Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror

The trouble with me, one of the many, is I start things and then if I put them down for a week or so, I manage to completely forget about them. For, like eight months in this case. Oy vey. Since the last time I game-blogged, I’ve gained a Dreamcast, an original X-Box and a 360 (plus a couple of gamer house-mates, and a partner who’s moved in and brought his games with him), along with buying even more games I’ve yet to play, so I figured I should give this another go.

01 Cover Shot

This is one of those franchises I never played, ever. And never really heard anyone else talk about playing either, and yet the name was recognisable enough and I felt like it was one of those things I ought to know about. My first assumption was some kind of RPG-like adventure. ‘Broken Sword’, you know? Sounds like a dungeon hacker. I bet you’re cackling to yourself there and shaking your head, because as soon as I mentioned I was covering this one to my gaming friends, I got a volley of ‘Yeahhh. Old school point and clicks!’ Well, I think the only point and click I ever played was an educational one by Dorling Kindersley about castles or something, so I guess this is a whole new genre for me. Anyhoo – off I go!

So, I do my usual boot-up-and-leave-running-while-I-make-a-cup-of-tea. The opening show seems a little incongruous after the gritty title pages, but I guess these were the days when utterly misleading covers were much more the norm. I should add that I am playing the PS1 version of this, not the PC version which I suspect makes the point and click aspect infinitely more frustrating.

02 Protagonists

I feel like I fell into a Disney flick.

Anyway, moving on: I’m playing a male protagonist, obvs, and my painfully-accented, legs-from-here-til-Wednesday lady-friend Nico and I go to meet an archaeologist at his house about some Mayan stone, and get ambushed! I get thonked around the head and she gets shot in the neck with a poison blow dart. Oh dear. I can tell this game is gonna make me cringe. Anyhow, I wake up tied to a chair in a library, which is also on fire, being eyeballed by a large spider and my God is the pointy-clicky thing sluggish.

George: “There were only three things I didn’t like about spiders:

the way they looked, the way they moved,

and the fact that they lived on the same planet as me.”

Well that, at least, is a sentiment I can sympathise with. So I take a minute to work out the controls and speed up the pointer, and then I start exploring. Nico’s handbag: a lipstick, a love note and a red thong with a heart emblazoned on it. Please tell me I get to use that as a slingshot at some point? A poison dart, a bottle of tequila, a soda siphon… I’m amazed I even know what a soda siphon is, quite frankly. I’m also realising that this is one of the few games which suffers more than just big pixels for being played on such a big tv – because picking out distinct items on a cel-shaded background where the edges all blur on a 40 inch plasma is gonna take some practise. So I grab some loot*, pick a lock, jury-rig a fire extinguisher, put out the fire and get out of the first screen. Success!

03 Library

I read the newspaper clipping on the side, I phone the guy who wrote the note, who sounds even more like an Allo Allo reject than Nico, and then I get out of dodge… except I don’t. The door’s locked and it takes me a full five minutes of going back and clicking on everything to find a key inside a pot inside a tiny drawer inside the bureau inside the library. ARRRRRGGGHHH!

I need more tea.

After some quality time waking up the lizards, chasing crickets around the viv and trying to tempt the grumpiest Siamese fighter you ever met out of his cave with some noms, I sit down to Broken Sword again. Less belly-aching, more playing. So onto a French café where I kill some time chatting to the waiter and the gendarme,

Gendarme: “If he’d been a serial killer or a sodomite,

I might have been able to help.”

– before the dude who gave my girlfriend a skanky thong arrives. The café conversation goes relatively smoothly, I get to hear about the archaeologist and his porn-star wife, about the gendarme’s dismissal (which I gather, had I played the original Broken Sword, I might understand I was partially responsible for?) and I get a lead on where to go next, when I get whipped away to glimpse where Nico’s at (who was also tied to chair, but in much less decorous surroundings).

04 Damsel

That’s a coat Nico’s wearing, by the way. The dress underneath is even shorter.

Perhaps this is meant to motivate me to do my best, or something? The dude who carried her off in a fireman’s lift earlier is called Pablo, apparently. So I finish up at the café and head on to the gallery where I get tittered at by some schoolgirls, spike an art critic’s drink, destroy a display case and use the diversion to sneak a peek at the shipping labels on the crates. I’m getting the hang of this! Off to Marseilles to a dock looking for Nico, and I have to say, this scene is actually quite pretty-looking. It’s a shame that the slightly more realistic art of the settings is spoilt by the very cartoony characters, but that’s just the style I guess? The soundtrack at this point gets much prettier too; up until now it’s been a little grating.

05 Docks

So, I fish a boat hook out of the water and use it to hook a bottle which I stuff into the chimney of the watchman’s house. While he’s smoked out of his hut I pop up, super surreptitiously through the huge hatch in the floor of his cabin and nick the dog bikkits, use them to lure the watch dog out onto a hinged platform and then drop him in the water. Well, aren’t I heartless? I’m happy to say the dog swims away, rather than drowning, and so I slither over the chain-link fence and pootle on towards the warehouse. More ninjing! Because no one can see me when I’m being super stealthy, right?

06 Subtle as

Subtlety abound…

Luckily, years of dungeon-hacking has taught me to avoid the thing the game wants you to interact with next til you’ve examined absolutely everything else. I gather if you do this warehouse bit wrong, you can just get shot or die or whatever. I find the barrel pulley system on the roof before I knock on the door, so I manage to avoid that misfortune – particularly since I assume this game only saves on chapter changes and I really don’t want to have to go through all the palaver with the dog again. So I knock on the door, piss the guard off so he unlocks and comes out to teach me a lesson, at which point I scamper up to the roof and knock him in the water by swinging a barrel into him. He and the dog can make friends.

Inside the warehouse I snaffle a key from a desk drawer, release a little dude from some manacles and scoot up in the lift to the upper levels of the warehouse. Here a very hard to find light-switch must be switched on in order to go any further, and that literally took me five minutes of careful scrolling all across the screen to find, (ten minutes if you include me shouting at the television and going to make lunch). So, the light reveals marks on the floor that leads me to a secret door, behind which I find Nico, being stared down by a little carving of Tezcatlipoca; (I guess that’s where the ‘smoking mirror’ part comes in, then?) Together we raid the room for useful items, hitch a huge Mayan statue to a pulley using the rope Nico was tied up with, winch it up and swing it toward the loading doors to smash them open, using the manacles to swing down across the docks using a cable like a zip line, and vanish into the night. Isn’t this exciting?

07 Breaking out

Such a vandal!

After a brief cut scene back in the gallery, though, we’re taken to Quaramonte which is a bright daytime vista with yellows and blues and greens and sunshine and pleasecanIpleasehavemygrubbynighttimedocksback? …please? Ah well. It’s not pretty, but it is a bit easier to look for clickable things, I suppose!

There’s, like, a hundred and one characters to question here, so I pootle around chatting to everyone and their dog – and half of them are wearing the exact same shade of green – must be in season. I pimp my girlfriend to the sleazy general, and a character from a previous game, Pearl, to the deputy so I can sneak a peek at the geological survey map in the office, in order to persuade Conchita Garcia from the mining company that the archaeologist is in cahoots with the general and are probably responsible for blowing up her mine. In return for this info she gives me a detonator to break a local agitator out from the prison. Bish bash bosh!

Renaldo: “For a lovely lady, I would go to the ends of the earth.

For you, I will go as far as the pyramids and back.”

Burned. So, we break the guy out of jail not, after all that, with explosives, but simply by yanking the bars and half the wall out with a rope tied to a truck (simples, no?) – but not before I get held at gunpoint and thrown into a jail cell. Good thing we already arranged to breach this baby, eh? There’s also a creepy-as-fuck side scene back at the general’s apartment with Nico. Sleaze sleaze sleaze. Eugh. So uncomfortable. Aside from the creepy guy sneaking across the sofa towards Nico, drooling at her, there’s porn on the tv and skeezy music. Thank you, Revolution, I so needed that.

08 Sleazy mcsleazerson

Yes, those are tits on the tv. Bouncing ones.

I decided not to treat you to the crotch shot.

With Miguel rescued, we hop on a boat to head upriver into the jungle towards the dig site, and I’m treated to another pretty night scene which ends with me getting exploded by a helicopter. Yay me!

09 Boom

And it was such a peaceful evening…

Washed up on the shore, alone, I hear church music in the jungle, set fire to a treehouse, speak to a priest who accidentally knocked up half the natives, get sent in search of a gnarly root to save the unconscious Nico and persuade the locals to let me into their village with a gift of dog bikkits to their shaman. This isn’t at all demeaning… >.> I even get to sit down with the shaman and get treated to some local lore about the Jaguar Stone (that thing I’ve been carrying about since the beginning).

10 Mayan lore

I have to admit, at this point I’m amazed I got so far but I’m running out of energy now, so I think I’ll leave it there. But hey, I didn’t die, right?

Right. Up next is Deathtrap Dungeon! (Where I will most definitely die.)

*You know, I love me some loot – but I have to say the stuff you pick up in this game is just not giving me that loot vibe. I do like the creative puzzle-solving aspect, I suppose – makes a change from Lara-style puzzles which are usually more about memory and timing. Also, I realised, at this point, that I totally have played point-and-clicks before; I was wrong! Keepsake and The Longest Journey are the two that spring to mind; the latter in particular I seem to remember being eerily beautiful but utterly frustrating.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

Okay, so first off, what’s the point in making your own rules if not to break ’em, eh? I said I’d start at the beginning of the alphabet and work along, but my first stop was Alien Trilogy, and since that’s one of the games from my very early gaming days, it seemed like cheating to play something I already knew well. So I skipped right on past it to this little number. (Of course, now my nagging sense of completionism wants me to go back and do Alien Trilogy anyway, and to make sure it gets posted before this one in the thread — we’ll see if honesty or completionism wins out.)

01 Cover shot

I think I picked this one up from my local retro games store (which is where a lot of my purchasing accidents happen these days) for about £3. I’ve never played any of this franchise before but the name rang a bell and I both love and loathe me some horror/survival stuff. (My first encounter with this genre in games that I actually really liked was Silent Hill when I was 13. I had to play it with the lights on and a blanket wrapped very firmly over my head, looking for all the world like a very scowly, twitchy Palpatine.)

The first thing I do is pick which of two characters (and thus which of two stories/playthroughs) I want. I like how his defining feature is a gun and hers is, well… see for yourself.

02 No brainer

So anyway, fuck it, I like an underdog — I go with the girl, Aline, and her totally-appropriate-for-a-dark-and-stormy-night attire. I do like a redhead, though. First thing I’ll say for this is that the voice acting is actually pretty good. It’s a shame the script is a bit shit. Not very shit, you understand — this game has kept me engaged for an evening despite a couple of moments of jumping onto the inventory screen to give me time to uncurl my toes and reopen my eyes before returning to be eaten by some snarly, pointy thing that had me cornered at a painful camera angle. But still — pretty hammy. Quote of the game goes to that rare moment of meta self-awareness:

Carnby: “So, our mission is nearly over.”

Alina: “Do you really believe that?”

Carnby: “Nah. I only said that to bolster our courage.”

The gameplay reminds me a lot of old Resident Evil, which absolutely is something I was exposed to in my youth, probably around the age of 11ish. Certainly I remember that a lot of the horror was derived from the sluggishness of the controls and the deliberately-frustrating camera angles that you’d flip through whilst exploring poky little rooms rather than the monsters themselves which, if you weren’t so busy button mashing and swearing at the screen, you might actually just find kinda humorous. I didn’t really enjoy that kind of gameplay then, but I’m learning to appreciate it now that I’m an adult and not actually afraid of the dark.

03 Dark in here

Of course, since his characteristic was a shotgun and hers was a sob story, I have to wait a fair while before I have any weapons at all. I learn that shining a flashlight at some enemies makes them hop back a few steps, but I basically spend half an hour running around the entire top floor map of this darned mansion, flashing and dashing past enemy after enemy to thoroughly loot the whole place before I discover a beautiful thing, right back in the very first corridor I stumbled out on to.

04 Lightswitches

FRICKIN’ LIGHTSWITCHES! (I realise those grainy little pixelly graphics on my huge flat-screen tv may have not made that revelation obvious.)

They’re not available everywhere, but emboldened by this new discovery I start running about the place turning lights on willy nilly and just as soon as I find myself some guns, it comes back to bite me in the ass. Literally. Games where different monsters have to be defeated by different means?! This takes me back. You can’t just shoot your way through this baby. Also, true to form for survival horrors there is just nowhere near enough ammo. Course, ‘charms of saving’ are also scarce, and so I manage to waste a good twelve rounds trying to shoot one of the things that I used to just wave my torch at (turns out the shotgun I picked up eats through shells at three per pop) before discovering that those ones just don’t die. Trouble is, it takes a good two to four shots to kill just about anything in this game, it turns out. Seems that strategic running-the-fuck-away is preferable!

Tell you what, though, even now this game is still quite pretty to look at. It’s atmospheric; the constant patter of rain outside and rattling windows is not overdone, and the only time in the past four hours of gameplay that they decided to make use of that shiny vibrate function, they did it completely out of the blue and for no particular reason as I was strolling down a corridor.

Frightened the life out of me.

05 Atmosphere

Alas, it is not very long into Aline’s story when we both take the opportunity to strip off that pesky jacket that was keeping out the cold and squeeze in another dose of damselling. Seriously, after the third or fourth time this guy tells me to hide somewhere while he goes and sorts shit out, I’m almost inclined to waste a few more of those precious shells on him, despite knowing full well that he’ll either magically be impervious to friendly fire, or as in our beloved Fallout 3, pop back up like a daisy.

06 Sexism

Also, is it just me, or is did this guy fall straight out of VtM: Redemption? Looking a little grey around the gills, there… Christof!

Anyhow — it’s not all about running-the-fuck-away from things. There’s also poking-stuff-to-see-what-happens and puzzle-solving-ftw! So, naturally, when told I’ve been locked into a room, I go to the first door sized object and give it a nudge.

07 Mirror mirror

Alright — not the most vexing of puzzles, but I have all the faith in the world that they’re just warming me up for the good stuff later on.

I manage to explore a good two thirds of the three floors of the mansion and defeat my first Great Evil (TM) before I realise I’ve more or less run myself into the ground with no saves left, no bullets, no health, and a hellhound gnawing on my ankle. Sad times, folks… sad times.

08 Game over folks

I’m surprised how compelled I am to go back and start the game afresh now that I’ve learned some key concepts, such as turning-on-the-goddamn-lights, flashing and dashing and rotating objects in my inventory to find useful tidbits scrawled on the back. I might even be tempted to play through Carnby’s arc when I’m done too. (Note how she’s addressed by her first name, throughout, and he by his surname. Makes him sound like a tough guy, don’t it?) Now, though, it’s like… 3am and I’m falling asleep on my keyboard. So yeah. Either I’ll take another crack at this straight away — in which case you might see more rambles in the near future, or I’ll slink guiltily back to Alien Trilogy and play catch-up with myself.

First, though, Odinsleep!