Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon was the first of the venerable point-and-click adventure series to make the leap to 3D. Playing it now evokes a weird kind of wonder. As a fan of the series, it’s undeniably awesome to see a 3D model of George Stobbart and Nico Collard, even though it’s a horribly dated game in terms of graphics. But what’s more interesting is how the new dimension impacts the gameplay and how those changes both lessen and heighten the sense of adventure in the game.
Point-and-click games have always revolved around item puzzles, and Broken Sword games have always had some of the best, but The Sleeping Dragon adds in a couple of new puzzles only possible within a 3D world: the “maze” puzzle and the always popular, always beloved, never annoying “block pushing” puzzle.
On the downside, these new puzzles are simple and uncreative. The “mazes” are just small areas designed to make you waste time backtracking. There’s nothing puzzling about them, it’s simply a matter of walking left then right and clicking on all the appropriate objects in the process. The block pushing is slightly better since it does take some brain power to solve these kinds of puzzles, but they’re so easy that you could solve most of them by the time that you’ve pushed a single block across the room. These obstacles feel like busy work because we spend more time executing an action than we do thinking about that action. I know in a second that I want that block moved to the right wall, but it takes me more than a minute to maneuver it out of a corner and across the room.
These new mechanics aren’t actually puzzles, they’re more like hurdles—obstructions that can be overcome purely through physical effort. Such additions would seem to be an anathema to the point-and-click genre, but these puzzles actually lend the game the most palatable sense of adventure that the series has ever had specifically because of how physical they are.
The mazes and blocks are obstacles designed with an emphasis on movement within a 3D space. Exploring a room isn’t just a matter of moving a cursor around a screen, it is me moving a character around the room. I’m literally exploring the room, not just the screen. The fundamental control input has changed to become more physical for the player—using several buttons to perform actions, holding down buttons to move, run, or sneak, rather than just using a single input from a mouse. And now that we control the character directly rather than just pointing that character towards a destination, that movement feels more intimate. I feel more attached to these characters since I’m more responsible for their safety and actions.
The Sleeping Dragon feels more like an “Indiana Jones Adventure” than a “Da Vinci Code Adventure” because of these physical elements. It’s less an adventure based around mystery and more of an adventure based around danger. I actually died during some sections of the game, and I don’t remember that ever happening in the previous games. Those previous games were all about outsmarting bad guys, and while that kind of challenge has its place, the need for cerebral puzzles resulted in situations that never felt dangerous. The Sleeping Dragon is the first game in the series in which I actually felt afraid for the characters, and it is largely because the new focus on physical actions leads to physical consequences when I fail. Also, since my control inputs better match the character’s actions, any mental exhaustion that I may feel from pushing a block for the hundredth time matches George’s physical exhaustion. How we control a character doesn’t just change how we view that character, it can change the tone and feel of the entire game. Never underestimate the psychological impact of direct control.
With hindsight, Broken Sword’s transition from 2D to 3D seemed like herald of things to come for the industry: the fading away of the point-and-click adventure and the rise of the action game, a genre built around physical actions and physical danger. In fact, now that I think about it, it is rather odd that a genre so defined by mental challenges would be labeled with a word that connotes physical challenge: the adventure game.
As someone who loves point-and-clicks, the evolution of Broken Sword is (or was) both exciting and disheartening. On one hand, it lost some of what defined the genre, but on the other hand, it gained something that such games never really had before. I think The Sleeping Dragon actually contains a nice balance of these two elements. There are still plenty of traditional item puzzles to keep it squarely placed in the adventure genre and not the action genre, but there’s also enough physical stuff to make this entry feel like something completely new and exciting. And really, isn’t that what adventure is all about?