Review: Broken Sword 4: Secrets of the Ark (PC)

Broken Sword: Secrets of the Ark
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Developer: Revolution Software
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 2/13/2007

Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the Sub-Cultural Icon writing a review. Three months to do the day he last wrote a review. Three months to the day he supposedly retired from Inside Pulse. So what, you may be asking yourself, brings the Frasier Crane of Widro’s merry men back to the fold. Well, it’s a funny story. See IP is good friends with a publisher called ″Dreamcatcher.″ They don’t care if we rip their games a new asshole as long as we are honest and informative. Two weeks ago, their sister company (The Adventure Company) sent IP a a copy of their latest game to me requesting that I review this game. Mainly because they did not want to see their game get well…REAVIEWED. The less said about that little incident the better.

So for the good of Nate and Retrograding, as well as not risking one of our two favorite publishers (the other being Atlus) being handed over to a monkey on Angel Dust, yours truly has come back to review this (and any other PC games) that have been sent to the IP offices.

And yes, that is the sound of Eric S saying″Thank F’n Christ.″ Well, he didn’t say F’n. He said the full on bad word. Probably multiple times. But we can’t have profanity on the main page. So just read his column tomorrow. It’ll be chock full of naughty monosyllabics.

Now with that, I suppose it’s time to do what I do better than anyone, yes? Okay, what I do better than anyone that doesn’t involve saying the word Pikachu 108 times a day…

Let’s Review

1. Story

Broken Sword: Secrets of the Ark was originally released in the fall of 2006 in Europe on the much darker name, Broken Sword: The Angel of Death. Actually, in North America it’s JUST Secrets of the Ark. I’ve personally taken the liberty to add the Broken Sword franchise handle back onto the game for this review, as it is a cult series and I’m still flabbergasted, TAC didn’t want to attract some attention just for it being a) a Broken Sword game, and b) a return to point and click for the franchise. It’s the fourth game in the series and it still stars befuddled protagonist George Stobbard after all.

I’ll admit I really enjoyed the first game when it came out in 1996 (or 1998 in America. Okay, I’m going to go on a tangent here and wonder why the Adventure genre is super popular outside the US, but not here. Mayhaps for the same reason First Person Shooters are kings here and not too big elsewhere? Also, the games are in English 95% of the time and yet we get them years after Europe and Australia. I guess it’s all checks and balances, but for an adventure game junkie like myself, I’m not a fan of having to import games like Pathologic or Barrow Hill, mainly because i can’t wait for a bloody Stateside release!)

In this game George has gone from kick ass high priced adventuring attorney to…a bail bondsman. Seems after you know, saving the world a few times he’s been blacklisted by the man and can only work in an area of the US that appears to be Europe’s take on either Compton or Harlem after watching a marathon of YO! MTV Raps. Nothing recent. I’m talking Dr. Dre and Ed Lover at their peak.

Anyway, after what appears to be an amazingly cryptic opening cinematic that oddly enough resolves the game better than the actual ending you will receive (and is more fulfilling to boot, and the opening doesn’t even make sense until many hours into the game. Let’s just leave that at my expression of how bad I thought the ending was), George is in his office where we learn he can’t even afford a pizza. The a big boobied blond is waiting for George in his office saying some men are out to kill her. Just then three unidentifiable ethnic minorities (white ones if you truly care) come rushing at the previously unseen door that leads to the outside and is WIDE OPEN). You slam the door on them and the game begins. Now if you were dealing in bail bonds, would you have a second door to your office open for all the world to see when you are living in an area that makes a ghetto look like Beverly Hills? Don’t worry though, this is just the first of many dozens of scenes you will see in this game that will remind you that video games often have no correlation to the common sense we tend to display more often in the real world.

In BS4, you will see character leave and join into the story with no real regard to who they are of with any culmination of their plot bits. Characters will die in nonsensical ways. References to previous BS games are made (including the return of a certain character, and yet the game doesn’t go into detail for those that have never played other BS games before. An odd thing consider in North America this is a teeny tiny comment that this is a Broken Sword game and nothing else. I will be honest and say for the most part the game does a great job of making the game accessible to newbies but when it does reference an older game and its continuity, well, there’s no equivalent of Smilin’ Stan Lee to do an exposition on what the crap everyone is talking about.

In all, the game suffers from poor writing and illogical character actions. The game feels like everyone involved couldn’t agree on how to flesh out the story, so they left BS4 as a hodge podge of loose ends. All things considered though, it’s better than BS4, but nowhere near the levels of quality the first two games were lauded for.

Story Rating: 4/10

2. Graphics

The series has definitely improved over the past decade. I have to say that like a lot of adventure games released over the past two to three years, I’m finding I love the backgrounds and the attention to detail put into them. Things like shadowing, water ripples, and even how light refracts when it comes through a window are great examples of how much detail was put into the aspects of the game that most casual gamers never pay attention to. What I really love about adventure games, besides how they normally have gripping storylines, is that you can take a break from the action and pay close attention to the visuals you can’t fully appreciate in other genres, like shooters or survival horror. You’re too busy trying to stay the f*ck alive, you know?

However, one place where I was disappointed was in the character designs. Most of the characters look blocky and moved like they were made of wood. Everyone in the game was animated with a jerk 1960’s robot outlook. Even when stationary the character models just didn’t hold up to what we’ve seen in other adventure games like say, Secret Files: Tunguska. In most adventure games, you can have some pretty sharp looking graphics because the actual gameplay is so light. It’s just point and click after all. Here however, much like the storyline, the character models leave something to be desired. It’s not that they are bad designs, per say. Just that there is a lot better for this genre.

Great backgrounds, average looking (for this generation of games) character designs. In all, it’s a good looking game, but it falls pretty far from greatness.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

I really loved the score and the voice acting. I’d have to say this was the strongest part of Secrets of the Ark Every piece of music is well done and fits each scene of the game. From the title screen onward I was impressed by each track. I almost wrote that the menu screen track was my favorite, but that would assuredly have given the wrong impression. Although there’s not a lot of music in the game, it manages to enhance the mood and give a feeling of urgency without being overpowering or annoying.

The voice acting is a hair below the score in quality, but it’s still enjoyable. Most voices fir their characters. There are some exceptions, like how the Mafia members sound like they’re from the Midwest, or how certain European Nationalities seem to have their accent tinged with one from a completely different country, but a lot of these things are negligible and will only irk the more anal retentive gamer. Or one who used to write 5-6 reviews a month before swearing off gaming for la quarter of a year. The actors all have a good sense of who their characters are, which is all the more impressive considering the script writers obviously had no idea what they were scribbling half the time.

The quality of the characterization does help to slightly offset the inanity that is the plot. The acting helps to create both senses of escapism and believability to game where without them, you would probably just sit there and go ″What the f*ck did I just play through?″ Kudos to the cast for that.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Usually point and click games score really high in this category. Simplistic basic controls that no one should have a problem with, Yeeeeet, with BS4, there’s some big problems. For example, there’s some loading bugs. It can be a bitch to load the game onto your computer to even let you play the game. Then, when you finally do, there’s some slowdown errors. My two laptops refused to load this game at all. When I put it on my desktop which is not even six months old and is maxed out so i can play Neverwinter Nights 2 without any slowdown, this game still has issues. It’s requirements are all a fraction of WNW2, so that it’s the game itself. There is serious slowdown in the cinematics. Voices don’t often match up with the mouths, and even in game there is a bit of lag time between moving your mouse and anything having effect on-screen. It’s damn annoying and was my least favorite part about the game. I could accept a poor plot from a series of games that promises to put story first, but a bad story and some slowdown that makes the game a chore to play? No way baby.

If you can ignore the slowdown, the game is pretty much your standard PC Adventure game. Your mouse does all your movement, interacting with objects/characters, and is used to solve puzzles. Supposedly the manuscript which the buxom blond Anna Maria is being hunted for is supposed to help you through the puzzles, but whenever I clicked on it, the answers it gave would inevitably be quite different from what I would eventually have to do to solve the puzzle. Thank you bizzaro book.

The best part about playing the game is that Secrets of the Ark ripped off the ″Decker Mode″ from the old Sega Genesis Shadowrun game. You’ll be using as PDA to hack into some major computer systems (yes I know), and solve puzzles based on systems network activity. Basically it’s like playing with mirrors in the second Dracula game Dreamcatcher put out back in 2000. You’ll be aiming ″mirrors″ to focus the ″data stream″ into your ″network.″ Aim the wrong way and you trigger security systems. Do it right and you can gain access to info, locked doors, or whatever. This was really the only style of puzzles I enjoyed in this game. The rest were all lacking any semblence of logic or originality.

Then there are the stealth mini games. Metal Gear Solid this ain’t. Hell it’s not even SNEAK KING.You are given no warning that these events are about to trigger, or that you’ll be going into this mini game. It’s just one second you can freely walk around and everything is hunky dory. The next ″OMG! Someone saw you!!″ If the rest of the game hadn’t annoyed you up until this point, by the time you have done 2-3 of these stelath based mini games you will be calling for developer blood.

With some massive gameplay issues, I have to admit, I found this game to be pretty poor for something coming from the Adventure genre. I was more annoyed and frustrated. Gameplay is equivalent to the plot I suppose. But thank god it’s not Keepsake levels of bad.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability

The game is boring, trite, not at all fun to play and completely linear. This is a one shot deal. Unlike most Adventure games which have excellent stories to drag you back in, you should just burn this game or bury it in the back yard. That is all.

Replayability Rating: 1/10

6. Balance

Well, I’ve already brought up that a lot of puzzles in this game don’t make much sense. The others are pretty simple. You have to talk to people, use objects with other objects or background scenery to advance and so on. Either the puzzles are so easy that a 7 year old could do them, or they are no illogical that you play a lot of guess and check. It also doesn’t help the game for some reason tries to misdirect you as to what you are actually supposed to do to advance. That’s pretty sadistic.

Again, we see BS4 plays like there was no quality control. It’s like a beta copy that somehow got released to the public.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

This is the fourth game in the series. It purposely went back to the gameplay of BGS1 and 2, trying hard (like the rest of us) to pretend BS3 never occurred. They’ve brought back the same characters in a similar plot with some familiar puzzles. The puzzles that are new basically make no sense and the entire hacking game is pretty much lifted from a 16 bit console game I played back in 1992-93. There’s not much here I can say that is innovative or original. I didn’t even realize there was a clamoring for a fourth game in this series, when there are a ton of adventure games I’d much rather see get sequels instead.

If you want to see the BS series at it’s peak, go find the first two games on Ebay for the PSX. You can get both for about five bucks and you’ll have a much better gaming experience, even with the outdated graphics.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Behold! Another low score. Wow was I bored. And I generally love Adventure games! This just didn’t connect with me at ALL. It was pretty and had excellent music and voice acting, but in the end this was not a game I enjoyed in the slightest. Playing it was a chore. At no time did I have fun with it. This assuredly was not the game to bring me back to gaming after I spent the past few months avoiding video games in general. All Secrets of the Ark did was remind me why I put down the controller/keyboard in the first place. Everything’s just an retread of hackneyed crap that came before it.

Even the bits I did like, like the hacking parts were more appreciation than fun or pleasure. This game didn’t move me at all. It merely made me thank Cthulhu that Theme Park is being released for the DS in two weeks. Maybe you’ll find more fun with this than I did. Hopefully that’ll be the case, especially with a $30 price tag on this game. Eep.

Addictiveness Rating: 2/10

9. Appeal Factor

Who will like this game? Adventure junkies. Probably the staff of the web sites Just Adventure and Game Boomers, as they rate every Adventure game on a scale from ″Buy this!″ to ″Buy this now!! Long time Broken Sword fanatics will enjoy this too. But I can’t see anyone new to the genre or the series having fun with this. If I was going to pick a game to introduce people to the Adventure genre, this would NOT be it. This is not a game for favorable first impressions, this is a game to typifies why the Adventure genre has all but died out in the States.

I could be wrong though. Looking on Gameranking, this game has an average rating of 77%. Of course, a 7 is AVERAGE for most games nowadays, which is yet another reason to stay far away from the majority of video game review sites, but I digress. Obviously some people found this game fun, but most reviewers jizzed over Beyond Good and Evil so that should be a red flag right there.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

There are no extras. There is no bonuses for replaying the game. There are no Easter Eggs or hidden tricks. This is a very bare bones linear game offering nothing but a one time playthrough. Even then, it’s neither enjoyable nor entertaining. If I didn’t have to review this game I’d have stopped after the first hour and gone on to something more fun, like a winter jog or arm wrestling a monkey. This game just rubbed me the wrong way from beginning to end. That’s the problem with reviews though, it’s all opinion and conjecture. If you generally agree with my tastes in gaming, then don’t even think of picking up this game. However, if your tastes are contrary to mind, who knows, you might actually enjoy this. God help you if that’s true though

For me though, I can think of no reason to recommend this game, even if it drops down to a 5-10 dollar purchase. It’s a dismal failure aside from aesthetics.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 4/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Control & Gameplay: 4/10
Replayability: 1/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 2/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10
Total Score 39/100
Final Score: 4.0 (poor)

The Inside Pulse

There you go. My 130th review. I’m disappointed that I disliked this game so much. I was hoping doing a review after 3 months might rekindle something in me, but instead it reminds me why i went cold turkey in the first place. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of great games that are going to be coming out in the next few weeks. Raiden III hits the PS2 soon. Pokemon D/P is coming out in a month a and a half. And so on and so forth. I just wish I could have been more positive with this last hurrah, but then I’d rather be honest than like nearly every other reviewer out there.