Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, the third installment in the Broken Sword adventure game series, is an odd mixture of things done very well and things done very poorly. On the good side of the spectrum you have the characters, the dialogue and the graphics, but on the bad side you have the areas most important for an adventure game -- the interface, the story and the puzzles. Thus, while The Sleeping Dragon has occasional moments of greatness, it is, overall, a lackluster, uninvolving game.
Let’s start with the plot. As in the first two games in the series, you control patent lawyer George Stobbart and reporter Nico Collard. George starts out by flying to meet a scientist who has developed a new type of engine, but his plane crashes, and, once he escapes that and arrives at the rendezvous point, he finds the scientist dead. Nico, meanwhile, is all set to interview a computer hacker but she finds him dead as well -- and she finds herself framed for the murder. Eventually, the two characters meet up and discover that the murders are related, and that somebody is trying to use the Earth’s natural energy fields to gain unfathomable power.
This, to me, is a bad plot. There isn’t anything wrong with it in and of itself, but it’s just so familiar. I’ve lost count of the games I’ve played where you have to stop somebody from collecting ancient relics and gaining power through them, not to mention exploring pyramids and ruins and defeating the defense systems inside. I’d rather go somewhere new and experience a story where I don’t already know the arc before anything happens. Plus, developer Revolution Games strings things along. There’s a guy you find and then lose, find and then lose, and finally find. Not coincidentally, there’s also a key you find and then lose, find and then lose, and finally find. Eventually I got tired of these sorts of things and stopped caring about the plot and started wondering how many hoops I was going to have to jump through to get to the end of the game.
Helping the storyline along is the dialogue. It’s extremely well written, and it manages to be funny without devolving into sitcom banality. George and Nico in particular share a nice banter, and their conversations are the highlight of the game. It’s just that the dialogue isn’t enough to carry the game, not when the plot is predictable and the puzzles are DOA.
That’s right, the puzzles in The Sleeping Dragon are bad. “Trivially easy” describes most of them. For example, at one point you put on a disguise so you can get a security card, but then you discover the security card needs to be validated. So do you have to figure out a computer system, or somehow fake your way through the situation? No, you just walk up to a lady and ask her to validate the card, and she does it. If you play adventure games to test your mental capabilities, then The Sleeping Dragon isn’t the game for you.
Worse, there are a whole slew of “physical” puzzles where you have to jump between ledges or push around crates or sneak around enemies. The concept doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not like The Sleeping Dragon is an action game. You can’t fall off ledges, and if the interface indicates you can make a jump, then you can make the jump. There isn’t any chance of failure, and so there isn’t any chance of excitement or tension, either. And those crates... there must have been over a dozen puzzles where you have to push around crates so you can get somewhere (for example, you might stack them against a wall so you can climb over the wall). The crate puzzles are fun enough at first, but talk about overkill. By the end of the game I was groaning every time I saw one, or muttering R-rated phrases at my computer. That’s never a good sign.
To top things off, The Sleeping Dragon has one of the worst interfaces I’ve ever seen in an adventure game. For starters, the mouse isn’t used at all; everything is done through the keyboard. Because the game uses a third-person perspective, this is actually a defensible (if not great) decision, since you can use the arrow keys to move your character and the WASD keys to perform actions. But for some inexplicable reason, Revolution Games decided that the up arrow should move you towards the top of the screen, the side arrows to the left and right, and the down arrow towards the bottom. This, quoting from the manual, “allows you to precisely control the direction of movement.” Yeah, right, maybe on a planet where every other game doesn’t use the up arrow for moving forwards and the side arrows for turning. I’ve played games where I didn’t like the movement keys at first but eventually got used to them (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a good example of this), but I hated The Sleeping Dragon’s system from start to finish, and it makes certain timed puzzles in the game a nightmare.
But for all of its bad points, The Sleeping Dragon is a well made game. It looks great, the voice acting is terrific, and there weren’t any bugs in evidence when I played it. Plus, the game is pleasant enough, I guess. So The Sleeping Dragon might have enough positives for you to make it a worthwhile purchase, but for me the flaws are too much of a detraction, and I wouldn’t recommend it.