It seems like it's a recurring theme - me and my ceaseless ravings about Astraware and their games. Fortunately, this time, things will be different. On a technicality, to be fair: technically, Broken Sword is not an Astraware game. They were instrumental in making lt work on the Pocket PC, but the game was initially developed for the more traditional platforms, such as PC, Gameboy and so on. So, in a manner of saying, it's not really an Astraware game, so even if I rave about it, I'm not quite in the same theme.
Broken Sword was a game originally published several years ago by Virgin Interactive. It features an American tourist who arrives in France and tries to dine peacefully in a French cafe - when it gets blown up by (no, not an Iraqi insurgent) a clown. Or rather, a guy in a clown suit. The American gets angry at such a blatant attempt to kill him, and even though the bomb had nothing to do with him whatsoever he makes it his life's mission to find out what is up and dives into the mystery of the Broken Sword.
The most interesting thing about the game, and something that I have difficulty with in terms of the review material (but that I absolutely love from a technological standpoint) is that the game is ported unmodified. No aspects of the game are lost, and it is identical to its larger siblings - complete with full-motion video for some of the cutscenes and pre-recorded dialogue for all characters. The reason I have a bit of difficulty with that in the pure review sense is that, well, I'm essentially reviewing a PC game running on the Pocket PC, but I can't quite use PC standards for it. Specifically, were I to play this game on a PC, I would have to say that there is not significant depth to it, and the storyline is rather linear. The puzzles are also nothing extraordinary: the worst thing you will encounter is merging objects. The rest can be figured out by blind clicking. Few puzzles are senseless, to be sure, but I did have to dive into the solve (for the Gameboy version) to find some of the less logical solutions. This is certainly no Gabriel Knight.
On the other hand, if I apply Pocket PC standards to the game (as I should, I suppose), there is no precedent to it. I have nothing to compare it to on the Pocket PC. The game is _grand_ in all senses: the visuals, the length of the game, the quality of the port and even the installation size (the demo is 30MB, and the full version is 128MB installed). The port is so identical to the PC version, in fact, that even some of the bugs are carried over, including an annoying one that if you go to Spain before you go to Syria (this may not make any sense to you now, but if you do play, do yourself a favour and remember this), which is possible in a certain situation, then you will encounter a dead end and will have to reload the game. Another bug is the auto-saving feature: I was never quite able to figure out EXACTLY how it works. If you have to quit the game urgently (boss, wife, both-in-one, etc), it will save your position - but sometimes a few steps back, and sometimes on point. I eventually gave up and just made sure I saved every time before I closed.
The gameplay is smooth, though â€“ especially if you have a 640x480 Windows Mobile 5 device. The graphics are absolutely fluid, and beautifully smooth. The character animations are very nicely done, and I found myself looking for faults in character animations (i.e. When the character picks up items, merges items, makes gestures, etc.) and wasn't able to. Very, very good job.
The dialogue is rather sly, as well. Peppered with stabs at Americans ( I'm an American! I'm innocent! Can't make up your mind, eh?), very oblique phallic references, and other witty comments (like a policeman sitting at a bistro sipping wine, and claiming that he is doing it to appear lazy and negligent of his duty while he is actually super-alert and ready to catch criminals), the overall dialogue is funny enough to make you chuckle a few times. Impressive is the fact that there is voice acting for all lines - the dialogue was recorded for all characters. Personally, I would stand to dislike most of the voice actors, since they try very, very hard to pretend to be of the nationality that they are supposed to be acting, but the fake French are, well, fake French, and the fake Arabs are just as fake. But points for trying hard, though, the effort is worth much, as well.
All in all, while this might not be the best quest I've played, it is certainly the best on the Pocket PC platform. There is nothing significantly wrong with it, the graphics are beautiful, the gameplay is fun, and it isn't short, either: it took me close to a month to get through it (of course, I fit in the typical gaming pattern of the "business" user - play time limited to commute to work and back and not on weekends).
I really hope that this signifies a new trend in Pocket PC gaming. With CPU speeds reaching 624MHz and resolutions at 640x480, I don't see why some of the great old classics can't be made to run on the Pocket PCs - hey, Crusader: No Remorse ran beautifully on my 486DX4-120 at 640x480, so I'm sure it's not impossible to do this on the PPC.
I also hope that Astraware releases a bad game some day, so that I can finally stop giving these awards to them.