplay remains as a 2D point-and-click, clicking on items to look at them or pick them up, and clicking on people to talk to them. Whereas the first Broken Sword only allowed you to play as George Stobbart, sometimes at a scene end it'll switch over to a different location and allow you to take control of Nico Collard. Controlling Nico is in the minority though, which is a good thing as she doesn't have the instant appeal and wit that George does, although it is nice to advance the storyline elsewhere and mix things up. The puzzles in the game mainly consist of using an item on something, although there is one section where you have to navigate your way out of a forest, and the frustrating, tedious final game puzzle which sees you rotating dials to reveal a secret door.

The burning question, then, is if the game is better than the first? Simply put, no. Although there is still an amazing plot, deep and interesting characters with superb voice actors to boot and beautiful art, the length of the game and one or two puzzles bring it down. However, despite some negativity, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror is another brilliant adventure game and one that, fan of the series or not, everyone should check out.

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