Release Date: 1997
Platform: PC, PSX
Note: Review was originally posted September 21, 1999
I should say at the very top of this review that Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (Circle of Blood in the US) is my all-time favorite game. It simply enchanted me from the very first moment with its beautiful animation, entertaining dialog, and killer story. Well, after falling in love with Circle of Blood, you can imagine how eager I was to get my hands on this sequel to it. The verdict? Well, the short answer is that I was not overwhelmed but not disappointed, either. Smoking Mirror is a worthy follow-up to a superior game.
Like the first Broken Sword, the format of this game is high-quality 2D animation. In other words, yes, it's a third-person cartoon game. But don't let you put that off. Like the first game, these are beautiful cartoons indeed.
The game begins in Paris again, with our hero George and his maybe girlfriend Nico visiting a mysterious archaeologist. Not surprisingly, things go very wrong very quickly, and George is off on another globe-trotting adventure.
The gameplay is a bit streamlined from the first game. There are fewer opportunities to choose among different locations to visit next. After leaving Paris, the game is strictly linear. I know linearity has a bad reputation in adventure games, but I am one gamer who prefers and really appreciates linearity. In each sequence of this entertaining game, you figure out clear and concise goals that you must accomplish in order to move the story forward.
That having been said, I'm going to contradict myself a bit and say that Smoking Mirror suffers a bit from this loss of complexity. In the first section of Circle of Blood, you gradually had more and more available locations to choose from as you run around Paris. This added a fun strategy element to the game: "Okay ... where do I go next? The museum? The Hotel? Nico's apartment?"
Time to Make a Boat out of a Paper Clip!
Instead of traditional puzzles, like picking locks or fiddling with levers, the puzzles in Smoking Mirror are more of the McGuyver type. An example from one of my favorite scenes, which takes place in a sinister Marseilles dock warehouse: "How can I block the electric eye of the elevator to keep the bad guys away and get to the hydraulic pallet to lift the statue on the pallet up to where I can hook it to the block and tackle with the rope so I can use the statue to crash through the locked wooden door so we can escape?" Now, this kind of challenge is Big Time fun for this adventure gamer, believe me!
In another sequence, you have to figure out how to sneak aboard a tightly guarded barge without getting shot by thugs. This is really, really fun stuff, the kind that makes you look up at the clock and say, "Uh, wow, does that clock really say 3 a.m.? Oops."
True Two-Character Action
One extremely nice new development in the gameplay is that through much of the second half of the game, you play George and Nico separately. Each character is off on his or her own thread of the adventure, and you have to gradually work out the obstacles in order to get the two stories to dovetail back together. I found Nico to be rather passive in the first game, and consequently this was a very welcome element.
The interface is simple, nonintrusive, and easy to use.
Is this second Broken Sword better than the first? No, it's not. It's not quite as good as the first game. But, as Circle of Blood is a masterpiece, second-best is very good indeed.
A Roller Coaster Story
One way this game falls a bit short is that the story seems a bit rushed and confused. The main villain is so far in the background that he's almost invisible.
The hand-painted backgrounds are consistently stunningly beautiful, and the almost-full-screen play area is a welcome relief after recent painful experiences I've had with inexcusably small playing screens in other games. The whole look of the game is reminiscent of a high-quality animated film. The music is also evocative, subtle and effective.
Final Grade: C
16 MB RAM
SVGA with 1 MB