Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered – Review

With the success of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow…but how do you follow up such a compelling story of conspiracy and murder?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive. It was released in 1997 on Microsoft Windows and the PlayStation. A remastered edition was released in 2010 on Microsoft Windows, OSX and iOS. For this review, I looked at the original version on the Playstation and PC, and the remastered version on the PC.

Plot

It has been six months since George Stobbart and Nico Collard stopped the Templar plot. Stobbart has returned to France from the US, where he was visiting his ill father, and plans to resume his relationship with Nico. Together they visit the house of archaeologist Professor Oubier in order to learn about a Mayan artefact that Collard has been researching. After arriving at Oubier’s house, they are ambushed, and Nico is kidnapped. Stobbart must rescue her whilst learning about, and preventing, a conspiracy to release the Mayan God Tezcatlipoca during an imminent eclipse.

Gameplay

The gameplay is unchanged from its predecessor, that is, you can control George and Nico (at separate times during the game) and direct them to walk or interact with objects by using a cursor. The cursor icon will change depending on what action you can do. For example, if you place the cursor over an item you are able to pick up, the icon will turn into an animated hand that motions as if to pick up an object. It’s all very clear and straight forward. You are also able access your items from your inventory by moving your cursor to the top of the screen, where your collected items will appear. Similarly, when talking to another character, icons will appear at the bottom of the screen, indicating that more information can be gleaned from that person.

A large brick building

Description automatically generated
A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The game easy to learn and play. I think if I had one criticism though, it’d be that I think the action is a little slow when you get George or Nico to interact with an object.

Graphics

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”, or so the old saying goes. The graphics have remained in the classic animated film style, which I am a fan of.

Music

The music, whilst subtle, is atmospheric and fitting, and usually indicates either danger or that an important puzzle has been solved.

The Remastered Version

After replaying the game years after its release, Charles Cecil, who originally designed the game, wished to fix several issues he noted about the original version. He felt that the backgrounds were too pixelated, the movies were of poor quality, the audio needed sharpening up and that some of the dialogue seemed a bit out of place. With these issues addressed, Cecil explains that they decided to add a diary and a hint system. He also enlisted the help of illustrator Dave Gibbons to create new artwork for an interactive-comic bonus.[1]

There is a small difference with the original in how you gain access to your items. In the corners of the screen are slightly translucent icons. The bottom left is a satchel where your can find your collected items; the bottom right is the diary, reminding you of your journey; top left is the option menu, and top right is a question mark for when you need help. When talking to another character, a box will appear onscreen with icons that you can click on to gather information from that person.

A person standing in front of a building

Description automatically generated
A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (screenshot taken by the author)

Remastered Graphics

In the remastered version, the graphics do look a lot smoother, and the colours have been toned down a bit to add more realism to the scenes. The little portrait character boxes that appear during conversations is a nice new touch too.

Personal Memories

I enjoyed playing this game, but I think I still prefer the first instalment. It was great to see some familiar faces from the first game, and there were some interesting new characters added too. For me, there are two things that let this game down. Firstly, I felt that they didn’t provide enough information on the Maya and Tezcatlipoca. Other players may not feel they needed more information but I’m an archaeologist and a historian by trade, and so my curiosity naturally seeks more information on such subjects. My second gripe was slightly rectified in the remastered version in that I wish they had added something new to the game too.

Did I Complete The Game?:

Yes, but I found this game tougher than the first and so probably used hints more often.

What The Critics Said Of The Original Version:

Gamespot: (Playstation) “The horrendous loading times that plagued the original have been trimmed a great deal, and the animation runs a lot smoother. Still, the game is not for everyone. Earfuls of semi-relevant conversation and the digital pad’s inability to properly replicate a mouse make Broken Sword II tedious at times. But while Broken Sword II certainly isn’t revolutionary, it’s still refreshing to see a game of this nature done well. A compelling story, plot twists, offbeat humour, great graphics, and solid sound makes Broken Sword II a game with great aspirations. It’s simply too bad the game’s format and the Playstation’s limited capabilities keep Broken Sword II from fully realizing them. Overall 6.9/10.[2]

Gamespsot: (PC) “George is slightly more sophisticated (a consequence of all that traveling he did in Circle of Blood no doubt), Nico has been fleshed out a bit and takes on a few adventures of her own, and the quirky humour of Circle of Blood raises its oddball head once more (i.e., the minor character who gets up from his desk only to reveal that he works in bikini underwear – not pants – because it makes him feel friskier). It’s Circle of Blood with new characters, a new storyline, a new threat to world harmony, and a few omissions and additions that help to streamline the adventure. Overall 7.9/10.[3]

Next Generation: (PC) “What’s new helps the game immensely, and the already intuitive interface is still there. Smoking Mirror may not be an outstanding leap in graphics adventures, but much like the sequel to a good book, it’s a fun romp with familiar characters and well-worth the price of purchase. Overall 3/5.[4]

Computer Gaming World: (PC) “All in all, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror is above average, but it’s not great. While the engine and the graphics have been refined, there are some minor slips in plot, dialogue, puzzles that bring the whole experience down a bit. Overall 3.5/5.[5]

What The Critics Said Of The Remastered Version:

Gamezone: (PC) “Among the most impressive things about the Broken Sword series are its animated cut scenes, which look fantastic on the iPad. The animation itself is a bit dated, but it also brings a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of cartoons and animated movies of the same time period. The voice acting is solid, and the game sounds great on the iPad. The remastered version of The Smoking Mirror is compatible with both the iPad and iPhone, and though the game can look a bit stretched and blurry at times on the iPad, the bigger screen is preferable for gameplay purposes. Overall 8/10.[6]

My Verdict:

“A great sequel and enthralling storyline. Great graphics, and tougher puzzles than the first instalment. Pity about the lack of innovation in gameplay, and information regarding the Mayan culture”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Hoggins, T., (January 4th 2011). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Interview’. The Telegraph. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/video-games/8238685/Broken-Sword-II-The-Smoking-Mirror-interview.html Accessed 7th March 2020).

[2] Stohl, B., (May 5th 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – Playstation’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-ii-review/1900-2545928/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[3] Muldoon, M., (May 1st 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – PC’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-the-smoking-mirror-review/1900-2538230/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[4] ‘Rating: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Next Generation. (December 1997). Issue 36:170.

[5] Nguyen, T., ‘Review: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:162.

[6] Chase, S., (May 4th 2012). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered Review’ Gamezone.com. (https://www.gamezone.com/reviews/broken_sword_ii_the_smoking_mirror_-_remastered/ Accessed 7th March 2020).

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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut – Review

Original cover art

Ah the city of Paris, home of the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre. A city that countless visitors seek for romantic getaways, art and culture. American lawyer George Stobbart was visiting Paris. He was enjoying a coffee and minding his own business…then a bomb exploded in the café he was sitting at.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (also known as Circle of Blood) is a point and click game developed and published by Revolution Software in 1996. It was released on multiple platforms including Android, Game Boy Advance, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Palm OS, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii, Windows, Windows Mobile, Xbox, Xbox One. Here, I will review the Director’s Cut which was released in 2009.

Director’s Cut cover art

Plot

This is the first instalment of the Broken Sword series. You play as American George Stobbart who witnesses the assassination of a man named Plantard. Whilst enjoying a coffee at a Parisian Café, Stobbart observes the assassin enter and then leave with a briefcase moments before an explosion destroys the establishment. Naturally Stobbart begins to investigate the murder because, let’s face it, the explosion almost killed him too and to rub salt into the wound, he appears to be a suspect. During his investigation he meets and allies himself with French reporter Nicole “Nico” Collard. What starts as a murder investigation soon unravels as a conspiracy plot involving the Knights Templar, which takes Stobbart and Collard to several different countries including Ireland, Spain, Syria, and Scotland in search of the murderer.

The animation style is in the beautiful classic animation tradition (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Like with all point and click games, you control a cursor on the screen. By hovering it over certain objects or characters, you have the option to look at or interact with them. By moving the cursor to the lower part of the screen, you will gain access to your inventory and any objects you have picked up. When talking to characters, a number of pictures will appear and when these pictures are clicked, George of Nico will engage in a line of questioning.

How Does It Handle?

The gameplay is easy to learn and intuitive. The story is engaging, especially if you love a good conspiracy theory, and I felt immediately drawn in by it. The puzzles are challenging but not convoluted like in the Monkey Island series. I did need assistance to help with the odd puzzle, but I never got bored of this game.

Graphics

The game is designed to be reminiscent of the classic animated film genre. The scenes are incredibly detailed and the characters are well animated.

George and Nico’s adventures see them meet a number of undesirables (screenshot taken by the author)

Music

The music is rather understated and takes a back seat in this game. It is mainly used in cutscenes or when you solve a major puzzles. This game doesn’t need music though. The silence and minimalist SFX adds to the realism of the game.

Differences With The Original Release

The Director’s Cut has several differences when compared with the original release. The graphics have been improved and are smoother. There are extra scenes; in the original you begin with Stobbart at the Café, but in the Director’s Cut, you begin with Nico needing to escape Plantard’s house. Artwork of character profiles appear during conversation scenes, and there are extra puzzles to work your way through.

Did I Complete The Game?

I did, but there were one or two occasions when I had to use a walkthrough.

What The Critics Said About The Original Version:

Gamespot.com “Without question, Circle of Blood is an adventure of epic proportions and ranks as one of the most intriguing games to roll out this year. Its only drawback is that the graphics might be too real. After playing the game, you might find yourself wanting to pack your bags and take in the European sights first-hand. But if you’re lacking for travel funds and must stay home and play computer games, Circle of Blood definitely won’t disappoint you. Overall rating 9.2 superb[1]

What Critics Said About The Director’s Cut:

PC Gamer Magazine “Wonky visuals, but this is as close to the Da Vinci Code meets Monkey Island as we’ll get. Did I mention the hot French accent? Overall 69%[2]

Awards For The Original Cut:

Best Adventure 1997 – Generation 4 Magazine

Best Quest – Quest Magazine[3]

Awards For The Director’s Cut:

Pocket Gamer Gold Award 2010 – Pocket Gamer [4]

(Wii version) Best European Adventure 2011 – European Game Awards[5]

My Verdict:

“I love this game, and am a huge fan of the franchise. I love the graphics, the story, and the puzzles. If you like point and clicks, and even if you don’t, I’m sure you will find this game entertaining.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Anderson, R., (October 3rd, 1996). ‘Review – Circle of Blood’. Gamspot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/circle-of-blood-review/1900-2538410/ Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] PC Gamer. (October 31st 2010). ‘Review – Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Director’s Cut’. PC Gamer. (https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/broken-sword-shadow-of-the-templars-directors-cut-review/ Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] Cecil, C., (July 18, 2011). ‘A New STEAM Age’. TED. (https://web.archive.org/web/20131217015330/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcUcl23D7mA Accessed 10th December 2019).

[4] Usher, A., (Jun 28, 2012). ‘Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut’. Pocket Gamer. (https://www.pocketgamer.com/articles/042432/classic-point-and-click-title-broken-sword-the-directors-cut-makes-its-way-onto-android/ Accessed 13th December 2019).

[5] European Game Awards. (https://web.archive.org/web/20120415092901/http://www.european-games-award.com/ Accessed on 13th December 2019).

Age of Empires (Including Rise of Rome Expansion Pack) – Review

The history of the world is full of civilisations competing for resources, wealth and glory. Age of Empires offered the chance to relive those struggles, and immerse ourselves in a world that we are so far removed from.

Age of Empires was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games. It was released in 1997 for the PC, spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, and has gained a loyal following. It was the original PC version I chose to review.

You begin in the Stone Age with rudimentary weapons and little technology (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

AOE is a real-time strategy game which sees you lead the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Babylonia and the Yamato, through the Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, in order to rise up and become dominant empires. In order to progress through the ages, you need to build your base and grow your army. To do this you send villagers to gather resources of wood, food, gold and stone. Upon reaching a new age, better soldiers, weapons and technologies become available to you.

Build your civilisation to conquer the known world (screenshot taken by the author)

You have the option of playing single player campaigns, as well as a Random Map mode in which different maps are generated for each match. Other adjustments can be made to make the matches harder such as adding a Death Match mode. You can even create your own scenarios in the Scenario Builder and set your own match parameters. Multiplayer is also available to play online. These features give this game tons of replay value.

Each campaign contains a number of missions. Before each mission, you are given a timeline and briefing with mission objectives and hints to draw you into the game.

How Does It Handle?

The controls are simple. You use your mouse to hover over a unit (villager, priest, military personnel etc.) and click on them to gain control. You can then either move them or call them to action. For example, if you highlight a villager, and then click on a tree, the villager will begin to gather wood and carry it to the nearest storage pit or town centre. A menu also appears in at the bottom of the screen with options to build and repair buildings.

For military personnel, once they have been highlighted, you can direct them to attack enemy units or buildings. Default stances can also be set which will instruct them to attack enemies on sight, attack enemies within a certain range of your settlement before returning to their original position, or simply ordering them to stand their ground. ‘Standing Your Ground’ is useful for archers and artillery (for these units, there is also a ‘ceasefire’ option). With artillery such as catapults, you can damage your own troops so be aware when deploying troops.

When clicking a building, options will appear at the bottom of the screen where you can choose to research technologies or create new troops (obviously depending on the type of building). Each civilisation has a slightly different technology tree and so certain technologies will need to have been researched before progressing to the next age, or before certain troops and other technologies become available. For example, you can only build a market once you have reached the Tool Age. Building a market will allow you to build farms which in turn is a vital food source. However, you need wood to build farms. It all weaves together beautifully like an intricate web. Markets also allow you to offer tribute in the form of resources to other players.

Graphics

Visually, the game has an isometric view and I think it looks beautiful. The attention to detail of the landscapes, buildings and units make the game look awesome and really gives you the feeling you are watching these ancient civilisations grow.

Music

I adore the music too. The creators tried to ensure that the music was authentic to the time periods and cultures by performing with instruments that would have been used by musicians of the time. This attention to detail really adds to the atmosphere of the game.

Personal Memories

Just hearing the music again takes me back to when I was 16, playing this game for hours on end when I should have been studying for my G.C.S.E’s. I ended up with poor grades so let that be a lesson to you not to neglect your studies! I love the music so much that I often listen to the AOE soundtrack.

The Rise of Rome extension was released in 1998 and contained four extra campaigns based on the Roman Empire. These campaigns included the Rise of Rome, Ave Caesar, Pax Romana, and Enemies of Rome. The expansion pack added some extra features such as being able to queue the production of units, allowing you to continue with other objectives whilst your army is being created. It also allows the player to double-click a single unit to highlight all similar units on the screen, handy for when in the height of battle.

Help Caesar conquer Britannia (screenshot taken by the author)

Any Negative Points?

A few negative points include the lack of diversity in the units amongst the different civilisations. If you didn’t know from the campaign menu or didn’t select a civilisation when beginning a Random Map game, you could be forgiven for not knowing which civilisation you were. Regardless of what colour your army is, an indication to which civilsation you are can only be found by looking at the style of the border at the bottom of the screen.

The hoplite armies are also very overpowered. If you have a squad of about 10, you can pretty much decimate any confrontation with ease. Your only hope to defend against such an army is to either have an equal army of hoplites or get a few lucky strikes with a catapult. Having a large contingent of Heavy Horse Archers also helps as they can easily keep their distance. Lastly, some of the missions can become monotonous. Most missions are simply building an army and destorying the enemy base. There are a few more interesting missions such as finding and marking ancient horse symbols, but these are few and far between.

My Final Word

That being said, this game is utterly brilliant. What’s not to like? The game is easy to learn and highly addictive. There are plenty of different units with which to build your mighty army. The missions increase in difficulty, challenging your strategy to the end, and the replay value will have you coming back year after year.

If you would like to learn more about the origins of Age of Empires, I would recommend you listen to Season 3 Episode 22 of The Life and Times of Video Games podcast.

Did I Complete The Games?

I have successfully completed all campaigns without the use of cheats and loved every second of it. I will no doubt unsheath my sword again in the future, just to ensure I can still cut the mustard.

What The critics Said Of Age of Empires:

Allgame.com: “Although the building at the beginning of a mission is slightly repetitive at times, the game is still extremely enjoyable. Overall 4.5/5[1]

Gamespot.com: Age of Empires looked, and pretends, to be so very much more. It still has tons of potential and a fundamental gameplay that remains entertaining enough to overcome the flaws and merit a fair rating. The system can go very far with some fine-tuning, but as it stands it seems downright schizo. Is it a simplified Civilization or a modestly beefed up Warcraft? It’s almost as if the designers started out to create one game and ended up with another. Overall 6.8/10[2]

PC Zone Magazine: You’ll have to spend a few hours getting to know it before you’ll be able to find the fastest routes to each main advance and what you should be researching first to get to the weapons and buildings that suit your style of play best. But then this is the sort of thing that gets people hooked in the first place. And hooked you will be. Overall 9.4/10[3]

What The Critics Said Of Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome:

Computer Games Strategy Plus: “If you enjoyed Age of Empires, Rise of Rome will put fresh blood on your sword. Overall 4/5[4]

Awards:

Finalist – 1997 Computer Gaming World ‘Strategy Game of the Year’[5]

Outstanding Multiplay – CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award[6]

My Verdict: “A classic real-time strategy game, and you even learn a little about classical history too. It has tons of replay value, and although it’s not perfect, I find myself drawn back to this game year after year.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Couper, C., (14th Novermber 2014). ‘Age of Empires – Review’. Allgame.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20141114122303/http://www.allgame.com/game.php?id=714&tab=review Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] McDonald, L.T., (October 27th 1997). Age of Empires. Gamespot.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080726183453/http://www.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/ageofempires/review.html Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] Anderson, C., (May 19th 2008). ‘Review – Age of Empires’, PC Zone Magazine. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080518133649/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=2701 Accessed on 10th December 2019).

[4] Finn, D., ‘Strategy Review – Rise of Rome’. Computer Games Strategy Plus. (January 1999). Issue 98:106.

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1998: Strategy Game of the Year’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:84.

[6] ‘CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award – Outstanding Multiplay’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:89.